Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When dead isn’t dead

This is really two stories, one story of the struggle to survive and another of the tenacity of life. This is the story of ‘Bermuda’s Anna Olivier’. She’s a mystery rose found in Bermuda, a rose that no one has really been able to identify but which has survived there in fairly harsh (by rose standards) conditions. I bought her from a local nursery and planted her in my garden in March, 2009. She began beautifully, wowing me with abundant big, fat, buttercream blooms on a wonderfully healthy bush.

In 2010 and 2011 she did seem to suffer from chlorosis which I assumed was due to the nasty cement-like soil in that part of the garden. Through the summer of 2011 and into the fall she was an ugly bush that would still cover herself with blooms.

October, 2011

In the winter of 2012 I was betwixt and between digging her up to renovate the bed with better soil and just plain digging her up, but the truth was that I hated the thought of losing this beautiful rose. Still, she was losing canes right and left – in this photo, particularly on the right. She used to have a right side.

February 11th

After renovating ‘Madame Abel Chatenay’ I was not eager to repeat it for Anna, so I thought I would try boring deep holes around her and pouring milorganite and liquid humus into them. Then one day in early March I decided I would dig her up and relocate her to another part of the garden. As I was digging, I noticed what bad shape she was in. The more I would cut dead wood the more I had to cut. Digging her up proved to be too big a job for this mere woman. I couldn’t get the taproot to budge, and the more I worked at it the more damage I was doing and the more I saw how bad off she was. So I finally decided to give up on her. The kicker was that she came out of the ground in two pieces – not a broken bush but rather two bushes.

This happens occasionally. Two cuttings root in a pot and start to growing and you can’t tell there are two individuals in the same pot. In fact, it had only been days since I read about this very topic on the Antique Roses Forum, so I was astonished to see it in my garden. The problem with two plants in one hole is that their needs are only met by half. Half the space, half the nutrients, half the water. Suddenly, I understood why this bush was performing so badly. So onto the yard waste pile they went. Later that evening I was telling DH the tale of the two Anna Oliviers, and he interjected, “they were fighting each other to survive.” In a split second it hit me that one of them deserved a shot at survival. I ran out in the dark and got the bigger one out of the pile and into a big blue pot that didn’t hold the water I poured into it for very long, so I set a couple of half-full bags of soil on her roots and hoped for the best.

The next day after work I took photos of the twins, put the smaller one back on the pile, and elatedly planted my Anna Olivier in the back garden after evicting ‘Madame Joseph Bonnaire’ to a pot.

March 5th

Even in her poor overnight conditions her new growth was fine, and I was so excited to have my rose back.


The next day was a very different story. Apparently, putting her in the dirt was the wrong thing to do. She looked limp to me. And she got limper every day.

March 11th

And limper. I kept her watered and thought about posting on the Antique Roses Forum the question: when is dead really dead?

March 20th

For at least a week I had been thinking about pulling her. This past Saturday I definitely gave thought to yanking her, but she’s not a rose you yank without gloves. So on my rounds with camera on Sunday I looked at her real hard. I simply could not believe a rose would just die like that. They’re tough. Everyone knows that! But she was a crispy critter for sure.

April 1st
IMG_0455 (2)
IMG_0455 (3)

Then I thought I saw something green. Was it really there? I didn’t have the benefit of magnification, just my nearsighted eyes, but I knew I saw a green dot.


I looked elsewhere. There were more tiny green places.


Some not so tiny.


This one isn’t even a quarter inch long, and at the same time it was huge.


There were maybe half a dozen bits of green.


‘Bermuda’s Anna Olivier’ had decided to stay.


Today her green dots were definitely green stems.

April 3rd

This is the main cane, and it’s really vertical not leaning over.


This is the base of the main cane. How ‘bout them apples!!


Now then, would you jump to the conclusion that this bush is dead?
Better not.
Better be patient and let nature and the rose do their thing. I don’t know how much upper cane loss she’ll have, but I’m not touching her with clippers until she tells me to.


Can I hear a big amen out there for life... and the victory over death?
Happy Easter everyone!


  1. She's a survival, for sure and you are a very patient gardener. What a story !
    Happy Easter, Sherry !

  2. What a GREAT post just before Easter. Resurrection and the joy of it.

    Thank you and I'm so glad this rose has made it.

    Have a wonderful Easter.


  3. What a nice story! It is wonderful to think that after all of that turmoil she is going to pull through!

  4. I agree with all of the ladies above, it is a great story of survival and patience. Most folks give up too easily on these old roses. They get stressed by many things, cold, insects and lack of nutrients. But more times than not they come back. How many times have you heard about mow downs or string trimmers? And they still bounce back. This story is a true testament to lovers of Antique and Old Garden Roses the world over. Congrats Sherry for showing readers of this blog what true survivors they really are. May BAO have a wonderful life in your garden forever more!♥

  5. I love those green dots. Many a rose was saved by their green dots in my yard. I'm glad you kept it. It's such a pretty rose.

  6. What an uplifting tale, Sherry! I love knowing that that rose is going to still give you those beautiful flowers. I'm not real patient myself, but I'm learning that with a lot of plants it's necessary.