Friday, January 23, 2015 8 comments

David Austin's 2015 pick of the posies for American gardeners

Thomas a Becket is a stunner in the landscape (Courtesy David Austin Roses)

I’ve mentioned in the past that when I’m giving a lecture on roses I often begin by telling the audience my presentation could be hazardous to their health.

You see, I know better than most that once rose fever sets in, there is no cure. No matter how many roses one has, there will always be a more appealing one coming up at garden centers or in the 2015 catalogs.

Which means rose fever can also be hazardous to the pocketbook.

I myself contracted a rare strain called English Rose fever while living in London in the early 90’s when I fell in love with a new line of “old fashioned” roses created by David Austin.

Courtesy Chris VanCleave

As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950’s, he captured the appealing features of Old Garden Roses (roses introduced prior to 1867) such as cupped or rosette-shaped flowers and strong fragrance in bushes that have the repeat bloom and vigor of modern roses.

Now many years later, I still have English Rose Fever.

And it doesn’t help my bank balance that the new David Austin catalogue has just arrived with four new US introductions that look irresistible. These roses have been specially selected to perform well in a variety of growing conditions throughout America.

Maid Marion

We all dream of finding a rose that has the charming form of yesteryear, produces armloads of blooms and is delightfully scented as well.

Maid Marion delivers near perfect blooms all season
‘Maid Marion’ delivers all these attributes and more. 

According to Technical Manager and Senior Rosarian Michael Marriott, ‘Maid Marion’ produces some of the most superbly formed flowers in English Rose history. It is also quick to repeat.

The catalogue tells us the buds start as rounded cups with larger outer petals, enclosing numerous smaller petals within. These open to perfect rosette-shaped flowers in the form of a saucer; the outer petals forming an appealing rounded rim. It produces clear, rose pink flowers from early summer till frost, with a soft myrrh scent that becomes fruitier with a distinct clove character.

Maid Marion grows 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.
 The Albrighton Rambler

Rambler roses that repeat bloom from summer into fall are rarities. Those that don’t ramble here, there and everywhere are even more rare.

Now David Austin introduces ‘The Albrighton Rambler’, a well behaved rose that grows from 10 to 12 feet, and offers large sprays of soft pink blooms (with a little button eye) that hang gracefully on the branch. It mixes beautifully with large-flowered climbers on an upright structure and is a perfect choice for arches, pillars, walls – even small trees.

A well behaved rambler that can spread 12 feet or more

It repeats well and is exceptionally healthy. In addition, the flowers are not affected by rain. According to Michael, the ‘Albrighton Rambler’ has a light musky fragrance typical of the Sempervirens hybrids.  Hardy in USDA Zones 7-10.

Thomas a Becket

I love the reds so this is a "must have" for me
This red beauty is a bit different than many English roses in that it is “closer to the Species Roses than to the Old Roses and more natural and shrubby in growth.”

The color is difficult to pinpoint or even photograph but is described as a light red that pales to a carmine red. (I am wondering if it will be similar in shade to Darcey Bussell or Sir John Betjeman. We shall see.)

The Austin team says the individual flowers open as informal rosettes; the petals quickly reflexing as the flowers age. They are held in medium-sized heads; the individual blooms nodding attractively on the stem. They have an Old Rose fragrance with a strong lemon zest character.

Michael says ‘Thomas’ blooms a week or 10 days later than most English Roses, then produces masses of flowers for the remainder of the season. He does caution it may take three years to look its best.  

If I get a bush that eventually looks like one in the photo above, I will be willing to wait! Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

The Lady Gardener

This Lady is said to be a blooming machine
Michael Marriott says this a particularly interesting rose in that it is the first in the English “Old Rose” group to sport apricot flowers. (The Old Rose hybrids were the original English Roses such as ‘Wife of Bath’. They have much of the character of the true old roses – the gallicas, damasks, etc. Prior to The Lady Gardener, the colors by and large were soft shades of pink, crimson and purple.)
The 65-petaled blooms are large, about 4" across, and start out as a rich apricot that pales towards the outside of the bloom.  It is said to produce a “staggering” number of roses, is very healthy and laughs at rain. As a bonus ‘The Lady” has a delicious Tea rose fragrance with hints of cedar wood and vanilla.  Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

So there you go, the English Class of 2015. All these roses are now available for spring delivery to your garden. Have you selected one you can’t live without?

With apologies to my pocketbook, I think I must have them all.

Monday, January 12, 2015 3 comments

Farewell, 2014. It's been a Fab year. Part 2

When we last left my 2014 stroll down Memory Lane, we were contemplating whether or not to cancel our trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Chris was recovering from emergency surgery and an 11-day hospital stay in September. Then, a week before we were to fly out, I was coping with a sinus infection and an abscessed tooth.

Poppy and her gorgeous Mum, Hayley
Wondering what else could possibly go wrong, we made the decision to go for it. On October 15th, we took off for the Land Down Under.

We’d been to Sydney before in 2011 for son Sam’s wedding. Now, part of the reason for the journey was to meet little Miss Poppy Hunt, age 1.

We stayed in a flat overlooking the Sydney Harbour, which meant all the pleasures of the city and surrounding areas were just a ferry ride or stroll away.

Crepuscule (Noisette) at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Love that view of the "Coathanger" bridge

Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Mr. Lincoln, Down Under

 One weekend we took a side trip to Kiama where I judged the New South Wales Rose Show in Jamberoo. There I met fellow judge Mark McGuire who invited us to visit his magnificent rose garden in downtown Sydney.

A rose called 'Glorious' took top honors

You can see the Sydney Harbour from this amazing city garden

Alas the time with Sam, Hayley and Poppy flew by, and soon we were back on a plane bound for Auckland, New Zealand.

One of the joys of our visit there was getting together with old friends (new ones for me) Mike and Carolyn from Chris’ days living in Hambledon, England. 

During our week on the North Island we visited Waiheke Island, the Bay of Islands and of course, more beautiful rose gardens.

Tui birds can become drunk and disorderly after too much Kowhai nectar

Captain Cook counted 89 islands here (there are 144)
Me and Syd the cat at the Waterfront Cafe, Paihia
Nancy Steen Heritage Garden in Auckland

Back on the plane, to Christchurch and the South Island. We were shocked and saddened by the devastation that still lingers after the 2011 earthquake.

Francois Juranville (Rambler) at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Gorgeous rhododendrons dotted the trails at the gardens

From there we took the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth, then drove to Franz Joseph (home of the glaciers) for the night.

Took these photos hanging off the observation car

The trip to Queenstown was beautiful and scary. Chris failed to tell me a British couple had been swept away crossing the Haast Pass and have yet to be found. 

Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown and the Remarkables mountains

There was a heritage rose trail at Arrowtown

Near Glenorchy

If you have not been to Queenstown, you likely will feel like you’ve visited there. The mountain range,The Remarkables have hosted numerous movies, including Lord of the Rings.

You pass a variety of scenic vistas on the drive back to Christchurch, then turn a corner and there is Mount Cook. 

Fact is New Zealand is so amazingly gorgeous it is difficult for the brain to take it all in.

Was it real or was it a dream?

And how can we top it in 2015?

Oh, one last thing. We also celebrated our 25th anniversary a few days after returning home!
Monday, December 29, 2014 6 comments

Farewell 2014. It's been a Fab year.

In last year’s Farewell address I noted that I’d blinked, and 2013 somehow disappeared. Overall it was a pleasant year, but not one packed with unforgettable memories.

2014 has been strikingly different.

It all started with a road trip from the North Carolina mountains to Cambridge, Maryland for a dinner party thrown for members of my old book club (the Dorchester Divas.) It was a wonderful reunion, but the weather was ghastly and we swore we'd never travel during winter again. But I did manage to get out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge which is one of the chief wintering areas along  the Atlantic Flyway. Despite the wind and cold I found a few photo ops.

February marked the 50th anniversary of my exclusive interview with the Beatles when the Lads arrived at Miami International Airport to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was a dizzying month filled with newspaper and radio interviews, and misty-eyed walks down Memory Lane.  The hero was John Lennon and our story appeared on the front page of The Miami Herald on February 13, 2014. I also wrote a remembrance for The Christian Science Monitor.

April brought the return of the hummingbirds and my invitation to judge at the Biltmore International Rose Trials.

Hummers returned on April 12th

I am honored to be a member of the permanent Biltmore judging panel
Seeing such beautiful roses and visiting with so many rose-loving friends was an unforgettable experience. A shrub called 'Miracle on the Hudson' flew off with top honors.

Rosy fun with Chris VanCleave, my Chris and Teresa Byington
The always spectacular Biltmore Rose Garden
Another important anniversary was celebrated in June – the 25th year since my first date with a certain officer in the Royal Navy.

Later that month we set off on another road trip visiting friends in Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Maryland and DC on the way to judge one of my favorite rose shows at Longwood Gardens.
The wild onions of Yorktown
American Pillar (a hybrid wichurana) at Longwood

In August I wrote my second posting about the historic trees at High Hampton in Cashiers, North Carolina, including the world's largest Fraser Fir.

National Champion Bottlebrush Buckeye

The trees at High Hampton are magnificent. The gardens aren't too shabby either.

Labor Day ended with a nasty surprise as Chris was rushed to Asheville for emergency bowel surgery. He was in Mission Hospital 11 days and we wondered  if we would have to cancel our big trip in October we'd been planning for almost a year.

Did we make it? What other special anniversary was on the calender?

Watch this space...

Sunday, December 7, 2014 10 comments

No room for a traditional Christmas tree? Try a Norfolk Island pine.

Kiama, Australia

 Dear Readers,

While we were in Australia and New Zealand I discovered what turned out to be Norfolk Island  pines growing in the wild.  I always think of these attractive trees as indoor ornamentals, but of course they do thrive outdoors, and can grow to impressive heights in their native habitats. They are considered tough trees that make excellent specimen plants.

Planted in Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ in 1880.
In America, Norfolk pines (they actually aren't pines at all) can grow up to 80 feet in USDA Hardiness zones 10A through 11, although they are easily damaged by high winds. 

Here is the original story I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor about using these graceful plants as holiday trees:


The day we set off to find “the” Christmas tree is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s usually the day after Thanksgiving when we’re still stuffed from the holiday feast and in need of an outdoor adventure. I say adventure because the search for my perfect tree can last an entire day.

Before leaving home, I bring down the boxes of holiday decorations and set each ornament out on the dining room table. There’s everything from Woody Woodpecker (who does his famous laugh when you press a button) to pipe cleaner Santas that belonged to my grandmother.

My rocking horses, glass turtles and miniature carved birds are lined up, waiting to be placed on the bushy, beautifully symmetrical Frasier fir soon after it comes through the front door.
There was no room for a big tree before our big move
Four years ago when we put our Maryland house on the market, we decided not to get our traditional tree.

I discovered I really missed looking through the ornaments – it’s rather like visiting with old friends.

And I missed the festive lights in the corner where the tree usually stood. So I bought a little Norfolk Island pine, added a string of 20 lights, a few bows, and voila -- Christmas tree!

It wasn’t our usual statuesque 7-footer, but it did just fine for that unusual holiday season.

A winter ornamental from the tropics.

Araucaria heterophylla is native to a small island in the South Pacific that was sighted in 1774 during Captain James Cook’s second voyage of exploration. The island was named in honor of the Duchess of Norfolk and the trees seen growing there were estimated to be over 200 feet tall.

Barney the Barn Owl glides effortlessly through the tree branches
Here at home, the Norfolk Island pine is almost always grown indoors as a compact houseplant since it is far too tender for most areas of the country.   

The popularity spikes during the holiday season for obvious reasons. But these charming little trees need not be thrown out with the dried-up Poinsettias once January arrives. With proper care they will last for many Christmases to come.

Indoor climate is the key.

Norfolk Island pines are relatively easy to grow and make appealing accent plants all year-round thanks to their graceful branches and soft, touchable needles. They can tolerate low lighting for a brief time (such as during the holidays) but do best when exposed bright light.

I've managed to collect every bird from this series

An hour or so of direct sunlight won’t hurt, but be sure to rotate the tree a quarter turn every two weeks to keep it from becoming lopsided.

Despite their tropical homeland, these trees prefer an environment on the cool side.  Ideally, temperatures should range from 50 and 70 degrees  -- anything in the 80’s will likely cause needle drop.

My vintage 40's Santa
Norfolk Island pines don’t require as much water as other houseplants. In fact, they won’t tolerate saturated soil. Give them a drink only when the top inch or so of soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Allow some water to run out of the bottom of the container, then discard any excess in an hour or so.

In addition they don’t like to be pruned – in fact pruning can deform these plants. The only trimming required is removing any dead lower branches. If you prune a tip or healthy branch, the tree will not grow at that spot again.

Gator ornaments are a must

Feed your tree lightly every other month during spring and summer with a fertilizer specifically formulated for indoor foliage plants. Some experts suggest repotting every three years; others say the practice disturbs the roots and isn’t necessary.

I didn’t have my Norfolk Island pine long enough to worry about fertilizing or repotting  – I gave it to a neighbor before we moved to the mountains.

But I must confess even though I missed my heirloom ornaments that Christmas, the little tree made our holidays merry and bright.