Tuesday, February 12, 2019 4 comments

Rethinking my garden





Last summer I was asked to submit some of my photos to a publishing house working on several new gardening books. The list of desired pictures was quite specific, so I went back through my entire photo library to see if I already had some of the shots they were looking for.

'New Dawn' arched over the front porch


My library goes back to 2001 when we were living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. During my walk down Memory Lane, I revisited lots of pictures of the cottage garden I’d created while living there. I had forgotten how lovely it was.

The Pond Garden




Front walkway garden

After looking through all those photos, I felt a bit sad thinking about the garden I’d been working on in the North Carolina mountains since 2010. I was suddenly struck with the realization that whatever I’ve been doing here has not been a success. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Boaters on the Little Choptank oohed and aahed over our hydrangeas

It started off well enough. My husband Chris took cuttings of the hardy ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangeas that lined the back of our Maryland home. Boaters passing by on the river behind us called us “the blue house” because of the proliferation of blue blooms they could see from the water.

The cuttings rooted beautifully, and we planted them all along the foundation our “new” house here. (We tore out the cheap, ugly bushes the previous owner had put in and started from scratch.) Then I added roses and perennials like I had done on the Eastern Shore.

Centranthus was a great companion for my roses in MD


My first clue that things were not going well was the discovery that the Centranthus ruber and alba that grew like weeds in Maryland did not thrive here. I tried planting them six different times before giving up. Phlox, coreopsis and other old favorites never made it past one season. Still, I soldiered on thinking all would come together eventually.

Some of the roses did well and some just sulked. The big successes were the catmints, daylilies, Shasta daisies and a couple of dahlias. And to my surprise, the hydrangeas went from strength to strength and started taking over.

The best the garden looked was in 2013 when the roses seemed to be happy and some of the perennials blended in quite nicely. Then things started to happen. For example, we had to dig up part of the garden to repair a section of the driveway held up by boulders that was crumbling. We put all the plants in pots and some of them never recovered.

My mountain garden in happier times


Several of the roses that looked so good in 2013 started to regress. Before long I had a bunch of bushes with a single, pitiful cane. New perennials I put in did not do squat. And the lamiums I planted on advice of a local friend started to become a nuisance.

Time to put on my thinking cap and try again.

So, the first thing I am going to do is test the soil again to make sure we have no new issues there. I’ll keep the roses and other plants that have worked and get rid of the poor performers. Then I will look for new ideas for a mountain garden in Zone 6b according to the new 2012 map. (Apparently, we used to be Zone 7a in the olden days.) Your suggestions are very welcome. 

Clematis works in the NC garden, unlike in MD

I have been looking at some of the cottage gardens on Pinterest and see a few things I’d like to pursue. Low-growing dark green ornamental grasses mixed with salvia and lamb's ears, for example.

Of course, we all know a garden is always a work in progress. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how mine is progressing!






Tuesday, January 1, 2019 4 comments

An American in the English Rose Garden


Me and David Austin

David Charles Henshaw Austin, a self-taught horticulturalist who spent sixty years working to create his vision of the perfect rose, passed away December 18th at his home in England. It was reported he had been “poorly” the past few months. He was 92.



Mr. Austin started hybridizing plants as a teenager and turned his attention to roses full time in 1969. His first big break came in 1983 when his billowy, fragrant rose ‘Graham Thomas’ was introduced at the Chelsea Flower Show. The rest as they say, is rose history. (He went on to win 24 gold medals at Chelsea.)

 
'Graham Thomas'

Very few people in life leave this world a more beautiful place than they found it. David Austin was one of those rare individuals. He left 230 varieties of his enchanting English roses. And he left many of us with memories of a shy, gentle man who “lived and breathed” the Queen of Flowers. This is my story about meeting the great rosarian in 1998. 

I shall never forget him.


My fave, 'James Galway'

A very successful artist friend once told me a story about the day he knocked on Norman Rockwell’s door. A bashful teenager, my friend only wanted to express his admiration for the great man and tell him of his hopes of becoming a painter.
Much to the young man’s surprise, Mr. Rockwell graciously invited him inside, gave him a tour of his studio, and encouraged him not to give up his dream of becoming an artist.
I felt very much like my friend several years ago during my first visit to David Austin’s nursery in England.
"Jude the Obscure'

As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950s, Austin 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. I first discovered his roses while living in the UK and immediately developed a fully blown case of English Rose Fever.

I knew I was going to meet the 
renowned hybridizer as a 
result of an article I’d written on the popularity of his roses for Fine Gardening magazine. 
'Marinette'
 I expected he’d say hello, autograph the copy of The Heritage of the Rose I’d brought along, and perhaps pose for a photo with me.
Instead, I was treated to a personal tour of his entire operation and talked with him for a couple hours about roses in general and English roses in particular.

Another of my favorites, 'Sir John Betjeman' 

The first stop on the tour was the nursery Rose Garden. Despite the fact it was early October when we visited, hundreds of roses were still in bloom. The garden features over nine hundred different roses, mostly antique roses, English and shrub roses. Pergolas draped with climbers and ramblers surround and weave through the garden.          

Courtesy David Austin English Roses

Within the main garden there are five individual gardens. The Long Garden is the main aisle from which all the other gardens lead off. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of old roses and shrubs. The Victorian Garden is a circular display filled with English roses and modern shrubs. 
 
Courtesy David Austin English Roses
Another informal garden features wild species roses, hybrids from other countries and an impressive display of colorful rose hips. The Lion Garden is a classic bedding garden composed of a mixture of hybrid teas, floribundas, English roses, miniatures and herbaceous plants.
 
'Lady Emma Hamilton


The geometrically designed Renaissance Garden is devoted entirely to English roses. A narrow canal runs down the center leading to a “temple” with pillars. ‘St. Swithun’, ‘Noble Antony’ and ‘Molineaux’ were particularly impressive in this setting. While strolling through the gardens, Mr. Austin proudly pointed out the many sculptures crafted by his wife, Pat.
       
'Crocus Rose'

Next we walked through several greenhouses packed with cuttings in various stages of development. Some of these would later be crossed with other seedlings. Some would move out to the trial fields. The not-so-promising would be trashed. 

The goal at the moment is to develop English roses with more vibrant colors and disease resistance. Mr. Austin is also interested in the creation of new and better cut flowers. 
 
'Munstead Wood' is fabulously fragrant

Every year, 150,000 pollen crosses are made by hand, that will produce around 400,000 seeds. (Meticulous records are kept of each seedling’s parentage). These seeds are planted after being chilled in a cooler for three months.

Approximately 250,000 will germinate and the resulting plants are evaluated for beauty, character, fragrance, diversity of bloom, disease resistance and potential for use in flower arrangements. 

In the fields, assistants evaluate the bushes for diseases and insect problems. Mr. Austin keeps an eye out for form, color and fragrance in a bloom. He flags those that appear promising with a bamboo stick.
'The Lark Ascending'
Years later, only four to six of the original 250,000 plants will make it into commerce.
I can’t help but wonder if one of the seedlings I saw in the greenhouse, or one of the bushes flagged by Mr. Austin in the trial fields, turned out to be one of my favorite English roses.
Looking back on that unforgettable 1998 day, I like to think I saw 'Darcey Bussell' at the moment she was taking her very first bow.
'Darcey Bussell'


        



 
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