Wednesday, September 19, 2012 18 comments

Rose lovers, '13 may be be your lucky number

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 2013 gardening catalogs. 

Cottage Rose was one of my very first Austin roses
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.

Jude the Obscure
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.

So before the new catalogs arrive I am giving my pocketbook fair warning – I’ve had a sneak peek at the new US introductions and they all look like keepers.

Years in the making

David Austin and Me
When I visited the David Austin nursery in the UK a few years ago, I was able to take a tour of the entire operation. It was fascinating to see greenhouse after greenhouse filled with seedlings and cuttings in various stages of development.

Every year, 150,000 pollen crosses are made by hand which will produce around 400,000 seeds.  These seeds are planted after being chilled in a cooler for three months.

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.

Nine years later, only four to six of the original 250,000 plants will make it into commerce.

Here is the class of 2013:

Wollerton Old Hall
The Yew Walk at Wollerton
This rose is going to be a must-have for me since I actually visited the 16th century Hall House that is surrounded by one of the most exquisite gardens in England. 

This vigorous rose can also be grown as a climber

Wollerton Old Hall has an intense myrrh fragrance and is said to be one of the most strongly scented of all English roses. The blooms are a soft cream with hints of peach. The bush has few thorns and produces an abundance of flowers over a long blooming season.

                                                     Lady Salisbury

Named to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Hatfield House, the home of Lady Salisbury, this new beauty boasts old world charm and makes an excellent cut flower. The sugary pink rosettes and matte green foliage are reminiscent of the Alba roses but this modern shrub flowers continuously until frost.


          The Lady’s Blush

A perfect candidate for a mixed border, this Lady sports pure soft pink blossoms, a creamy white eye and unusually attractive golden stamens.

                                                      Fighting Temeraire

A departure from most soft-colored English roses, this semi-double dazzler features rich apricot petals with a contrasting splash of yellow behind the stamens.  It produces masses of flowers on strong stems and can be trained as a climber

Named after an 1839 JMW Turner painting, this rose has won awards for fragrance and as a landscape rose. Its scent is described as “very fruity with a strong element of lemon zest.”

                                                  Queen Anne

Medium-sized flowers are a pretty rose pink with outer petals slightly paler than interior ones. The flowers are fragrant and stems are virtually thornless. 

If you like the understated charm of old fashioned roses in contrast to large, showy blooms, this rose is for you.

   England’s Rose

This is another must-have for me. The flowers are cerise pink with a spicy fragrance. It throws out large clusters of blooms from May through October or November. And best of all, it is weather resistant! Even with periods of heavy rain the blooms will not ball, and petals drop cleanly.  Yippee! No more soggy blossoms that look like dead mice! 

One word of caution,  I understand the blooms may be small in areas that are quite hot.

So there you go. Six new roses to tempt us. My problem is I want them all, but sometimes it just isn't possible. Since my mountain garden is smaller than the old one in Maryland, I have to consider available space. And then there is that pesky pocketbook!

I've had several people ask me which one to choose if you can only have one. So I consulted the expert, Michael Marriott, Technical Manager for David Austin. He suggests Wollerton Old Hall for its fragrance, beauty and vigor. 

In addition it can be grown as a shrub or climber.

 I actually need a climber by my front porch which makes Wollerton a no-brainer. 

Plus every time I see it in bloom I'll be reminded of that splendid day in that splendid  garden in England.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 22 comments

After years of denial, I'm dabbling in Dahlias.

I was fascinated by Fascination

Until now, my knowledge of dahlias was limited to a magazine article I wrote about them in 2001, and the experiences of my Maryland neighbor Chuck, who planted them every spring.

Most of what I learned for the article I promptly forgot because dahlias weren’t on my list of preferred plants. (They seemed a bit gaudy to live next to my prissy, pastel English roses.)

I did remember they originated in Mexico and were grown by the Aztecs.

 I knew the flowers could be as small as a pincushion or as big as a dinner plate. 
Chuck chucked his collection citing bunny issues

I knew the tubers had to be lifted and stored over winter in areas north of Zone 8.

And I knew this was probably a pain in the neck since Chuck stopped growing dahlias in 2005.

So after years of indifference, imagine moving to an area where dahlias are a  head-turning sight in one garden, and a notable part of local history in another.
Dahlias move from England to the mountains.

The first stop is the resort once known as Hampton Hunting Lodge where early visitors  arrived by horse and buggy. 

High Hampton Inn celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

In 1890, Carolyn Hampton (Wade Hampton’s niece) married Dr. William Halstead of Johns Hopkins, and the couple honeymooned on the mountain property.

Dr. Halstead thought the land to be the most beautiful place on earth. They purchased the estate from Carolyn’s aunts and renamed it High Hampton.

The couple traveled from Baltimore each summer and enhanced the property by adding exotic trees and shrubs (including one of America's largest Frasier Firs) that still thrive on the front lawn.

Part of the dahlia garden first planted in the 1890's

Caroline Halstead also assembled a remarkable collection of dahlias that were imported from England between 1892 and 1920. A gracious hostess, Caroline invited her guests to pick the dahlias. She also donated extra tubers to Cashiers gardeners.

Today the dahlia garden at High Hampton covers more than two acres and guests are still encouraged to cut and enjoy the colorful blooms.

 Dazzling roadside dahlias.

Heading back towards Cashiers on Highway 107 you can’t help but notice a small garden on the right that is so eye-catching,  your car might just swerve into the driveway by itself.

This riot of color is Rebecca’s Natural Gardens where her dahlias and assorted perennials have been turning heads since1990. 

Rebecca waters every one of her plants by hand, feeds them organically and never uses pesticides. The pollinators love her. 


So do dahlia enthusiasts who travel for hundreds of miles to purchase her beauties and listen to words of wisdom from the Dahlia Queen.

Melody Gypsy and Thomas Edison
I was immediately captivated by a variety called Genevieve, named after Rebecca's Mother. Of course I bought one, despite my previous dahlia doubts. But I had no clue how to care for it.

My first dahlia, Genevieve

Rebecca advised me to dig up the tuber after our first freeze and let it dry out for a couple of days. Then wrap it in newspaper and try to store it in an area that stays between 35 and 40 degrees. 

It’s a tricky tightrope but high temps will cause the buds to swell, if it's too cold the tuber will freeze and turn to mush. Don't wrap them in plastic or they’ll rot.

Even though it’s a time consuming task, Rebecca digs up and stores her tubers each year. Some of them are decades old and she couldn’t bear to lose a single one.

David Austin's Princess Alexandra of Kent
My Genevieve is currently living very happily next to my English Rose Princess Alexandra of Kent.

But cold weather is on the way and I’m worried about getting the winter storage bit right. I’ve fallen in love with this dahlia and don’t want to lose her.

I guess old gardeners can learn new tricks.

Photos © Lynn Hunt