Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Take A Bow Mr. Bennett

During the 1800s repeat flowering roses from China began to arrive on the sails of the clipper ships. Four of them, 'Slater's Crimson China', 'Parson's Pink China', 'Hume's Blush Tea-scented China', and 'Parks' Yellow Tea-scented China' became collectively known as The Four Stud Chinas. In time they were crossed with the Old European Roses. Like any cross of a repeat flowering rose with a spring flowering roses their first offspring did not repeat. But subsequent generations did.

From these the Bourbon roses developed as did Noisettes. China and Tea roses also continued to develop. All roses relatively easy to care for and grown widely throughout the world. The Bourbons remain today one of my favorite classes of roses along with the Portlands; the latter being the only repeat flowering class of roses found in Europe before the Asian roses arrived.

During this era an English cattle breeder named Henry Bennett introduced the record keeping and purposeful crossing of cattle to achieve desired qualities into rose breeding. Until then rose breeding was mostly left to whims of nature as hips were harvested, seedlings grown and then released into commerce without much knowledge of parentage and without intent of achieving certain qualities.

Henry Bennett purposefully took pollen from one rose to another, noted the cross and documented the results. He discovered over time that he could influence the outcome of the roses he was breeding by using certain roses again and again. The result is rose breeding much as it’s done today. The fact that today’s talented breeders can breed for characteristics such as disease resistance, stripes and shorter growth habit can be traced back to Mr. Bennett.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Go West Young Rose

As Americans moved west across their new country, many a rose traveled along in those Conestoga Wagons tucked somewhere between the family clock and frying pan used to make “Hoppin John”. Upon arrival at the new homestead they were planted, watered and left to grow under the same conditions those early settlers encountered. Over time their true names were forgotten and they became known simply as “Grandma’s Red Rose” or “Aunt Sally’s Pink Climber”. Many survive today as “Found Roses” rustled by dedicated rosarians. Names like “Charleston Graveyard”, “Angles Camp White Tea” and "Natchitoches Noisette" are as much a testament to the conditions they thrived under as to the locations where they were rediscovered.

Over time roses found their way into almost every garden. Some were grown for their beauty and some for medicinal purposes like R. gallica officinalis better known as “Apothecary's Rose” for that very reason. Their ability to retain perfume in their dried petals was just another reason to tuck them amidst the hollyhocks in the garden.

Rose hips became valued as a rich source of Vitamin C and were carried by sailors on long voyages to prevent scurvy. As recently as World War II rose hips were grown in Victory Gardens to replace the vitamin C normally found in citrus fruits which were at that time unavailable in cooler climates. I would wager a bet that the roses producing those hips were treated just like all the other plants in those hundreds of thousands of gardens grown as a badge of Patriotism. Imagine if those Victory Roses needed complicated spraying and feeding programs. I suspect they would have been used more as compost than a source for vitamin C.

Fast forward to today and my garden at home is a no spray, no chemical, no irrigation beyond what falls from the sky garden, and much like the shoes of the cobbler’s children my roses get little to no care. Roses from Species to Modern are left to thrive on their own. And they do. In fact in time I’ve even noticed roses like Mme. Isaac Pereire, a Bourbon rose that can be disease prone but I love her anyway because she bears blooms of stunning beauty and scent, has slowly built up her own immune system and now rarely gets disease.

Much like children who have to catch every cold in order to build up immunity I feel roses mature in the same manner. Even my beloved Mme. Isaac is almost always without disease now that she has gone through adolescence. Perhaps we coddle our roses too much?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A little history - Part 1

Rose growing wasn’t always so complicated. In fact for thousands of years it involved no work at all. Mother Nature herself created the first roses which are species roses. By estimate over some 100 plus exist. The arguments as to what defines a species rose are numerous and this is not the place for that. Suffice to say that species roses have been on this earth long before man, long before cultivated gardens and long before anyone knew what an outward facing bud eye was.

These species roses survived without any care and still do today. Many a hedgerow in England, a mountainside in China or an old homestead in America still contain these original roses that continue to thrive happily under the hand of Mother Nature. And fortunately many gardeners still grow and enjoy them in their own gardens.

Over time and with a little help from the birds and the bees pollen from the Species roses was mixed and other forms of cultivated or “Hybrid” roses began to emerge. Some of the earliest known to the western world are what is known at the “Old European Roses”. Groups like Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolias, Albas, Portlands and Mosses poured forth perfume mostly during the spring bloom season. In Asia the China and Tea roses began to emerge carrying with them repeat flowering qualities rarely seen in the western world and destined to remain that way until the times of the clipper ships.

Like their native ancestors these roses too thrived on benign neglect. The weaker varieties among them were weeded out by either the hand of nature or the hoe of the gardener and the stronger ones persisted by being passed from garden to garden via cuttings or shoots that emerged next to the parent plant in the warmth of springtime.

Next:  "Go West Young Rose"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I Do The Things I Do

Many years ago I obtained the book “Roses for Every Garden” by R. C. Allen. It was as inspirational to me then as it is now and Mr. Allen’s reasons for writing it ring true to me today. I quote from Mr. Allen’s foreword both because he says it so well and to acknowledge the influence of those who have gone before.

“Somehow, the idea that roses are difficult has crept into our horticultural thinking, perhaps because we expect greater perfection from roses than from other flowers. Then in our efforts to excel we have made rose growing laborious, time consuming, even costly and lost the recreation and inspiration that more modest aims can provide” Mr. Allen wrote those words in 1948 and they still ring true.

But as Bob Dylan says, “the times they are a changin”. Roses like Knockout are showing gardeners they too can grow roses without fuss, the “Green” movement throughout the world is thankfully creating demand for plants grown without chemicals, smaller gardens mean roses must be integrated into the general planting and today’s busy lifestyles means roses growing must simplify and be less time consuming.

What prodded this entry was a question I’ve been asked many times. How did you develop your methods of growing roses? It came about from many years of raising my own roses, caring for other people’s roses, talking and being influenced by other rose people but most of all because many years ago I fell in love with roses, the simplicity of gardening and saw no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive. Today after close to twenty years of growing roses, including six years running a rose care company in Los Angeles and ten years as the owner of my own rose nursery, I feel even more strongly about it.

Mr. Allen in closing his foreword some 60 years ago said this. “This book is intended to strip rose culture of its complications….It removes bewilderment or uncertainty and, with success, the growing of roses becomes a rich and satisfying experience.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Basics. Prune or Rejuvenate?

Nothing frightens a new rose grower more than the dreaded "P" word - pruning.  It's a rose chore that has become so amazingly complicated it sends many a rose grower screaming for the shovel feeling the best way to prune is dig the #%&$* rose out and be done with it.

First off for Garden Roses forget about all the outward facing bud eye, five leaflet leaf set, 45 degree angle cut, seal with glue, stand on one leg and wear red underwear stuff.  With a Garden Rose you aren't pruning a rose you are merely shaping and cleaning up a flowering shrub. Clean out dead wood, twiggy weak growth and shape it up.  That's it really.

Which brings me to something you do want to do as the roses get older.  Cut out an old cane on a regular basis.  What is an old cane?  It's a cane that has stopped producing new growth and blooms.  I call it "bloomed out".  At this point the cane is only taking energy away from the more productive growth and you are best off getting rid of it.

And in fact it's actually preventing your roses from putting out new canes from the base.  That's right I said preventing.  I've learned over time the best way to get new canes from the base of a rose is to cut out an old cane right down to the ground.  Generally for every old cane I cut out I get 2-3 new ones.  Not a bad trade off!

That's why I call it rejuvenating and not pruning.  Cutting out dead growth, twiggy stuff and the occasional old cane spurs new, fresh growth that will bear a lot more flowers.  Rejuvenation.

I also like the word because to me it says I'm doing this for the future not for the past.  But more on that later.  Stay tuned!

Here is a video that might help.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Is A Garden Rose And Does It Matter?

It probably seems all roses are garden roses because where else would you grow them but in your garden!  Guess again.  Some roses are raised specifically for the cut-flower/florist industry and in fact should be never be grown by the casual gardener.  Why?  Because they tend to be disease prone, fussy and require a lot of work.  Sound familiar!

The job of these roses is to put forth blooms on a regular schedule.  When you need 5 million long stem cut roses for Valentine's Day you need predictability and if means you have to spray every day you will.

Consider this fact.  Chemical fungicides and insecticides weren't really put into use until the 1930s and didn't come into their own until the 1950s.  As they became widely available to the home gardener, many of these roses found their way into our gardens.  As the chemicals were slowly banned (hurray!) these same roses acquired the reputation of being hard to grow so many a gardener tore them out or refused to grow them in the first place.

Enter Garden Roses.  Well, not so much as enter as welcome back.  For hundreds and hundreds of years roses were grown without any more fuss than your average azalea.  They were bred and released to the public with the idea they would simply be planted in the garden and admired without the need of a Hazmat Suit. 

Just like Knockout - probably the most popular Garden Rose in United States today.  Here is a little secret.  There are thousands of other great garden roses out there every bit as easy to grow as Knockout.  As we go on I'll help you learn how to find them.

And yes it does matter because anyone can grow them and that is what this Blog and our You Tube project is all about.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Opening A Chapter

….producing rose growers. For too long roses have had the reputation of being fussy and difficult plants to grow. I know this isn’t true and anyone who has ever grown a good garden rose also knows that in fact; Roses Are Plants Too.

I’ve been blessed with a gift of being good in front of people and teaching so we’ll focus on bringing more gardeners to the world of growing garden roses via workshops, writing and of course our You Tube Project. And we’ll bring the world of garden roses to those same gardeners via our connections in Europe and beyond. Another part of our work will be to spread the word about the choices offered by our Independent Rose Nurseries. And yes we will continue to produce some roses and offer them for sale locally so if you are ever in the upstate of South Carolina stop and by. We'll be the ones smelling the roses.

To me the garden rose is the most versatile and beautiful garden plant we have. From groundcovers to shrubs to climbers - to yellow to white to red to striped and everything in between. Garden roses that put on a tremendous spring show and then fade into the background to ones that don’t stop blooming all season. Very few plants can hold a candle to roses in the garden.

Along the way we’ll give care tips, share some stories and introduce you to some new roses and rose folks. But most of all we are going to show that garden roses are in fact very simple to grow and the best care guide is your own gardener’s instincts.

Welcome to a new chapter in our collective rose life. Many great things lie ahead and we’re glad you are coming with us.

Happy Roseing
Paul Zimmerman
Trish Walsh

PS. If you didn't get here from our old blog Petals & Thorns Click Here to read the first part of this blog post