Roses made me a gardener.
Until I graduated from college, my interest in horticulture extended to mowing my parents’ lawn (for a fee) and watching my mom work magic in her garden (without any inclination to help her). Then, I discovered roses – producers of fantastic multi-petaled wonders that smelled like heaven and made me look like a floral arranger. I had developed a love for the flowers during college – what girl doesn’t appreciate a dozen of them from a boy who makes her knees go weak. What really amazed me about the plants though was the reblooming. Keep ‘em deadheaded and they’ll pump out their prizes all summer long. The first square foot of land I could call my own became my first rose garden.
I inherited three red scraggly roses with this Philadelphia garden, roses I’ve mostly ignored while focusing on other, more pressing projects. I can’t tell you their name. They’re tall (6 feet or so) and arching, so I suspect they are climbers. They seem only to bloom once a season and have about 20 petals per bloom. They did not go the way of the forsythia hedge or the barberry or the sidewalk-invading yews (compost baby!!), but they have received precious little attention. But even neglected, these beauties put on a show every May. They line the fence that divides my back garden from that of my neighbors P and B, and, when blooming, provide a nice little privacy screen.
I’ve often wondered whether P & B shared my love for roses or if, rather, they find them a bit unruly. They do arch, as I mention, and tend to arch into their yard. Also, when we first moved in and were having the “property boundary” conversation with our neighbors (this fence is yours, that shrub is mine, etc.), P made a curious comment. “Oh yes, and ALL the roses are yours.” Hmmmmmm.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I finally asked for permission to train my roses on his fence. I had been doing it surreptitiously for years, of course. But this year, the darn thing kept flopping back onto my side of the fence. “Surely it’s the wind,” I told my self. “No!” countered a voice inside my head. “It’s P and B being annoyed at your unneighborly rose and detaching it from their pickets. Can’t you get a message?” So I figured I’d ask outright. To my delight, not only was P gracious in his insistence that I use his fence to support my rose, he gave me some pruning advice and some back-story about his history with my roses. Apparently, the former owner of this garden sprayed her roses religiously, fully decked in plastic protective clothing. P, apparently, is a gardener in my style who loathes the idea of any chemical usage in the garden. Ha! An explanation for the luke-warm rose comment 4 years ago. Roses in my garden meant chemicals in his.
And now the best part of the story. P told me that in all those years of spraying, those roses had never looked so great as they do today. Organic roses work. True, some of the leaves are spotty. Some tend toward yellow. But the blooms are still lovely, and I don’t worry about my kids or P’s cat getting some nasty illness.
I’m not the only one touting the benefits of low-maintenance rose growing. I read two articles this week about the benefits of laying off the constant spraying and fertilizing the fussy rose myths would have us do. One was from an expected source. Organic Gardening’s G. Michael Shoup suggests mulching, compost teas and good companion plants to make your roses flourish. He dismisses the idea of an isolated bed of roses you expect to be perfect. “Don’t plant rose gardens,” he says. “Plant gardens that have roses in them.” Amen brother. Even more interesting to my mind though, is the article by rose-grower Paul Zimmerman in Fine Gardening Magazine. He suggests finding roses that are a good fit for your landscape. Do this by amending the soil when you plant and by NOT WATERING once a rose is established except in drought conditions. This is for all the same reasons we all know – less frequent watering forces the plant to send down deeper roots and to, well, fend for itself. True for roses just like it is for lawn. Zimmerman wrote of the many roses in his gardens that haven’t received supplemental water for eight years. Hey – I’m half way there!
The moral of my story: I’m going to plant more roses. With the basics of the garden almost done, I can envision a climber here and an antique shrub rose there, punctuating my landscape with those little wonders that made me a gardener in the first place.
Check out Paul Zimmerman’s blog “Roses are Plants Too” for great tips and resources on low maintenance rose growing!