Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some mathematics you'll like

It occurred to me as I was shoveling manure compost that I have left a gravely wrong impression here. My garden and I are the exception not the norm. Ninety-five roses is far, far from average and so is the work involved. This number of roses and level of effort is my choice, at least for now, but growing beautiful, enjoyable roses need not be so demanding. Divided by ten or twenty, your roses can be just as fulfilling as mine, produce equally thrilling blooms and be the same handsome healthy landscape shrub. Let's keep dividing by ten or twenty. A bag of composted cow manure from Lowe's is all that's needed for each bush. For about $1.50 per bush in the spring along with a bag of Rose-Tone or Holly-Tone and a bag of Milorganite for a feeding while on an evening stroll through your yard every six weeks or so means your effort will also be divided by ten or twenty.

As with everything, hobbies and hobbyists come in all degrees of devotion and intensity. If you want no part of my garden, and if my gardening scares the daylights out of you, I say fear not. Most likely this is not your cup of tea, but a taste of gardening-lite may be right up your alley. After all, azaleas need pruning in the spring, feeding after their bloom is finished, and supplemental feedings throughout the year if they're to stay healthy in our Florida conditions. I don't hear folks talk about how demanding azaleas are.  If you have four or five sunny spots in your yard, you could have four or five Souvenir de la Malmaisons covered repeatedly with incredibly elegant blush pink flowers which I daresay will make your yard elegantly different from your neighbors whether or not they grow roses.

If you're desperate for some variety and beauty in your landscape, by all means investigate these Old Garden Roses (there are many to choose from) that truly do thrive here. Amazingly, our early spring is producing delightful results with my roses, results not to be found on a ligustrum, an Indian Hawthorne or even on a Knock-Out rose. Variety spices up our lives and our landscapes. I know positively that Florida homeowners take pride in their landscape and even put a lot of work in it. Is this something you'd be willing to put that work into? For  5% or 10% of my work you can have 100% of my roses' grace and beauty. Now that's math-made-easy, don't you agree?

Friday, February 25, 2011


This is 'Souvenir de la Malmaison, Climbing' (1893). I have her growing on a pillar. Her reputation is that of a stingy bloomer, great in the spring but little through the summer and some in the fall. Since I love my bush forms of SdlM, I had to have the climber regardless of her reputation. How amazing that she is the second rose to bloom in my garden and so early. Just wait till she opens all the way.
Lots of buds, too!

Such a lovely profile.
She's still quite young, planted in September, 2009. Climbers can take a few years to really start producing so I wasn't surprised that she only had a few flowers last year. She's tied to coated wire on this 8' tall 4x4 post, and at her feet just to the right is one of my SdlM bushes. I have Clematis Henryi growing on this pillar, too, to fill in with flowers during the rose's lean times.
'Archduke Charles' (1825) was just moved into the ground last month, I think, out of his big pot where he'd been since August, 2008. He never missed a beat, and he's ready to bloom. I haven't de-leafed him yet, hence the not-so-pretty old leaf.
This baby is my first David Austin rose, 'Bow Bells' (1991). I knew she had buds, but I was totally shocked to see her with a flower today. She's only been in the ground since August.

Here she is again, posing with 'Red Ruffles' azalea.
Not to be outdone by her climbing sport in the back garden, here is the bush, 'Souv de la Malmaison' (1843), in the front garden. I have a third SdlM growing right next to her, a baby barely 12" across and not a foot tall, planted last September, with a bud that's opening, her first. It always amazes me when roses that I have multiples of bloom at the same time. It's really a miraculous thing, like they're programmed.
And, of course, first place winner, 'Hermosa' (1840), is showing her stuff, blooming her head off before she's even started leafing out. She's usually a more lilac pink, and I noticed her first open flower wasn't fragrant. Roses do different things at different times of the year.
Interestingly, December's freezes robbed me of the last roses of 2010, but February is gifting me with early roses in 2011. I guess that's not such a bad deal.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeds and seedlings, a semi-success story

Again they have tested my strength and resolve. My city upbringing is fighting me every step of the way. Winter before last I started a bunch of seeds of plants about whom I was clueless since I was venturing into the unknown world of companion plants - on the dining room table and a shelf in my laundry room, I might add. But then winter took so long to go away. I'd put them out on the porch and then bring them into the garage when it was going to freeze - and then forget them. Drat! The sweet part is that out of all the seeds I started I had three plants that survived and flourished in the garden - a baby pink and a rose 'Summer Carnival' hollyhock and 'Early Sunrise' coreopsis put out in March.

The baby pink hollyhock died at the end of summer, but the rose one stayed green all winter and is looking good. I divided the coreopsis into several plants and decided to use it a lot more. The yellow really pops among the pinks of the roses.

I think I already described my September, 2010 sowing escapade, three weekends hunched over peat pots and bags of starter mix, counting out the seeds more precisely than the first time in the sweltering heat on the porch with the big table fan blowing on my back so the seeds wouldn't blow away.

From that batch I got a lot of old fashioned mustard, violas & pansies, several each of double white stock, 'Foxy' foxglove, 'Rocket' larkspur, 'Tutti Fruitti' lupin, echinacea and nigella. A lot of losses. I think two poppies survived. Dianthus and hollyhocks were a total loss. The acquisition of my pop-up greenhouse was a great help, and in late January and early February I started putting them out in the garden which proved that assembly-line work is not for me. Exasperatingly tedious it was to deal with those teensy little plants, fighting the urge to simply stick them in an unamended hole scratched in the dirt with my fingers. The grown-up in me said, "Sherry, you didn't put all this work in so they can fail at the finish line." Only a couple have failed in the ground. The foxglove seeds, however, were almost microscopic and came streaming out of the envelope (chalk that up to exhaustion), and I had seedlings by the dozen in each compartment. At planting time they were so tiny and I was so uncertain about dividing and possibly damaging them that I split the mass in half and planted them as is. Now they are starting to grow (maybe an inch and a half tall), and I think I can divide them. Not sure what losses I will sustain in the process.

I didn't even mention the cost of peat pots and seed starter mix. I was doing the math for what these $3 packets of  25 and 50 seeds were costing me per survivor. It wasn't an encouraging answer, but I was determined to persevere, remembering I wouldn't have to buy any flats of plants in the spring while this little voice whispered in my brain, "Yeah, right."

Then at the end of January I sowed my warm-season seeds. The dilemma was where to put them. The nights were way too chilly on the screened porch where the others had been started under lights. Then a purchase of my darling DH proved to be indispensable - a mini-greenhouse for $16.97 at Harbor Freight which I had thought was unnecessary in light of having the pop-up. So it came into the dining room. I had seen a dear blogger (unknown to me now, so sorry) sowing her seeds in the kitchen in disposable aluminum baking pans. I thought it was a stroke of genius on her part, and I sowed 3 pans in one evening of about 18 varieties, eight or so of each. A beautiful set-up with lights and the zip-on greenhouse cover which made it unnecessary to cover each pan for moisture retention, and I had no losses due to damping-off disease. Everything was going swimmingly (except that 'The Hulk' zinnia never germinated). Then about a week ago the tall seedlings started flopping over. Uh-oh, I thought, this isn't good; maybe they need more light, so I moved the greenhouse outside, but we were having quite a bit of wind at that time, so I took off the cover which served as an announcement to the squirrels that the sandbox was now open. Yesterday emergency measures had to be taken to avert disaster.

But back at the pop-up greenhouse my convolvulus meant for patio pots and a store-bought 6-pack of pink & red dianthus were crispy critters, a testament to our higher temps and the gardener's failure to stay on top of their water needs. Double drat!

OK, back to yesterday's rescue mission. I set up on the patio deck: 3 pans of seedlings, huge bag of potting soil, bags of milorganite & Holly-Tone (it'll work, I said to myself), several of last years patio pots needing renovation & replanting, two giant-sized scoops, watering can, and later as many scrounged 4" pots as I could find - and me in the middle on my little rolling seat. The pain in my back started almost immediately since the seat, even as low as it is, placed me in a hunching position over the plants and accessories. (Is everyone paying attention? Find a better way.) I planted the patio pots first and in the process found two pots with last year's plants ready to burst forth from the soil (can't remember the name. Here it is, the mini-petunia that I loved. I'm so thrilled that it's coming back. It was wonderful. Apparently, the one in the upper right of the photo is the other one that's coming back.
I put five 'Apricot Daisy' calendula seedlings in each of two tallish pots (a good sale purchase months ago), but the little buggers still wouldn't stand up straight no matter what I did. Two pots got a 4" grass plant in the middle with 'Daddy Mix' petunias around the edge. One pot got several Red Plains Dwarf Coreopsis. Then the light dawned. These tiny seedlings must need to be potted up rather than planted, so the hunt for 4" pots ensued. With the knot in my back torturing me each seedling I potted was to be the last I needed of that variety, but it wasn't. My heart wanted to save all of them, precious as they were. Salvia farinacea (tiny, thinned to 3 or 4 in a pot, hating to discard the culled ones), 'White Bride' snapdragon (they had been planned to go along the sidewalk, perfect with the 'Aaron' caladiums (don't you think?) until I saw the pink ones at Lowe's, so big!), 'The Bride' gaura (love the pink version of this plant!), 'Summer Carnival' hollyhock (only three were barely savable, a tragedy; hopefully they're alive today), Rosemary (disappeared, vanished somewhere, maybe I'll sow some in a pot), 'Fairy Wand' Dierama pulcherrimum (good survival rate, absolutely couldn't let any of these be thrown away; can't wait to see them grow), Aladdin yellow petunia (why are these so tiny??), Zinnia 'Purity' (thought these would be lovely standing tall next to the roses), purple coneflower (even though I have 42 seedlings of 'Double Decker' coming from Thompson Morgan, I can not bare to lose any of these. I think I saved 5 or 6). Throughout this activity, the question keeps invading my mind, "Where am I going to plant all these plants?" 'Double Cascade' Orchid Petunia, Coreopsis lanceolata (I hope I like these as much as the 'Early Sunrise'), and 'Dahlberg Daisy' (never saw anything so tiny in my life - they were not saved). I ended up with 45 4" pots that I put in trays of water in the greenhouse after realizing that I could zip the screens shut which would keep it from getting so overheated, hopefully.

Bottom line: I feel so ill equipped for farming, and I have a huge admiration for farmers now, knowing the risks of crop failure and plague that they face everyday yet they courageously carry on. I hope I have a fraction of their courage come August. Maybe time will dull the pain and exhaustion, ya think?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When ideas won't take root

My current labor in the garden pains my muscles and numbs my brain, and by dark when I come in I make my way to the sofa, put a pillow behind my back and wait in hope for the muscles to stop screaming at me. I would normally sit down at this computer and let my gardening consciousness stream forth with little or no effort. But exhaustion (from what I can't say since the heavy digging is done. All I do is walk back and forth countless times for this or that task and roll on my garden seat down the sidewalk, hunching over to plant my gorgeous Antirrhimum majus (tall snapdragons) just purchased at Lowe's), yes, this exhaustion makes it harder for interesting ideas to take root in the late hours. And I know that working all day in an office or carrying kids here and there can be just as exhausting. So let me offer some encouragement just on the off chance there are any frustrated gardeners reading this blog.

It is a known fact that mere human beings can not do everything, and there is another adage about all things in moderation and perhaps another one about just do what you can. If your garden is calling to you like some creature from the black lagoon and you're hiding in your busy schedule in the grip of guilt and fear, try this. Do one thing. Get it done. Feel the achievement. Let it warm your blood and feed your energy. If you're the "all or nothing" type, do a little "all" with the shovel and "nothing" with the vacuum cleaner. Refresh your gardening soul with the pre-spring/spring air outside. Get your fingers and toesies in the dirt. Give a cheer for the returning daylilies and spring bulbs. Let the gardener in you stand up and stretch after the long winter sleep. Ahhh! The here-and-now is yours! Just do it and rejoice that it's done. No longer will the garden's voice be allowed to instill frustration but rather a sense of resting in the peaceful knowledge that you're doing what you can - and enjoying the day.
My dream is that these lovelies will grow to three feet tall, love the heat and push back when the remaining 'Aaron' calladiums start throwing their weight around.

Monday, February 21, 2011

This and that

Here's the finished work of Le Vesuve.
My front yard isn't quite as desolate as it was before the pruning but you'd never know there are roses in this picture.
Poor Clotilde Soupert has been leafless for a few months, and her normally green canes are burgundy-colored. I really was afraid she might be in trouble since my other CS had lots of leaves. While I was pruning her, I looked at the other side of one cane. What a shock to see that it is green on the north side! The poor rose is sunburned. She's showing some new sprouts so hopefully she's OK.
Madame Abel Chatenay is so prickly, but she's sprouting new growth already. We're having some very nice warm temps.
Violas grown from seeds by me.
Last year first bloom went to 'Hermosa', and this year it's 'Hermosa' again. Sorry for the blur. We had a good bit of wind today.
This is the glamorous part of composted horse manure. It's downhill from here and leaves you with stiff muscles. I added topsoil, but the hole took every bit of the load.

Tomorrow I'll finally be planting my three new babies, moving Parade, and planting this "Purple Iris". That's all that was on the label from Lowe's. I've never grown irises before. I hope it survives in my yard, and I hope Lowe's knows what they're doing stocking it in their Ocala store. I just couldn't resist it - even at $12.98. In fact, I want to go back for another one. If anyone has a clue what kind of iris this might be, I'd really appreciate your sharing. It's about 30" tall. I hope it's not a bearded iris. I don't think they do well here.
I was just thinking today that I would be entirely happy if all I ever did was work in my garden.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Never received an award before!

Thank you, Masha!
for thinking my blog deserves an award.

Now then, I hope I have the instructions right about what I am supposed to do next.
1. Post a link back to the person who gave you the award (see above).
2. Tell 7 things about myself.
       1. In high school I worked as a telephone operator back when calls were answered by plugging the "front cord" into a hole in the board above the blinking light of the caller and then plugging the "back cord" into a jack that went to the called number. I thought it was a fun job, being the anonymous "Operator 115".
       2. My hometown of Norwalk, CT is right next door to Westport, CT, home of some very famous people. The most exciting call I ever handled was a person-to-person call to Sammy Davis, Jr. This was the coolest call I'd ever handled even though Sammy was not there. I asked the caller if he wanted to leave a message. He said, "Yes, tell him Paul Newman called." Instantly, all breath left my body and no sound would come out of my mouth. Paul kept saying, "Operator, Operator." I think I was finally able to grunt or something.
       3. When going through sorority "rush" at the University of Alabama, the counselor advised all the girls to "tell them something that will make them remember you". Even though I was an extremely shy, introverted girl, I did have my Paul Newman story, and I told it at every sorority house I went to that day. It worked.
       4. I always wanted a yellow Volkswagon beetle.
       5. I've been married 33+ years and have 3 stepsons, 3 DILs, and 7 grandchildren.
       6. Quilting and sewing were my things before roses.
       7. I love to buy books. Unfortunately, I don't have time to read them all.
3. Award from 5 to 15 other new bloggers.
I enjoy these 'newish' blogs immensely. I hope you will, too. 
        Christina's Organic Garden Dreams
        Sandra's Roses, Color and Light
        The Professor's Garden Musings
 And thank you again, Masha.       

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A day late

Sorry not to have kept my promise to give you "more tomorrow". But "tomorrow" was an extra long day at work, and this pruner was pooped so no pruning was done yesterday. I managed to get the last cuts made on Le Vesuve as it was getting dark (which thankfully came at 6:45 tonight and later tomorrow night!). I hope in the daylight he won't be lopsided. So no photos for you. I was all set to take pictures last evening of the unfinished side and the finished side, but I had no charged batteries. Sometimes life just doesn't cooperate.

I will tell you that this rose is a cantankerous one. Tonight's half had even more oddities on it, places where I had trimmed in the past that had sprouted umbrella growth. Definitely not intuitive pruning. It got dark before I could get way in to the middle, too. Hopefully, I'll remember to get back to it.

As you can see I have eight minis and polys in larger pots around my front circle. On Sunday I pruned them from a stool (much easier on the back), feeling like a bonsai gardener. I would sit down in front of each rose and say to myself, "What the heck!!!" Zillions of not-much-bigger-than-toothpick-sized canes. Where to begin but at the beginning, i.e., start cutting. Which is what I did, and it felt like I was moving at a good clip, but at the end of each day it was my judgment that I had made little progress on what I had thought would be a one day job. I may not have mentioned it on this blog before, but I have a tendency to be slow, stemming from my tendency to be perfectionistic, I guess. That must be the reason it took three days to trim the freezes off eight liriope (also known as buzz cuts), prune and/or de-leaf eleven roses in the ground and eight roses in pots and cut back the dead tops off several perennials.

And now on to the backyard. One-week vacation starts tomorrow at 4:15pm. Yay!!! Compost coming Saturday morning. Yay!! Dreaming of the spring flush and remembering last year's, Le Vesuve says Hi!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Been pruning for days

Let's see. What other activities are approached with such trepidation? Taking a swimming lesson? Driver's test? Job interview? Meeting his/her parents? Wedding night? Yes, yes, I know those are all life changing, life-or-death events, so what's the big deal about pruning? Perhaps it's the do-it-yourself aspect of it. Ever given yourself a perm? Oh, my, I have. Total disaster. Perhaps it's because I've never seen it done, never seen the finished work, never had it explained, never understood the whys and wherefores of it. Perhaps it's the dread of not knowing where to start...or when to stop. Or maybe the terror of living forever with this bald plant in the center of my front yard and being branded the laughing stock of the gardening world and the neighborhood.

Whatever it is, it is something that must be overcome. Mind over matter. Just dive in. Sink or swim. What helped me was a series of how-to photos in Cass Bernstein's "A Tea Pruning Lesson" (the link is in the sidebar). I remember her talking about forks, and the photos of the bushes after pruning were full of forked canes.

So when I went out today to continue and maybe finish pruning Le Vesuve (a mass of dense, crossing, hyper thorny canes), it was with the picture of a fork in the forefront of my mind. This rose delights in growing multiple canes from one budeye (apparently, a tea trait), some at 90 degree angles straight up, some running tightly parallel, some bending again at an odd angle. This word, fork, was a lifesaver even though many times there were multiple choices of forks to pick. I just kind of figured which one would look the most normal, but sometimes the answer was none. That's when I punted, thinking that Cass would understand. It became very clear early on that this rose does not play by the rules. It's not unusual to see canes growing backwards toward  the inside of the bush from a cane growing normally toward the outside of the bush. In those situations I made a command decision and cut it off. Seems like I remember that anything growing in or down or crossing on trees should be removed, so I applied that rule to roses. There were many command decisions to be made. All those skinny, zig-ziggy canes near the bottom. All that new growth. How much is too much and not enough. Pruning must be done with the brain in gear - or not. I have been known to over-think things.

Removing all the leaves from this very well foliated bush was a great help. Suddenly I could see the canes that had been invisible. Wearing rose gauntlets gave me real fearlessness after the first time I reached my arm deep into the bush and came out unscathed. I was no longer afraid. By the time it was too dark to see this evening, I was about halfway around this six-foot diameter monster, just trimming out the crazy stuff. Tomorrow after that's finished, I may still have to shorten it up some and draw it farther in from the edges. No nibbling on this fast growing two-year-old baby. Using the brick edging as a guide has been helpful. When I stood back in the dimness, I had hope that Le Vesuve would not only be smaller and thinner but also symmetrical for the first time in its life. Yes, I had hope, and the fear was gone. This was not the dangerous ogre of my nightmares. Just a jolly green giant wanting to be tamed. Boundaries are good for a lot of things, and I think come the spring flush I'm going to see how much this rose loves discipline. More tomorrow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

'Parade' on the move

This is 'Parade' last year. My plan was to replace him with Climbing Clotilde Soupert and send him far away to the landfill.  Well, I think he's gotten wind of the shovel, because he is sprouting absolutely everywhere. So I thought about the spot I have on the northeast side of a fence that probably gets too much shade for a bush, but since 'Parade' tolerates some shade and most of him would be above the fence anyway, I thought it would be a perfect fit with the added benefit of the rather remote location making his less-than-well-foliated nature less bothersome.  Last weekend that was a great idea, but this weekend now that he's budding all over the place, I'm concerned about the damage I will do him. Sigh! He's definitely got to be moved, and roses do bounce back amazingly well. I just hope I don't hurt him too bad.  Well, maybe he won't mind the jolt of the move, and perhaps he'll just be relieved that he's got a new home and isn't mulch. He's worth saving, don't you think? And he's not even an antique.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Signs of new life

The sun came out this afternoon after several days of gray and rain. When I stepped out of my car in my driveway after work, everything seemed to sparkle so I went for a walk around. Most of the rose bushes were bare as before. Some had quite a few tiny new leaves, and some only had tiny red swellings, a sign of the growth to come. Winter in a rose garden in an evergreen state like Florida can be a bit unnerving, especially for a relative newbie like me. I have learned to get a grip and not panic, trusting the roses to know what they're doing. Many of these Old Garden Roses have been making the transition from winter to spring for more than a century, so at this point I am at peace with simply watching.

'Souvenir de la Malmaison', a Bourbon and much more tolerant of cold, held on to many of her leaves and now seems well clothed with many new leaves. She's about 4' wide x 3' tall. I will not be doing any pruning on her. Only dead and diseased stuff will be removed.
By contrast 'Bermuda's Anna Olivier', a Tea, by now has lost almost all of last year's leaves and is just beginning to show new growth. I'm sure there are dead canes on her since she is pretty tender. That's all I will remove on her. She is 5' or 6' across and about 4' tall. When she is fully leafed out, you will not be able to see the fence behind her or the ground under her. She has beautiful healthy foliage and large, fat, pale yellow flowers. (The curving horizontal cane on the fence is 'Red Cascade' not Anna.)
 You can see the tiny red nubs on BAO's canes and the new leaves tinged with red, typical for Tea roses. Something else to note is her twigginess, also typical of Teas. The slender canes in this photo are pretty close to actual size, and though the bush has a basically round shape, its structure is built from all these "twigs" that grow at odd angles, becoming thicker with age. She was planted in March, 2009 as a well rooted 2-gallon plant.
'Madame Abel Chatenay' is a Hybrid Tea from 1894 and is basically naked though she is not damaged by the cold we get here. I will cut her back by about one-third to within about a quarter inch of a budeye, but it won't really matter if it faces in or out. She pretty much grows in all directions and doesn't suffer from blackspot so I don't thin out the middle as is done with modern HTs. She responded quite well to pruning like this last year. She's about 3.5' x 4', and if you grow Hybrid Teas in your garden, you know that she looks nothing like a modern HT.
Here is a close-up of her quite prickly, zig-zaggy canes.  You can see the little red swollen spots, some new leaves and a few little brown twigs. The brown, dead stuff will be removed as well. The thicker brown canes in the photo are not dead. They have just become woody with age. Eventually the green twigs will do the same thing.
Here is 'Cornelia', a Hybrid Musk from 1925 that I'm growing in a fountain form, tied to the trellis. This year I'll probably have to tie her from higher on the wall since her long canes extend too far out into the path. A week or so ago she was bare, but she's starting to sprout. I won't be trimming her at all except for dead twigs that she probably has down near the ground. She's about two years old, and some of her canes are probably at least 8 feet long. She blooms in pendulous clusters of small peachy pink flowers with buds of a deep rose color. She's in a good bit of shade (more this time of year) since HMs don't really like our strong sun and high heat. She gets a tolerable amount of blackspot and apparently doesn't mind my neutral soil or this spot is just untypically more acidic. Of the six Hybrid Musks that I have tried two are left. 'Nur Mahal' is the other one. The others couldn't hack the heat and the limestone.
Perhaps you can see a spot in the lower left of this photo where two canes emerge from the same spot on 'Cornelia's cane. This habit should make for a very bushy plant when it matures.
This is 'Softee', a miniature from 1983. Doesn't she look dead?? But not to worry. I was quite pleased with the health of this rose last year and her clusters of yellow flowers were really sweet. I may do a little trimming on her but not much since she's so young. Just some minute nibbling on her ends.
See? She's not dead!
I'm quite excited about 'Bow Bells'. She's my first David Austin rose. (I just brought home another Austin, 'Lilian Austin'.) Since I don't use fungicides to fight blackspot (and Austins tend to get BS), I have been able to resist these gorgeous roses, but it's been most difficult. The two that I have are reputed to be pretty healthy. 'Bow Bells' went in the ground in August and kept all of her leaves with hardly any blackspot. Though she's still small and low to the ground, she has three flower buds, totally exciting!! If we don't get a hard freeze tonight or in the next couple of weeks, I'll get to see what her flowers look like. Don't ask me what the brown spots are. I'm ignorant.
My absolute favorite companion plant is purple coneflower (echinacea). I love the large deep pink, daisy-like flowers with their tall orangey seed cones that the butterflies love to sit on. A wonderful attribute of this perennial is that the seed heads drop seeds if you are not real diligent about deadheading which I have stopped doing altogether. In fact, when the stems dry out, I pluck them and drop them around the garden, ardently hoping that the seeds will take, and I'll have more of these beautiful plants. These are two (maybe three) new seedlings that have popped up near the mother plant.  The two tiny leaves to the right of bottom center are weeds, unfortunately. You can see most of my mulch is pretty thin, thanks in large part to the armadillos that come through the beds like bulldozers. %$#@$%!!
With all this new growth happening, I will be feeding the garden this weekend. It may not be quite warm enough for the organics to be useful yet, but as soon as it is I want the food to be waiting on the table for my hungry roses, daylilies, et al. Composted horse manure will have to wait until the pile dries out. We've had about 8 inches of rain in the last 10 to 14 days. Yippee!!

If you'd like to view photos and complete descriptions of these roses and others, go here.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Adopt a rose

When I was at the rose nursery yesterday, one tea rose after another was calling my name, and I had to reply "no room". It occurs to me now that it was similar to going to an animal shelter and being touched by so many adorable doggies and kitties that need homes and, of course, being unable to adopt them all but wanting desperately for each and every one of them to be safe and secure in a loving place. Granted, I shed no tears yesterday as I drove out of the nursery and am grateful that I am not that easily touched with heartbreak, but it is a truth that many old roses go ungrown, insecure in their future. In particular, Florida seems to be a place with 'little room' for these glorious plants that would thrive and bloom so well if given a chance. We have an environment and a climate that can be rather inhospitable for gardener and flora alike, but perhaps we should look at our gardening from a different perspective and ask ourselves the question, what is the value of preserving and perpetuating an aspect of nature's beauty that has largely been neglected? At one point in our history there was the catch phrase, "a chicken in every pot". Perhaps it's not quite as catchy, but how about "an antique rose in every yard"? They don't even need a garden...just a spot in the yard.

Sometimes I think we focus too much on rootstock and poor soil in the same way that folks say they lack a large fenced yard and don't like litter boxes in the house. Own-root roses are strong and quite tolerant of less than perfect conditions, and a rose has the ability to weedle its way into one's heart just as a furry creature does. Give one a chance. The rewards will be amazing.
Nur Mahal

Maman Cochet
Louis Philippe

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ding dong, the ditch is dug. Er, I mean rose bed.

Bottom line is, it was a witch of a ditch! I have a whopping 102 inches between the driveway and the property line. I had killed the grass last September (sorry, neighbors), meaning to work on it in a timely manner, but this was as timely as I could manage. The bed is only about 12 feet long. No sense in digging out shaded ground unless you're name is Hercules, and mine is definitely not even though my 85-year-old neighbor across the street thinks otherwise. I must admit to feeling pretty good about myself when I quit working last Sunday although I will also admit I hobbled to a very hot shower and was in bed by 6 o'clock. I figured I'd be barely moving on Monday morning, but au contraire, I felt fine and even felt better about being 60. This digging may well have put to bed my feeling of having one foot in the grave!

Back when it was still hot weather, I did some digging and pick-axing in this bed. Oh, what an agony. The ground was dry and rock hard and bearing abundant chunks of limestone, i.e., rocks! I have been spoiled by soft and penetrable Florida sand. Hitting a rock causes a sort of cartoon effect in me like Roadrunner hitting a wall. Very aggravating. I managed to remove one shovel depth in that attempt.

This time I knew it would be a double dig project. Dig out a shovel deep and heave it in the pickup. When that level's done, go back and repeat. I think I got about six running feet done when I figured the truck needed to be emptied. Driving around to the field behind my house, I was a tad concerned about what DH would think with the front end of the truck so far up in the air. Then each and every shovelful that went into the truck had to come out of the truck. Did I say double-dig? Quadruple-dig seems more accurate. (Just a note: I don't just dump it but neatly fill in low spots back there.) Then back to the driveway and digging another couple of rows, but the suspense was killing me. I had to see what was below the surface of the next layer which is my M.O. My particular brand of attention deficit disorder only allows me to continue doing the same behavior for so long at which point I must deviate and do something different.

So as I said, my intention was to dig and flip and break up. Hmm, I hear you asking, what breaking up is needed for sand? That is a great question. The answer is none. This ground, however, was not normal sand. It was more like mortar mix. Awful stuff! Dead stuff. No bugs, no worms, no roots. Yuck! Doing the flip-and-break-up revealed more thick layers of white clay and something that I think is called marl, a hodgepodge of compressed strata of mostly black 'something' mixed with little chunks of white and orange clay. I just couldn't leave all those chunks of clay in the ground, broken up or not, so I had basketball practice with the chunks and the truck. I stink at basketball. Again I was concerned about what DH would think if he heard all those dings on the truck, but I was getting tired and those chunks were heavy. One of them was as big as a football. I walked that one to the truck. From that 7'x8' area I filled up the truck again, and drove my super cool truck with its nose in the air back into the field. Miraculously, I got it empty again. Monday I moved another truckload of the next three linear feet, and today I finished the digging, but the truck sits full in the driveway, nose high in the air, waiting for me to return tomorrow. Whoa, there definitely should have been more fanfare with that statement.
**I finished the digging.**

This is where I must advise you not to do as I do but to find the right way to do it. As I was looking at all this yucky high-pH clay, my brain decided to apply a lot of powdered sulfur to the bottom of the bed, figuring that any roots that went that deep would find some acidity, so that's what I did. And even though they say earthworms will just appear in a garden bed that's been organically prepared (and I've seen it happen), I knew no right thinking earthworm was ever going to put his tootsies in this stuff, so I also decided to apply a whole lot of Milorganite to the bottom along with ground pine bark (soil conditioner) in hopes of this nutritious layer migrating down even deeper, as everything else does in Florida soil. Afterwards I googled 'calcareous clay', and sadly, I read that it neutralizes sulfur, so today I threw on more sulfur. Like I said, you probably shouldn't do this, but it made sense to me.

The next step toward 'White Maman Cochet' and 'Mrs B R Cant' having a permanent and cozy home is for DH to go get some composted horse manure from the sweet lady with a broodmare farm who loads it into our truck and doesn't charge a nickel for it. Yes, sir, she's the sweetest.

P.S. Here's a couple of pics of the new bed. I measured the bed when I was done. It's actually 14 feet long and narrows to 5 feet at the curb. I'm thinking I'll put White MC toward the street end and Mrs B R on the inside. I had trouble finding the surveyor's stake which is sunk several inches below the surface which is why the edge bulges on the right side. I've got five Evergreen Giant Liriopes to arrange on the street edge as I did on the other side of the driveway in the main circular garden. The area behind this bed and alongside the house will be covered with weedcloth and pine bark mulch. I have to cut off those oak suckers and heavily cover and mulch that area around the tree trunk, desperately hoping to limit the continued emergence of them. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. I may add a picket fence on the property line for a future climber - but maybe not.