Monthly Archives: May 2010

Organic Roses

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!

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You Gotta Have Faith

Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

Wish I could claim to have written that , but I have to give credit to the writer of the book of Hebrews. I was thinking about it though (I can claim thinking about it, right?) when I planted a bunch of sticks in my garden and tried to believe that they would one day be covered in hundreds of roses. Which got me thinking further. No matter where your faith lies for the larger questions of life, anyone who puts their hands in the dirt is exercising faith to some degree.

Plant a seed, cover it with dirt, keep the dirt moist. In most cases, we’re sure of the hope that it will sprout. We can’t see it, but we’re certain it will happen. Better yet, bury a bulb in October. Put it to sleep eight inches underground and wait for six months. We have to go on faith that it’s still alive under there, that it will sprout when days get long enough.

But back to the roses. I spent a good long time back in March searching the web looking for just the right roses to ring my patio. How about the antique shrub rose named “Ballerina?” Introduced in 1937, the same year my house was built, this rose is described as “a tough, fuss free bloomer.” Great. I’ll take six. Here’s what they’ll look like:

They arrived a month or so via UPS. If I’d never seen bareroot roses before, I would have been a bit concerned. No soil? No pot? Just roots and shoots.

Okay, so this is what we’ve got to work with, we’ll work with it. I dug the holes just as instructed, planted them just right, watered them like clockwork. Weeks passed. Still sticks.

But – a little reward for my faith. At least I’ve got sticks with leaf buds. Hurrah!

The cascades of roses may have to wait until next spring, but I know they’ll come. Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. Sure is fun to have faith.

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New to Me: Mock Orange, Red Foxes, Osprey at Sunset

I just lingered over a second cup of coffee and a back issue of National Geographic with a view of the Atlantic Ocean out the kitchen window. Life is very good here on the Outer Banks of NC.

I must say, though, this award winning photo journal does make one feel a little insecure about the point-and-click garden shots one has been posting on one’s blog. Every issue of NG is gorgeous, and so exotic. Iceland, the Polynesian islands, Bhutan. Kind of makes you feel like getting off your duff and exploring the world. I guess I could explore vicariously if I buy the book advertised on the last page: “A Camera, Two Kids and A Camel: My Journal in Photographs.” Annie Griffiths, a veteran NG photographer, took her 2 kids along on most of her assignments. “They travelled to six continents and spent years in the Middle East, where the children swam in the Red Sea, explored the ancient city of Petra and, yes, befriended Bedouin and rode their camel.” Good gracious. I feel good when we make it out to throw rocks in the creek.

So here I am feeling a little bit untraveled and a lot humbled in the photo journalism department, when the coolest thing happens. I go downstairs to move some laundry over and catch sight of a four legged creature strolling through the car port. A cat, maybe? Nope. A red fox. I knew they lived in the brambles around here, but I’d never had the chance to get a close look. This guy meanders around the house, nuzzles his mate who’s sunning in the back yard, and then plops himself down to catch a little sun time himself. I double back to get a better view and either they hear me or they smell me, but I get a piercing look from both of them saying, “Not one step closer lady.” Unsure if foxes are prone to pouncing on unsuspecting and barefoot gawkers, I retreat for my shoes and my camera.

So I get to have a little NG moment of my own. Wildlife, unexpected encounters, exoticism (foxes are exotic, don’t you think??). The photos won’t win any awards, and I doubt anyone will want to buy a coffee table books made up of them. But it was a good reminder that you don’t have to go all that far from home to have a bit of an adventure. Open eyes, a curious mind, slowing down enough to take note, and a willingness to ask what you do not know: all are key to a life filled with discovery and wonder instead of just the same old same old.

A few more things I don’t get to see in my garden in Philly: According to the lady I stopped on her walk, this fabulous shrub is a Japanese pittosporum, or mock orange. The scent has beach goers and butterflies alike weaving drunkenly among their blooms.

Only grows in zones 9-10, so I might have to make do with it in a container. I guess that might be best since its 15-20 foot height and spread would BE my garden in Philly.

And, I got to wish the osprey in this nest good night yesterday as the sun set over the Currituck sound.

The little wonders. I’ll take them.

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p.s. Turns out I got a few things wrong in this post. First – pittosporum is commonly known as Japanese Mock Orange. The plain old Mock Orange  is native to the western US , has big white fragrant flowers is called the philadelphus lewisii.  Second – those foxes are gray foxes, not red foxes. Now I know!

Gardenaholics Anonymous

My name is Kelly and I am a gardenaholic. They say the first step is to admit that you have a problem, and boy do I have a problem.

This realization has been coming on gradually. Thinking back, there were warning signs. A few weeks ago, I set the table for dinner for my family and said to my husband that it had been a long time since we all sat down together. He replied, very graciously and in a kind tone of voice, “It’s gardening season.” My husband is not a gardener, unless you include “willing to dig big holes” or “helps lift the really heavy things” in your definition. He was clearly commenting on my tendency to lose all track of time the minute I step out the back door and don the yellow gloves. What I  intend to be a quick 15 minute weeding session becomes a shrub-moving, hardscape-building landscape overhaul. I really do plan to come in at 5:30 and fix dinner for my children. Then 7:30 rolls around and I’m calling the Chinese place. Hmmm…. Problematic.

This next warning sign will undoubtedly cause much cringing and eye-averting by the neat-freaks among you. (Mom, I’m talking to you here. Please feel free to skip to the following paragraph. What follows may simply be too upsetting a display by someone so closely related to you).

Last week, miraculously, the kids were fully ready for school and the kitchen was clean 15 minutes early. Found time! Great! I thought I’d get started folding that laundry that had been piling up for, oh, a few weeks. I should have been worried when I noticed my four and five year olds digging through the baskets in the living room for clean underwear, but it was this sight that made me think I might really have a problem:

And then I went to my bedroom and saw this:

And then I had to get something out of the basement and was faced with this:

Oh boy. Things are falling down around me.  But it’s May and it’s beautiful and the peonies I planted 3 years ago that never grew AT ALL have finally surfaced. There is so much fun work to be done in the garden. And so much unfun work to be done in the house. Let me ask you. Does anyone really want to organize the tool bench? Are those winter coats really causing harm? If you could spend a half hour matching a gazillion pair of size 4 socks or a half hour dealing with this chore:

which would you choose?

Last night, at 8:30 I realized I was watering my newly planted annuals IN THE DARK. Not in the dusk. In the dark. My name is Kelly, and I have a problem. Not so sure I want to be cured of it though!

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