Sunday, February 9, 2014

A World Where Roses Bloom

Please check out my new blog as curator for The Friends of Vintage Roses!

go to

and have fun!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It All Comes Down to You

Overheard conversations in the garden, on Dirt Day today, steered clear of politics but touched on all else in life. Laughter, discord, revelations of the power of weeds, admiration of the Hori-Hori, howls of pain at the piercing thorns of blackberries clattered in through the windows of my house filling it with the joyous noise of people who love to garden. The sad spell of doom, the stuffy smell of closed doors thinned like a vanishing fog, and sunlight entered the rose cottage again. It was dirt day and lunch awaited us, our reward for the caring of the roses. An ominous threat of the loss of all this fizzled in a heap of weeds thrust on the pathway. The garden is saved, and we must all now do our parts.

The grand thing about Dirt Days---you are never sure if the great reward is smoked salmon and fried polenta, or the rush of serotonin in your brain caused by the microbes you inhale in three hours of weeding. Probably both. The grand thing about Dirt Days is the people and how happy it makes them to know they are saving these roses. If you haven't tried it, you really must.

Next Dirt Day: February 25th, 10 am to 3 pm.
Join us!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Thankyou to the Heritage Rose Foundation

In December the Heritage Rose Foundation offered its assistance to the new custodians of my rose collection, the Friends of Vintage Roses. This forming non-profit has set as its goal to preserve this collection of roses so that others, many years from now, may continue to experience the beauty, history and art of the old roses. While we undertake to steer our way through the maze of forms and filings, we have begun the earnest work of protecting the roses, and providing the maintenance they require. The HRF is now accepting donations on behalf of our effort so that friends may donate to an established non-profit whose mission includes the establishment of gardens that preserve old roses.

The passion and generosity of many people have already contributed much needed funding in the name of the Friends of Vintage Roses. It's been overwhelming in fact, and I thank all of you for your support. We work now toward an open garden this May, and invite all of you to join us to celebrate the saving of a collection of antique roses.

There is much to be done. Many of you will recall my earlier blog on pruning the rose garden in 2010. The garden and collection have received minimal care over the past three years, principally the time I have been able to devote to it, plus some labor in weeding and mulching. Gophers have increased in number, and sections of the plantings are heavily damaged. Many varieties are gone, perhaps lost---their retrieval from all of you, a goal for the future.

So, our initial mission is to stabilize the collection of roses, improve the health of the plants, decrease the encroachment of weeds and vermin, and make the garden presentable so that you may enjoy and learn from the roses at our open garden this spring. With that we include our fundamental goal, which is to preserve the collection. And to that purpose we intend to propagate as many of the varieties in the collection as we can this summer. We feel that making the collection fully mobile, in containers, is the only way we can be certain to preserve the whole collection. Some of these may be passed on to other public gardens so that duplicates exist elsewhere.

Over the next weeks leading to May this blog will share more of our story as it unfolds, and more about the roses---the thing that drives our passions.

To the right is our fund-raising marker. The goal that we have set for the coming year is $40,000. This should provide us with the needed materials and labor (along with the wondrous voluteers at Dirt Days), to do the needed restoration work to our collection, propagate about 60% of the collection, and complete our processes involved in the incorporation and non-profit IRS filings for the Friends of Vintage Gardens. And to the far, far right, don't miss the upcoming Dirt Day on Saturday, February 11th at the garden. We anticipate beautiful weather, and the camaraderie is out of this world. So is the food at our afternoon pot luck lunch. Come join us! Bring a dish, a spade and a pair of pruners for Dirt Days kickoff for 2012, a year that promises a rosier world!


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Life After Pruning

What treasures are roses. When we lose one we understand.

Two of my great loves have died; the climbers Maman Cochet and White Maman Cochet. I planted them 22 years ago. Their massive trunks look a hundred years old. I'm not certain what did them in—gophers are always suspects, but with such immense plants, it seems unlikely the gophers could have harmed them, and there are no telltale gopher signs at the roots.

Both roses graced an arbor that I have often photographed. Dripping their great egg-shaped blooms down from on high, they've offered me great solace as I sat on the bench under the arbor. They will return to my garden, not there, but somewhere in my garden, one day. For now I will search out others that have not had the chance to lift their beauty above me, though it will take a few years.

No job is more thankless in the realm of rose pruning than clearing away the old dead hulk of a once-glorious rose. These two completely covered the top of a 12' x 12' structure, and the hours it took to remove them gave me time to mourn their loss and to remember the years they have kept me company. When you visit my garden this May, you'll know where they were; there, on the empty arbor.

Today I completed the pruning of arbors and walls of climbers. All were in full growth, and I remembered again the value of pruning at this time of year. Climbers are tapestries, Maypoles, ziggurats; their forms in the garden are triumphant. They can be clean and hug their structures like flowered chintz. They can be wild and tumbling, full of passion and abandon. They are shapes, and offer the pruner rough clay to mold and form into a living sculpture of color and fragrance. And in full growth they are so very alive, and just as alive after pruning.

Four days to go, and the goal of 4000 will elude me. Perhaps I'll make that mark of 3001. But whatever the outcome, I will continue pruning and cleaning and shaping the garden, with the hope that when May arrives, each corner of the garden will have been tended, spruced and at its best for the visitors...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Playing Hookey

The precious and dwindling days of pruning are coming to a close. I should have spent the past week in furious catch-up, completing the pruning of Teas and Chinas and climbing roses, but instead I kept my promise to travel to Bermuda to speak to the Bermuda Rose Society.

Now before you summon up a picture of me sifting sand through my toes on the beach, let me paint a picture of gale force winds, fierce thunderstorms and rather chilly temperatures—not much different than Northern California at the moment. Roses were leafless, yet blooming. My hosts, Peter and Felicity Holmes took such good care of me that I really wasn't ready to return home today... They kept me stocked with coffee and sandwiches, cold beer and 'Dark and Stormys'—dark Bermuda rum and ginger beer—and all manner of lovely feasts.  And the whole community of old rose lovers in the Bermuda Society saw to it that I visited dozens of gardens, nurseries, and the wonderful propagation facility at Tulla Valley. Dinner parties are a splendid respite from pruning!

The roses of Bermuda are a very special thing; and while we often think in America that we invented the idea of collecting old roses and passing them around, the Bermudians have been at it a good deal longer than we have, starting in the early 1950s. They take special pride in having preserved all of the roses that have been found on the islands there, and passing them around so that Bermuda is  full of roses, peaking out from every hedgerow of hibiscus, and spilling over the old limestone walls, and climbing up to the glistening white roofs that make Bermuda such a beautiful place.

Over these years the Bermudians have taught us a lot about preservation, and I tried to share with them just how important their efforts have been to the old rose community. Such a dedicated group of people, and they haven't let up in more than half a century.

Home now and back to pruning, with just over a week to prune; I'm hopeful we'll have less than 1000 roses left unpruned by the deadline. That will be a feat worth striving for!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sun, showers and a cloud of green—Spring pruning

The inevitable time is upon us—when growth buds fatten on the bare stems and stretch into little darts, unfurling the first leaves of spring. The Teas and the China roses always have a head start. All they require is a week of sunshine and moderate temperatures, and they're off!

Still pruning? So am I. But now I must turn my attention to the climbers. They aren't growing any faster than the shrub roses, but the manipulation we put them through, unwinding their new long canes and thrashing them about to be repositioned on arbor, wall, arch and pillar, wrecks injury on all that soft new growth. If you haven't tackled them yet, get started now!

In my garden there are 18 rose pillars, six pergolas and two long, 9-foot-high walls of climbing roses, trained on welded wire fencing so that they can be admired from two perspectives in the garden. Soon will be added another 24 pillars and a curved pergola. At our nursery over 100 climbers are trained on 7 foot tall wooden fences, just short enough that they can be managed without the aid of a ladder.

Climbing roses are the apex of art in the rose garden, supassing even tree roses in their demand for careful management. Sure, I sometimes leave the pergolas unpruned, but I've never been pleased for long with the effect that creates. From the tops of the pergolas new canes rise upwards, stretching toward the sun, sometimes creating a bad-hair effect about as silly as a mohawk. Of course these new canes all appear just at the time of first rose bloom, obscuring most of the bloom in their forest of growth. Later in the summer these calm down, arching with their own weight, and if I'm lucky they explode in midsummer with lateral bloom, laden with flowers—a romantic effect to be sure, when it works.

The issue at hand is when to stop pruning, and as you can see, I can't stop quite yet. Once the new foliage unfurls, does it hurt the roses to prune them? Not a whit! The cut ends of canes and branches will quickly heal with the surge of sap in the stems, and new growth will emerger lower down, filling in and softening the effects of pruning before you know it. Teas and Chinas, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, will simply bloom later, and over a longer period of time for their first flowering. This enables me to share the glory of the Teas and Chinas with those who come to visit the garden in May. Left unpruned they will bloom much earlier, often peaking at the end of April. Of course these dates vary by climate, but the basic concept is the same, whether your roses peak in April, May or June.

But, I'll pause now in my pursuit of the Teas and Chinas, to tame the unruly whips and snakes of the climbers in the garden. How lovely a pillar is when it is a pillar and not a whirlygig!

In a few days, I must pause at this critical point in shaping the garden and the roses, with a week-long trip to Bermuda to address the Bermuda Rose Society with three presentations; about the Bermuda mystery roses and how their preservation has changed worldwide attitudes toward old roses, and about found roses and their preservation around the world. I'll also share a bit of my experience and expertise in propagating roses, to help with the Bermudians' efforts to proliferate their roses over the islands. Rumblings of concern have reached me that I may not be able to extricate myself from all the pruning left to do and that I might not show up! Rest assured, my island friends; I will be there! And ready for a 'Dark and Stormy'!