Thursday, February 18, 2010

40,000 Thorns & a Million Prickles

Yesterday a dozen volunteers from the 'Deadheaders' of the Morcom Rose Garden in Oakland arrived to help in the garden. We started with a group of Tea roses that have not been pruned for 3 years; Monsieur Tillier, Rhodologue Jules Gravereaux and Bon Silene. Above is that group in May of 2007, with Bon Silene the tallest in the center back, M. Tillier the large, double pink on the right. This is how they looked on their first bloom after being pruned back to about 6 to 7 feet that winter. Bon Silene yesterday was about 10 to 12 feet tall, and all three were crowded with tiny branches, elbowing one another to see who would be the survivor.

As I shared my thoughts about pruning the group asked politely if they would get a chance to pull out their secaturs and have a go! We all launched in. Answering many questions I moved from plant to plant trying to guide the process, so that all 13 of us might together act as one mind with a single mission, and end up with some grace, some consistancy.

Now you'd think that 13 pruners would have polished off this job on three plants in 15 or 20 minutes, but we took more than an hour. An hour of snip, snip, snip...I was run ragged, and later had to extricate quite a few thorns from various parts of my body. I would never have allowed myself an hour for these three roses on my own. At that rate, I'd still be working on my first hundred roses... But pruning these great glories, the Tea roses, isn't fast, or easy. Perhaps that's why I've convinced myself that roses don't really require pruning?

After, we mulched the lower Hybrid Tea beds with Pamela and Michael's delicous Rice Straw, and nearly finished all eight beds, all 850 roses! Deadheaders ROCK!

Joanie Helgeson, who writes the Old Roser's Digest now, spent the day in focussed attack on the weeds swamping our climbing roses! What pearls are people.

Thorns come big and small. The really big ones can strike bone when they go in. But the smaller ones are the dangerous ones. The pop in right under the skin, and the wide wedge at the base of each thorn, once under the skin, prevents the thorn from popping back out (or being coaxed out, for that matter.) In my hands at the moment about 30 thorns are currently embedded, in various stages of emerging. Mostly they only hurt when you put pressure on that point, but once in a while one goes deep, and strikes a nerve, and just sits there, making you wonder if you should bother those lovely people at the emergency room... One such culprit sits lodged between my index and second fingers on my right hand, just at the knuckles.

Ah what martyrs we are to the rose!

Gallicas are the worst. Their tiny, needle-like prickles are short and closely spaced on the stems, allowing you to hold a stem in your bare fingers without even piercing the skin. You work blithely along thinking this isn't so bad. But after half an hour you realise that, even with gloves on, dozens of those little tikes have stuck to your skin and won't let go. Then you bear down on your pruners for another snip, and ten little prickles inject themselves. Tweezers aren't made small enough to extricate the prickles of Gallicas...

Lesson: keep your tetenus shots up to date.


  1. This makes me glad I can't grow Gallicas!

  2. Ever try "West County" brand gauntlet gloves? They are my favorite to prune in. I can even pull out blackberries in them. They feel like suede but are fabric - you can throw them in the washer, hang to dry and they're good to go the next round.

    Does it seem like the roses will bloom early this year in the Bay Area? Mine are leafing out, and some even forming buds already.