Category Archives: roses

The long, cool spring of horrors

The horrors, of course, are the many manifestations of Covid-19, aka the coronavirus, aka the pandemic, the global pandemic, the quarantine, etc.  Starting around March 13, when everything shut down with only a few hours’ notice, we have been living a different life from anything we were imagining before.  No socializing, library and schools closed, businesses shut down, restaurants only providing takeout (and several with groceries available, too), curbside pickup at stores, no going out to eat, listening to music, having meetings. Don’t even think about traveling, not an hour up the road to Washington or across the ocean to Vienna, as was our plan for September.  It’s not so bad for people like me who have money and access to food and supplies, but it still wears a person down, especially given the criminal negligence of the government.  But that rant will remain unwritten here.

On the other hand, it’s been a lovely spring.  The cool weather has persisted with none of the 80+ degree days in April that cook the tulips.  Instead, long stretches of cool, sunny weather with even frost warnings a couple times in the last week.  We’re down for the year, but for the month our rainfall is right on track.  I can’t complain!

Narcissus ‘Sunlight Sensation’ and ‘Baby Boomer’ not only bloomed prolifically but lasted and lasted.  This is ‘Sunlight Sensation.’  Would definitely buy more next year to strew under the maple tree.

The tulips were a bit meager this year, with a few exceptions.  The ‘Happy Generation’ tulip that was supposed to bloom with this ‘Pink Charm’ narcissus barely grew a leaf or two. Tulips in pots seemed to be particularly weak or non-existent.  Voles??

On the other hand,  these dark pink tulips seem to be perennial (so far) and dutifully bloomed at the same time as the viburnum (just out of the frame).

The unfortunately named tulip ‘Bud Light’ was particuarly beautiful, though I don’t have a good picture from my garden.  Here’s one from Jackson & Perkins, and it’s just about how it looked for me, too.

Another one I’d buy again.

The oak tree garden, as always, was an absolute delight, starting with the winter aconites in January.  Here they are on February 9th, interspersed with snow drops. 

And a wider view, on April 11,

when the aconites are gone except for their foliage, and the bluebells, star of Bethlehem, columbine, Japanese roof iris and bleeding heart have taken over.

A closeup of the bluebells in late March: 

Not to forget the hellebores!  They bloom so early, last so long in bouquets, and are so incredibly lovely that I don’t mind that they breed like rabbits and self-seed everywhere.  This one was blooming on February 9th. 

So many beauties that I had to make a slide show for you.

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But wait, don’t forget the peonies and roses!  This was a hand-me-down from my friend Susan Hepler, known to me always as the Hepler peony.  The ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ has tons of buds but no blooms yet.

‘Zepherine Drouhin’ is one of my favorites, though it seems to have a fainter scent this year.  Maybe because of the cooler weather?

The ‘souvenir de Ste. Anne’ is an Earthkind rose, the very palest of pale pinks.

Then there is this neglected part of the garden:

The oakleaf hydrangeas that were supposed to grow six feet tall and help to obliterate my view of the neighbor’s shed never did grow very tall.  Then last year we had lots of rain at one point, and this corner of the garden tends to get soggy.  I think they have given up the ghost, and a great culling will happen here soon.  Edging, obliterating the hydrangeas and forsythia (at least some of it) and cutting down the maple saplings that have taken root.  What a mess!  Welcome to spring in Virginia!

Driving to the Cotswolds, and a muuurderr??

Murder sceneLeaving Oxford on a bright, clear day, we picked up a little white Golf to carry us to Stow. Our first goal was Blenheim Palace, but Alison got an email from them saying that because of an “incident” they would not be opening until lunchtime.  Since the park was still open, off we set.

The driving was not too bad, despite a few times retracing our steps and breathing heavily.  But now we were told that the palace would not be opening until 2:00 (still no explanation, but you can see the police tape).  After a look around the shop, we picked up a picnic sandwich to eat under a tree before our stroll around the park. 

The park, meanwhile, was updated by Capability Brown in the 18th century and is just as lovely as can be. Passing over the Vanbrugh bridge (so large it contains 30 rooms!), VanBrugh bridgewe came to yet another Harry Potter tree, a cedar which has been propped up to keep it alive by the skin of its teeth.  (This is the one that Severus Snape hung from in Order of the Phoenix, when he was being bullied by Harry’s father.) HP treeYou can see that it is carefully preserved from any rabid fans who might be tempted to try the same.

As we walked along, we got a good glimpse of the Column of Victory, erected in memory of the Duke of Marlborough’s victories at war.   Here is is, charmingly accompanied by a herd of sheep.  victoryFrom here I continued around the Queen’s Lake while Alison went back to the shops. Gorgeous views, magnificent trees, thank you, Capability Brown!Blenheim viewfinest view

At this point we were told that they would not open today at all but did extend our tickets through the 20th if we decided to return.  Still no word on what the “incident” was, but Alison discovered it when we got home.  No, it was not a muuurder, it was a theft! Of a golden toilet (part of an art installation, see more further on)!  As of last fall, its fate was still unknown, though there’s plenty of speculation.

Despite losing the way twice, we made our way to Stow in just a few hours.  Luckily, people are very helpful with directions. But finding the house was a nightmare.  We kept circling around Stow’s High Street, with people close behind us all the way, and finally found Shepherd’s Way.  It is a tiny, narrow passageway that set the car to beeping because it was so tight. No room to park whatsoever! tight quartersSee?? We parked in the next street just beyond, and thanks to friendly neighbors who encouraged us to find our house, we had the strength to pick up our groceries and bags and go back along the narrow alley in search of Carter’s Cottage. 

It turned out to be a delightful little house about midway down on the left, with two tiny terraces smothered in roses, Japanese anemones and honeysuckle.  Carters cottage 1It’s just two up, two down (mostly) but with a really good bathroom and a washer/dryer (mysterious like all British appliances, but we made it work).  Here’s a look at the cottage, which suited us down to the ground. 

We had a glass of wine on the terrace wine on the terraceand then had a delicious dead chicken from Tesco, along with a salad and shortbread for dessert, which we seemed to need.  Looking forward to a real shower, that does not require standing up in a tub or kneeling!

Lessons learned

As summer comes to a close – complete with drenching rains, high humidity, more rain, and none of the September weather we loved in the olden days – here are a few lessons learned in the garden.

  • Don’t use angel wing begonias in the window box on the railing, they are totally out of proportion there and far too upright despite the way the flowers droop.begonia-dragon-wing-red
  • Choose a constant bloomer for the hanging basket by the bird feeder, maybe the dull but reliable impatiens.  This year’s begonia was glorious for a few weeks, then stopped blooming entirely.
  • Give the milkweed LOTS of room to spread out, and be prepared for the aphids to cover it and the caterpillars to decimate it.  milkweed caterpillarsPlus:  you might see Monarchs eventually!
  • Plant the Shirley poppies in late winter and choose colors carefully.  They will bloom for months and months, so be sure their color blends with other bloomers (pinky white viburnum, various dahlias and zinnias).  Here’s the pale yellow in August, still in bloom. poppies
  • No more tomatoes unless they are cherries.  The patio tomato sulked, produced half a dozen tomatoes, and proceeded to rot.  Plant the tomato in the raised bed and stand back!
  • Hanging plant in front – never again a geranium, it dries out too quickly and fades away.  Calibrachoa or another reliable bloomer instead.growing-Calibrachoa_mini
  • Feed the hungry:  get a weekly fertilizer plan and do it.  Ditto the twice-monthly fish emulsion for the roses.
  • The Joe Pye weed was magnificent this year, I only hope it doesn’t get much bigger.  The Souvenir de Ste. Anne rose twirled around it, as did the white cosmos, in a very delightful way. joe pye weed
  • Speaking of roses, both the Zepherine Drouhin and the other re-bloomed a couple times over the summer, well worth having them around, even though the St. Anne got Japanese beetles and the Zeph lost leaves and got leggy.

    Next year will be even better!!!

Hope springs eternal

I’ve been wary about growing roses.  Their reputation is for finickiness and the prevalence of diseases that call for chemical sprays.  The plant itself is not lovely, at least not usually.

But when a friend brought me a blossom of “Zephirine Drouhin,” I fell head over heels in love.  That color!  That scent!  Plus, it is almost thornless and can tolerate shade.  I must have one.

But the first one died.  And the second one, found at Roxbury Mills and planted in 2009, did well for a while.  zepherineThough I only got a few blossoms, I was in love.  But sadly, I had an infestation of voles (I’ve since learned that the vole population waxes and wanes.  It’s on the wane now, for which I’m grateful.)  The voles ate the roots and it was adieu to Zepherine.

Undaunted, I bought it again from White Flower Farm in the spring of 2015, and this year it just went to town.

Here is the current, third attempt.zepherine2

As you can see, the plant itself is not handsome, but those blossoms!  You should have smell-a-vision to get the full glory.

On a more serious note, here is a list of its potential problems:

Aphids, leafhoppers, spider mites, scale, caterpillars, sawfly larvae, cane borers, Japanese beetles, rose stem girders, rose midges, rose slugs, rose chafers, leaf-cutting bees, black spot, rust, powdery mildew, crown gall, canker, dieback, downy mildew, viruses.

You see why I was reluctant?

But then I learned from a rose-growing acquaintance about Earthkind roses, developed by the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service.  The Earthkind designation is only for “those roses demonstrating superior pest tolerance, combined with outstanding landscape performance.”

I knew I wanted a rose with fragrance, not too big, either yellow or pink.  The Earthkind site led me to a small shrub rose, Souvenir de Ste. Anne.

“This sport of Souvenir de la Malmaison was bred in England by Thomas Hilling. It was found in St. Anne’s Park, Dublin. The pale pink petals glow with translucent beauty and are very fragrant. It is an excellent choice for mass plantings and borders. Few hips are produced. This cultivar is so outstanding that it was named “Earth-Kind® Rose of the Year” for 2009 by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.”

Since I had not only culled the columbines but dug out the problematic Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen,’ I finally had some space for a plant that likes sun and good air circulation, so I placed my order with the Antique Rose Emporium.

Well, after all that build-up, here’s what I got, earthkind rosebut remember!  This had been in the ground less than a month when it bloomed, so I give it props.  (It would also help if I could figure out how to capture pale pinks, yellows and creams without washing out all the color.)  I’m feeling quite hopeful.