My budding vegetable venture is getting nipped by the roses

February13

Click for larger image

Top of my list for 2010 gardening resolutions is to grow vegetables, and my husband this week helpfully put together the raised bed and filled it with soil, compost and manure. However — this is rose pruning time, and I’ve just spent two hours out there clipping and cleaning up old foliage from the roses, giving no headspace whatsoever to my vegetable project. I hope my Eatin’ Project endeavour isn’t doomed!

My cos lettuce seedlings are ready to go, my stumpy little Parmex carrots are waiting to be planted, and parsnip seeds could get into some toilet roll holders tonight if the kids get to bed early. I have heard that neither carrots nor parsnips, as root vegetables, will be happy if transplanted, but since the Parmex are ball-shaped, I may risk them in modules and keep the toilet rolls for the ‘nips.

And so I return to the roses. The Rose de Rescht hedge I planted two years ago is in places well over three feet tall, and I cut the whole thing straight across with shears today, saving a few choice offcuts to put into the ground as hardwood cuttings. (I look for a good, thick, straight piece of wood, about 9 inches long. At the bottom, I cut straight through the middle of a growth bud — or a swollen area that should be a growth bud; at the top I cut just above a growth bud. As long as they go into a lightly shaded bit of ground that will get moisture and dappled sun for the next year, the cuttings will be very happy and may even produce flowers this summer).

Click for larger imageBut it’s the climbers I most look forward to pruning. I have an Etoile de Holland and a David Austin climbing James Galway, and both are performing so brilliantly for me in June and September, with James Galway flowering right through into November. Both of these roses let me train their long, long arms horizontally and they produce flowers all along their horizontal length, as long as I clip side shoots back to two or three buds in February.

Somebody please tell me I’m going to get similar satisfaction from my vegetables. The raised bed is in a good, sunny position near a few of my favourite roses, which will hopefully will provide a background scent as I tend the vegetables. If I can just get some food out of the ground, maybe I will start to feel the love. If you’re a flower lover who’s also going edible for the first time this year, speak up.

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A good death for roses

November13

Click for larger imageOne consolation of November is the opportunity to look at the bare root roses which become available now. Our garden already hosts an embarrassingly large number of roses wherever there’s reliable sun, and many are true survivors, offering perfect flowers through November. As I mentioned previously, these sumptuous blooms look a bit wrong in the declining autumn garden, but I’ve solved the problem by using them as a cutting patch from October onwards. These last weeks Rosa Tess of the d’Urbervilles and R. James Galway have sat merrily on my desk and in the kitchen, alongside the last of the dahlias and spice-scented pinks.

If you are planning next year’s roses, one aspect worth considering — but which marketing materials rarely describe — is how the flowers fade and die. If you want to cut roses for the house, they will start fading the moment secateurs meet stem, so it’s worth knowing which roses age gracefully and ultimately enjoy a good death. All these have earned their place in my garden but vary in their end-of-life beauty:

  • Rosa James Galway: a nearly thornless climber from David Austin which for me has only the slightest scent in the garden. But in the vase, James Galway absolutely shines. It begins to give off a pleasant, old-Rose-meets-talcum-powder scent. Its baby-girl pink tones also fade to lavender, reminiscent of antique wallpaper. Best of all, even the smallest buds open, extending the vase life.
  • Jude the Obscure: also from David Austin, JtO has full, heavy heads of pale yellow-pink petals with an exquisitely fruity scent. They look a bit ponderous in the vase, but a single flower perfumed my office for days. The final petals actually gave off a final, perfect spritz of scent as they fell to the desk — amazing.
  • William Shakespeare 2000: I contacted David Austin to see if my experience of this rose was typical, and it seems it is. What a beauty this rose is in the garden — strongly fragrant, packed with red petals. But look away when it starts to fade. The petals tend to turn brown and cling on instead of falling peacefully one by one, so entire heads can rot on the stem. The vase life in my experience is not good.
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles: a strong climbing red also from David Austin, with such lust for life that it happily endured six months shaded by scaffolding here. The flowers are perfection in the early stages and the vase life is excellent. But to me the scent is not very pleasant, and the petals eventually reflex back to an almost-puffball shape. But great for a mixed vase where other roses provide the scent.
  • Etoile de Holland: bred more than 70 years ago, EdH is famed as one of the best climbing reds. To me its scent is outrageously wonderful — a powerful, almost lemony aroma that, like Jude the Obscure, makes you want to eat the rose. The stems are short and the heads large, so arrangements need support. I put a dozen into a short, square vase topped with a plastic grid, and that worked. The flower form quickly declines from the stereotypical florist’s rosebud shape to a blown-open saucer, but together in a vase the scent of these roses is unbeatable.

Intensity and attractiveness of scent are subjective — one person’s wonderful is another person’s mediocre – but it’s easier to agree whether a fading rose is objectively beautiful or better off dead. Ask the growers you’re buying from this year what becomes of the flowers in the later stages, and inquire whether they have pictures to share. You’ll spend the next half-year looking forward to them, so it’s good to know what’s in store.

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