Photo: R.H. Blackburn (click to enlarge)
I’ll confess to having a love-hate relationship with my rose garden. Sometimes, in fact, I feel like ripping it out and replanting it with something else. Onions come to mind. For roses — at least when they are grown in a hot, humid northeastern garden — are about as high-maintenance as Eva Longoria’s character on Desperate Housewives. Still, when June rolls around and every shrub is lit with fragrant bloom, I can not think of a more delightful sight.
In the picture above, I’m kneeling beneath a rose-standard called ‘Baby’s Blanket,’ from Jackson & Perkins. Background right is the red climber ‘Blaze.’ Background left is a group of red Knock Out roses, which, although supposedly winter hardy, were indeed knocked-out during December’s ice storm. In the foreground is the pink double ‘Mayflower,’ a David Austin creation, like most of the other roses in this 50′ x 100′ foot garden.
View from my attic: the Rose Garden, immediately after construction. Geometric beds are bordered with Buxus ‘Winter Gem’ and Taxus ‘Hicksii.’
All of my shrub roses, including the Knock-Outs, require winter protection here in Zone 5-b. Thus, when the ground has frozen, usually in December, I mound them with shredded leaves up to a height of 18 inches. The standard, or “tree” rose receives a top-to-bottom mounding of straw and a wrapping of burlap. Winter protection is removed in mid-April.
In May the hideous task of pruning awaits. I say “hideous,” because I have nearly 60 roses, and these, at pruning-time, are large, fountainous, and covered with razor-sharp thorns. I can’t recall pruning a single rose without drawing blood or ripping my shirt. Anyway, every dead cane is removed, while other stems are pruned down to green wood.
A word about food and water. I rely on composted cow or chicken manure to provide nutrients, along with a handful of high-phosphorous plant food, which I scratch into the soil at six-week intervals. A slow-running hose, left at each shrub for 15-30 minutes, provides a deep soaking twice each week during the growing season.
Two identical fountains provide “water music.”
The miracle (and hardly that, if you consider the work) comes in mid-June, when one takes a perfumed stroll through this colorful oasis, accompanied by the sound of water cascading from two fountains. Could anything mar such breath-taking beauty?
Enter the Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica, a dreadful insect that appears like clockwork the second week in July. The sole mission of this hard-shelled brute is to damage every leaf and flower bud in the rose garden. The destruction is heartbreaking, but unavoidable, unless one sprays regularly and frequently with a noxious chemical. And this, I simply will not do. The report on Japanese beetle traps is that they actually draw more of these insects to a garden.
And that’s my dilemma with roses. I love them in June, and loathe them at other times. Honestly, wouldn’t it be better to rip them out…and grow onions instead?
I’m always curious to hear what other gardeners have to say. Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share? A clever method for irradicating the Japanese beetle? Please post your thoughts — whatever they are — in the “comments” section below. Or just “lurk,” and read what other’s have written.
See you soon!