Monday, December 31, 2012 17 comments

Goodbye 2012. Thanks for the memories.

This year simply evaporated for me. It seems like yesterday I was taking photos of the first wildflowers blooming in March. Now we are about to usher in 2013.

So I raise a glass to all my gardening friends and share some of my favorite pictures from 2012.

A little red boomer kept us entertained all winter

Wolfe's "Angel" lives nearby
Winter is a perfect for discovering small waterfalls in the woods (no snakes or bears!)

A Barred Owl came to call

Doug Gifford's amazing mountain garden  

Doug has over 300 roses overlooking Whiteside Mountain
An unwelcome visitor on the deck

A naughty gnome gets carried away at Wamboldtopia in Asheville     

My roses were the best ever this year

Dad's trail down to the waterfall became a reality

A white squirrel made an appearance on my birthday

Fall was fabulous

Christmas in New York was a fairytale ending for 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012 11 comments

Christmas in New York

The Christmas Tree beside the skating rink at Bryant Park

For ages I did a great deal of radio and TV production work in the Big Apple. But in recent years, thanks to shrinking client budgets and the quality of digital phone patches, I didn’t travel much further than my desk to supervise most sessions.

Over time I missed my talented friends and the general excitement of New York.  So when we learned A Prairie Home Companion was going to be staged at The Town Hall Theater this month, we decided to head for the bright lights and the big city.

And all the Christmas chaos.

We spent four days at what is described as a “boutique” hotel on Madison Avenue. (What that actually means is that it helps to be a midget or a contortionist to stay there.)

Despite the fact the hotel room was miniscule (and the elevator ignored our floor) the location was excellent. So we were able to walk to the show, Rockefeller Center, Macys, the Brill Building and dozens of other destinations on our list.
Now that we’re back home I’d love to show you some my favorite New York memories. 

So come along and see all the sights (without getting sore feet.)

The scene of the big proposal 24 years ago. (Death by Chocolate went to his head.)

Miracle on 34th Street -- I found a leather jacket I liked!
Without much else to occupy his time, Elmo hangs out in front of Macys.

Oh Little Elf! Listen to David Sedaris recounting his experiences in Santaland.

Even Santa skates at Rock Center

Jingle Bell Rockin' in front of Bloomingdales.

A shoutout for The Scream at the Museum of Modern Art

Everything in NY is bigger than life including these holiday lights on 6th Avenue

The fabulous Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. Has your family tried 'em, Powder Milk?

CATS on Broadway!

Some of the greatest hits of the 50's and 60's were created here

They say the neon lights are bright...

Cheers to all my gardening friends. May 2013 bring the most beautiful blooms ever!

Friday, November 2, 2012 13 comments

Growing rose seeds for fun and profit

The shrub Carefree Beauty was a seed parent for the wildly successful Knock Out

With few exceptions, the roses we know and love today start out life as a humble seed. Each one that grows produces a completely unique flower, and no one can accurately predict whether it will be a winner or a dud.

Hybridizer Bill Radler had been working for 15 years to develop a new line of disease resistant, easy-care roses. Little did he know the solitary seed harvested from a single hip from a straggly bush he almost trashed would grow up to be Knock Out.
Pink Knock Out is a "sport" of Double Knock Out

Of course professional hybridizers have the edge on amateurs when it comes to producing a really special rose. The process is tedious, lengthy and painstaking. 

Roses are cross-pollinated, hips are allowed to form and the resulting seeds are planted and closely observed. Then comes more cross breeding, more hips, more seeds and for the most part, disappointment.

The popular Graham Thomas was one of Evelyn's parents
For example, every year the folks at David Austin English Roses plant approximately 150,000 seeds. After several years, most of the seedlings will get the thumb’s down for one reason or another (Mr. Austin still makes the final decision.) 

In time, perhaps three to five roses from the original planting will ever make it into commerce. Now I’m no math genius, but the odds of coming up with a keeper seem pretty low to me.

Is the next Peace rose is in your garden?

Originally called '3-35-40', Peace has chalked up 100 million in sales

Most of us don’t have the expertise or inclination to set up a proper rose hybridizing program, but it’s still fun to plant a few seeds and see what happens. 

This time of year I scout around for hips that are red or orange and bring them inside to harvest the precious seeds inside.

(Next year, stop deadheading your plants in late summer and let the volunteer pollinators take over. With a bit of luck, the bees will do their thing and soon fruit or hips will begin forming on your bushes.)

Giving seeds the water treatment.

Although you’ll probably never pinpoint the  “father” of your new rose, you should know the female parent, so keep each group of hips separate to identify later.

Granada x Garden Party resulted in the favorite Double Delight
Cut the hips open with a knife, remove the seeds, wipe them clean, and drop them in a glass of water. Old timers say seeds that float won’t germinate as well as those that sink.

Discard the floaters and wrap the remaining seeds in a handful of moist vermiculite or peat moss  -- even damp paper towels can work. Place the mix in a plastic zip bag and write the name of the seed parent on the outside of the bag with an indelible marker.

Seeds need cold temperatures to initiate the germination process, so place all the bags in the veggie crisper drawer of your fridge for about 60 days. Mark your calendar so you know when it’s time to take them out.

Countdown to bloom time.

There are many ways to plant the seeds once they finish their long winter’s nap. I’ve sown mine under grow lights in cheap plastic shoeboxes with a couple inches of sterile soil. Plant seeds about ¼ inch below the soil surface. Make sure indoor temperatures are at least 70 degrees and keep the lights on for about 16 hours.

Two unnamed seedlings produced Louisville Lady
 In areas of the country where spring temperatures are above 70 degrees, you can plant them in flats and set them outside. Whichever method you try, be sure to keep the soil moist, but not dripping wet.

When the seedlings begin to grow, the first two leaves that appear are cotyledons. The next leaf will look like a rose. Amazingly, many of these seedlings will flower in as little as 5 to 6 weeks, although some take a full season to bloom.

 If you like what you see when your seedling does bloom, carefully transplant the new rose into a separate pot. Within three years you should have a fully mature bush and a never-before-seen variety.

 It may never achieve Knock Out status, but since you grew it, I promise you will love it.


After writing this posting I ran across a quote from the diary of Frances Meilland. He and his father Antoine 'Papa' Meilland hybridized Peace and first recognized its potential to be one of the greats. 
The McCartney Rose
The Meilland's rose farms were destroyed during World War II and it was the proceeds from the sale of Peace that allowed them begin again and create beautiful roses including Bonica, Carefree Beauty and The McCartney Rose to this day.

"How strange to think that all these millions of rose bushes sprang from one tiny seed no bigger than the head of a pin, a seed which we might so easily have overlooked, or neglected in a moment of inattention."

Strange, indeed. But also amazing and wonderful.

Thursday, October 18, 2012 11 comments

High class blooms and high flyers

Note the multifaceted eye of this tropical beauty
Not long ago I had the pleasure of judging the Garden Club of Virginia Rose Show in Richmond.  

As an accredited horticultural judge for the American Rose Society, I get to eye the best blooms grown by the best exhibitors around, and despite the summer drought in the mid-Atlantic, this show had some beauties.

Let Freedom Ring
The hybrid tea Let Freedom Ring was named Queen and deservedly took her place reigning over the other winning blooms on the head table. 

But the end of the judging proved to be just the beginning of a day full of more visual treats.

The show was held at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, a historic property (once owned by Patrick Henry) that features over 50 acres of gorgeous gardens and 9,000 types of plants.

More than a dozen themed gardens include a Healing Garden, Sunken Garden, a Victorian garden, and an interactive Children’s Garden. There’s also a classical domed Conservatory, a Garden Café, Tea Room and the most enticing gift shop I’ve visited. 

The rose garden is a recent addition and although relatively new, it is already a stunner with more than 80 varieties and 1800 roses selected for repeat performance, fragrance and disease resistance. 

The visitors I saw were literally spoiled for choice when it came to finding the most sweetly scented blooms in the display.

Love this bench outside the conservatory
Surrounded by beauty

Although it was hard to tear myself away from the roses, I soon made a beeline for the “Butterflies Live!” exhibit in the North Wing of the Conservatory. 

Dozens of exotic tropicals fluttered around me and posed for photos on nectar plants and in the bowls of fruit set out for their dining pleasure.

While strolling through the exhibit I noted at least 15 varieties of butterflies and moths including the Blue Morpho, Postman, Zebra Longwing, Sara Longwing and the Giant Owl, named for the prominent “eye” on the wings.
The Postman

A Postman butterfly  landed on my arm which, according to lore, means a loved one from the past has come to say hello, or good luck will be coming my way. (I hope both legends are true.)

The life spans of these delicate creatures vary. While Monarch butterflies are around for six to eight months, the lime-green Luna moth with its four-inch wingspan lives only about a week.
Luna moth
A Red Cattleheart?

As I left, it was sad to see a couple of the brightly colored jewels lying still on the exhibit floor. 

And it was sad to return to the rose show to find a bloom that was the picture of perfection a few hours earlier with its head drooping in the vase.

Blue Morph
Of course we know these things of beauty can’t last, but just seeing them lifts our spirits.  

And we are reminded whether it’s a rose, a butterfly or a good friend, we should appreciate each one more with every passing day.

Thursday, October 11, 2012 14 comments

Don't work up a sweat over fall rose care


In a time when pumpkins and mums dominate the garden landscape, it’s a treat to see some of my favorite roses making their final appearances of the season. 

Cooler temps give Sally Holmes a pretty fall blush
These last roses of summer can often be the sweetest – the nip in the air deepens the colors and the blooms themselves are sometimes a bit larger than usual. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about pruning or fertilizing until 2013. I can just sit back and enjoy the fall show.

Of course, there are a few chores to be done in the rose garden before winter sets in. But the list is pretty short for most areas of the country and includes more  “don’ts” than “do’s.”

Munstead Wood
For starters, don’t cut your roses back in the autumn. If you prune now you’ll just suffer dieback and will have to cut back more severely in the spring.  Wait until the forsythia blooms in your area before breaking out the secateurs. 

An exception would be Ramblers that bloom on old wood  -- if you wait till next year to tidy them up, you may well cut off potential new flowers. Trim about one-third of the growth now and cut out any dead canes.

I also suggest trimming back bushes that have developed extra long canes. In my garden, English Roses such as James Galway and the hybrid tea Elina have thrown out eight-foot canes. I trim those back to waist height so they don’t whip around in winter winds injuring themselves, their neighbors or me.

Trim back taller roses like James Galway
Don’t trim off rose hips, the colorful fruits that form in the late summer and early fall. They often turn lovely shades of orange-red, and are a signal to the bush that it’s time to get ready for a long winter’s nap.

Hips are a treat for the eyes and the birds

Do tear off and destroy any leaves that display signs of disease or insect infestation. Also dig up and discard any bushes that have died. Never put diseased leaves or dead roses in your compost pile.

Do identify any bushes that might need extra winter protection. Most of the newer shrubs and miniatures don’t need special care. 

If you aren’t sure whether a variety is tender or not, play it safe and add an 8” mound of soil, compost, leaf mold or other organic material around the base of the bush. Check with an American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian in your area for additional advice and winter protection tips.

Darcy Bussell can bloom into early November
Finally, scour the catalogs when they arrive and start thinking about new plants you’d like to add to the garden next year.

It’s a flight of fancy that will transport you away from the woes of winter.