Friday, November 21, 2008

"Too Many Roses?" I'm Sorry, You're Not Making Sense.

Ordinarily, one would think that autumn is the ideal time to plant things because the heat and drought break and we get some nice, hospitable, cool, moist weather to ease the strain on a root system until the long sleep of winter. Or the short snoozes of winter, as is more often the case.

Needless to say, only one of those conditions holds this year.

Nonetheless, we keep buying plants because (a) that's what we do, and (b) I keep assuming that--any minute now--the autumn rains will be on their way. There's only a month of autumn left, so those rains better get hopping.

Our latest exercise in optimism was the purchase of a couple of '4th of July' roses to go on the trellis we just erected in the rose bed. They are the richest, most gorgeous shade of vermillion, with pale pinky-white streaks--very decadent. But at the same time, they're only semi-double, so they have an informal, breezy, cheery quality to them. So they're on the edge. They either remind you of the silk lining of a vampire's cloak or they remind you of a picnic blanket, depending on your mood and which particular blossom you're looking at.

Giant picture of '4th of July,' pinched from

In addition to the roses we picked up at ARE the weekend of Pete's wedding, the new 4th of Julys make 6 new roses this fall. Plus Matt brought home a 'Mademoiselle Franziska Krueger' that we put in the Pole Bed. So, 7. Which means that we currently have a total of 43 roses in our yard. It ain't Josephine's garden at Malmaison, but even so, that's a lot of roses.

The elusive Mlle. Franziska K. This is the only picture of her I could find, and it's not very representative. (

And we're not done yet. One of these days, we'll be adding a 'Ballerina,' a green monster rose, a 'Fortune's Double Yellow,' and dear 'Madame Joseph Schwartz' (a long-time favorite of mine), as well as a short hedge of 'Archduke Charles.' (Okay, and also 'Kaiserin Freidrich', 'Kronprinzessin Viktoria,' 'La Reine Victoria,' 'Mme Hardy' and 'Mme Plantier.') And then we may be done, but I doubt it.

So what is it about roses, anyway? Why do we have nearly one rose for every hundredth of an acre in our yard? I think it's a combination of variability, intensity of color, availability, personal history with the genus, and adaptability. There aren't many genera that have so many named cultivars that are so readily available. There are hundreds of rhododendrons and lilacs and peonies, but we can't grow them here. There are probably hundreds of hibiscus, but a only relatively small subset of them is reliably available. There are hundreds of crinum, but they are hard to find and expensive. There are thousands of orchids, but they are much too prissy.

It's actually really easy to be a rose fancier--there are lots of nurseries that sell moderns and a good number propagating antiques. And antiques do very well here--they're a great choice for lazy and/or xeriscapic gardeners. And of course, Matt & I used to work at, and in fact, met at ARE, so we've got a personal connection that way. And because there is so much variability, the roses have their own personalities--different habits, susceptibility to diseases, thorniness, glossiness, darkness, floriferousness, &c. The longer you grow them, the more you get to know their personalities, the more of a relationship you have with them. You don't have a relationship with, say, Indian hawthornes or crape myrtles, however nice your crape myrtles may be. Roses, you start calling by nicknames: "Madame Jo," and "Graham," and "the Duchesse," and "Miz RM." Probably because there is a relative unchangeability to Indian hawthornes (they either have scale or are about to get it) and even to crape myrtles, which bloom, change color, and drop their leaves fairly reliabily.

Roses, on the other hand, keep you guessing, especially the "remontant" roses, which tend to bloom in the spring and fall. Sometimes they seem to have two flushes of bloom in the spring. Sometimes their fall bloom is really early. Sometimes it's late. Sometimes they throw out a flower or two between bloom times just to tease. Some roses are more intensely pink in early spring or in cooler weather in the fall. In August, some of them bleach to nearly white. Sometimes their blooms are large; in stress, they'll be smaller. Sometimes the petals are smooth and regular; in drought, they'll ruch up; in humidity, some of them ball up (I'm looking at you, Clotilde Soupert). So your garden is full of surprise pleasures--plants reaching their peak or suddenly outdoing themselves, plants retiring due to cold or heat or season, plants putting on an unusally perfect bloom, plants putting on a freakishly misshapen one, plants reaching a new intensity of color or introducing an unexpected variation. There is always something to discover.

And then, too, roses are kind of like Shakespeare. So many people have loved them for so long that all those generations of affection and endeavor and stories embue the plants with extra layers of meaning. How many stories do you know about particular cultivars of pansies or boxwood or redtip? I don't know any. But there are any number of stories about the origins or discoveries of different cultivars and classes of roses. So I suppose roses are a logical plant of choice for a bookworm--they're plants with character development, rising action, climax, and denoument. (And maybe this is the core reason Matt & I dislike 'Knockout' so much. They never change--there's no story.)

In other, lesser plant news, we're also looking for a Cordia boissieri for the SE corner of the house, where we currently have an aged and rather crapped-out ligustrum, a chitalpa for the SW corner of the house, and a bay laurel for the front corner of the rose bed.

Because any day now it's going to rain, and then it'll be perfect weather for transplants.

1 comment:

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