Saturday, June 30, 2012 10 comments

A closer look at the Royal Barge roses.

40 garlands with over 50 roses each adorned the sides of the Royal Barge
Recently I wrote about the seven-mile flotilla of over 1,000 boats that escorted the flower-festooned Royal Barge down the Thames as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

Over a million onlookers viewed the floating pageant as it traveled along the river to Tower Bridge, which was opened to allow the Queen’s barge to sail through.

Dozens of gardeners and hundreds of plants turned the Royal Barge into a floating botanical garden
In all, the floral display included over 4,000 red carnations, 2,100 Darcey Bussell roses, 1,000 Patience roses and 500 purple and red sweet peas. 

There were 40 garlands, each created with more than 50 blooms of Darcey and Munstead Wood, all supplied by David Austin English roses.

My Munstead Wood
Twenty gardeners spent seven months planning and growing plants for the special event. It took seven days for 45 florists, gardeners and flower arrangers to decorate the barge.

Photographs of the extravaganza prove all the work was well worth the effort.

There has been nothing like the river celebration since the flotilla honoring King Charles II in 1662, when diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that there were so many boats he could “see no water.”

The pageant was a feast for the senses.

Roses, carnations and sweet peas created a floral scene fit for a Queen

Cheers rang out along the shore out as the vessels passed by, church bells chimed and bands played selections including Handel’s Water Music. 

The James Bond theme could be heard in the distance as the procession passed the MI6 spy agency headquarters.

It appears a jolly good time was had by all.

Monday, June 18, 2012 19 comments

What you didn't see in Southern Living

The cliffs at Whiteside Mountain are 390 to 460 million years old

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing this column is I get a chance to see who in the world is taking a look.

According to Blogger audience statistics, I have a healthy following in the UK, the Netherlands and as of yesterday, Romania.

So to all the readers in far-flung places, let me begin by telling you Southern Living is a classy magazine that covers culture and travel in the southeastern United States. It also features a variety of mouthwatering recipes.

Now on to the subject at hand.

The foxgloves are volunteers
A recent issue of Southern Living includes a very nice article about a lovely mountainside garden in western North Carolina.

“Grow Roses with Ease” talks about the creation of the garden, which included schlepping 2,500 bags of cow manure and mushroom compost down a steep slope to build the walled terraces that are now home to his 300+ roses. I wondered how easy it could be to take proper care of all those bushes as well as an untold number of perennials.

Hardy, non-grafted shrub roses thrive on high
My husband Chris and I visited the owner* Doug,  last Friday and discovered what we already suspected: caring for this garden isn’t exactly like laying back and eating bonbons. There is always something to be done; the deadheading chores alone take hours.

But the hard work actually becomes a labor of love, especially when the result is this amazing garden.

A treasure trove of plants and ideas

Both Doug and his wife Shari warned me the roses were a bit past their best but believe me, they were still impressive. And there were many other treats aside from the Queen of Flowers to be savored in this ¼ acre garden showplace.

For example, to help keep the weeds down, Doug has cleverly planted all manner of groundcovers under the roses and other tall perennials. Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ (named for a past director of the US National Arboretum) forms dense mats of scalloped green leaves that will be covered with mauve pink flowers in the fall.
Sedum John Creech

It’s taken many years for this weed-smothering sedum (also known as Stonecrop) to spread, but it was definitely worth the wait. John Creech will tolerate drought and poor soil but it doesn’t like wet feet.

Lamium White Nancy
Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ (Spotted deadnettle) is another tough plant that makes an ideal spreading groundcover. Nancy is also a showoff -- her eye-catching silvery white leaves are edged with a dark green margin, and she sports clusters of white flowers beginning in the spring.

Evergreen Lamium is tolerant of dry shade and spreads easily without being overly aggressive. Plants can be divided in spring or fall.

Hens and chicks ramble when planted in rock crevices
Doug has also planted several varieties of creeping thyme that spill over his walls and line paths. Sempervivum live between the cracks of the stones. I was so taken by this idea that I rushed to the local garden center and have started my own brood of Hens and Chicks in our newly created rock planters.

Amazing photo ops

The Gifford’s garden faces Whiteside Mountain. The cliffs there are the highest in Eastern North America rising to an elevation of 4,930 feet.

When Doug first built his house and expressed an interest in starting a cut flower garden for Shari, he was told roses wouldn’t grow there. Undaunted, he started out with six bushes and through trial and error discovered non-grafted roses could take the wind and cold.

Now hundreds of bushes live happily on high, some in partial to full shade.

But the truth is, you can’t take in the entire panorama in one visit.

 Shari's studio
I understand the photographer for Southern Living came down from New York and spent an entire week capturing the garden in different lighting at different times of day.

Not wishing to take up too much time (both Doug and Shari are artists), we stayed for just over an hour.

I can’t wait for a return visit.

* I am not disclosing the last name of the owner since they have had uninvited guests, including a busload of people wanting to see the garden.

Thursday, June 14, 2012 8 comments

English Roses (including two I grow) perfumed the Thames during the Queen’s Jubilee

Each floral swag on the Royal Barge was over six feet wide
The Queen of Flowers played a glamorous role during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Last Sunday as part of the festivities, the Queen’s Royal Barge was escorted down the Thames by a seven-mile flotilla of over 1,000 boats, including 40 of the “little ships” that were used in the legendary evacuation of Dunkirk. It was the largest river pageant in 350 years. 

A floating botanic garden
Flowers from the Queen’s gardens and her 16 Commonwealth realms decorated the Royal Barge including English roses, Irish shamrocks, thistles from Scotland, Welsh daffodils, wattles from Australia, silver ferns from New Zealand and Canadian maple leaves.

A traditional knot garden was also planted on board.

Rachel de Thame of BBC Gardener’s World created the floral designs in the royal color scheme of red, gold and purple. She used the Queen’s 1953 Coronation gown with its intricate floral embroidery as an inspiration.

Renowned florist Kitty Arden spent six months planning for the garlands that would festoon the barge. Her preparations, carried out along with 18-time Chelsea gold medal winner Mark Fane, included several dry runs to assure the flowers remained fresh and secure in case the royal party encountered rain or heavy winds. The flowers stayed put and remained vibrant for three days.

In all, over 7000 cut flowers, 140 plants and 90 garlands (approximately six feet in length) turned the Spirit of Chartwell into a floating botanical garden.

And no flowers were more impressive or fragrant than the 2700 cut flowers and 60 rose bushes supplied by David Austin English Roses.
Darcey Bussell is always in bloom

According to Michael Marriott, David Austin’s Technical Director, the roses for the swags included 1800 raspberry-red Darcey Bussell blooms and 900 blossoms of creamy white Patience.

 To mesh with the color scheme, 60 bushes of Darcey Bussell and the crimson-to-magenta Munstead Wood were placed in a bed in front of the Queen. 

Munstead Wood has won international awards for its fruity old world fragrance -- its delectable perfume delighted members of the royal party and onlookers alike.
Fragrant Munstead Wood ages to a deep purple

Painstaking preparations

To get the rose bushes looking their best, the Austin team forced them in a greenhouse usually reserved for their Chelsea Flower Show display.

For the cut flowers, they sent two of their expert florists to London to look after them in a building right by the Thames. For three days before the event, they turned them and and babied them, making sure they were exactly at the right stage for the special day.

The result was a smashing success and a feast for the senses. The perfect outcome for a celebration fit for a queen.

Dear Dirt Diaries friends, I wrote this article for the The Christian Science Monitor and thought you might like to see it. We will be posting more photos of the Royal Barge (and the Queen) on Monday.
Friday, June 1, 2012 31 comments

Rose Fever is back (and hotter than ever)

Young Lycidas snagged the top prize for fragrance in Barcelona

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 in the next gardening catalog.
 Which means rose fever can also be hazardous to the pocketbook.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles
I myself contracted a rare strain called English rose fever while living in London in the early 90’s. It was there I discovered many of their rose gardens looked nothing like the one I once created in Virginia. 

There were no boring rectangular beds stocked only with prissy hybrid teas. There was no calculated spacing where bushes were lined up in rows like dutiful soldiers. No naked canes to stare at all winter.

An old favorite, Jude the Obscure
Instead, roses were a part of the overall landscape. There was an understated accent here, a flashy punctuation point there. And oh, what wonderful blooms! Some the size of a dinner plate, with a fragrance that took me back to summer days on my grandmother’s farm.

I assumed many of these roses I’d come to admire in British cottage gardens were antiques, Comtesse de something or other. However it turned out they were actually a new class of “old fashioned” roses hybridized by the creator of the English rose, David Austin.

Amazingly prolific Sir John Betjeman
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.

That appeal was not lost on admiring Americans who stood in line to add roses with names like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Wise Portia to their gardens. More than 20 years later, many of the initial Austin introductions have fallen out of favor. But passion for the newer, more disease-resistant varieties remains strong all across the country.

Especially in my North Carolina garden.

Gardening with a British accent

Out of the 40+ bushes I’ve planted in my new garden, more than half are David Austin roses. There are many reasons why I am partial to the English beauties, but since a picture is worth a whole bunch of words, you’ll be able to see for yourself.

Crocus Rose
Two-year-old Sir John Betjeman is currently sporting 20 blossoms and 65 buds.

Crocus Rose (just planted in April) is covered with gorgeous soft apricot rosettes.
Lady Emma is always turning heads

Lady Emma Hamilton is literally stopping traffic as walkers stroll by and are gobsmacked by her charms.

Deep crimson Darcey Bussell not only has glossy, healthy foliage but also displays resistance to damaging insects like rose midge.
Exquisite Darcey is one of my new faves

And need I mention fragrance?

Of course everyone who grows English roses has a favorite, some of which are no longer in the good graces of the great hybridizer himself. Each year the Austin staff looks at their roses with a critical eye and decides which plants are no longer considered up to snuff. In the catalog, those that make the grade have a small flower next to the name.

St. Swithun can also be trained as a climber
I was relieved to find one of my favorites, soft pink St. Swithun, still gets the official seal of approval. I planted it in the early 90's during the first flush of English rose fever.

And I jolly well hope to grow it again on high.