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.

Monday, October 1, 2012 19 comments

How to grow Mums. (If you must.)

Mums have been popular for hundreds of years, but not at my house

 I’ve never been much of a chrysanthemum fan. 

For starters, they smell funny.  Many of the colors tend to be gaudy. And the blooms don’t age gracefully.

This time of year I get annoyed when I see hundreds of them lined up in front of roadside stands and garden centers. I know what the mum and pumpkin sightings mean: I am being pushed into fall when I’m not ready to let go of summer.

I  realize that turning up my nose at these harbingers of autumn means I am out of step with much of the gardening world. After all, garden mums (C. x morifolium) have been wildly popular for centuries.  

So despite being a chrysanthemum curmudgeon, I wanted to offer some tips that will enable you to grow these wretched plants to the best of your ability.

From China, with love

Mums were first cultivated in China, possibly as early as the 15th Century B.C. Several species of chrysanthemums native to both China and Japan were used in an extensive hybridizing program that, over time, resulted in the “domesticated” garden mum.   

Mums found their way to Europe in the seventeenth century where the appealing gold flowers received an enthusiastic welcome. Today,  hybridizing continues full speed ahead in the hopes of creating new flower forms and plants that can better tolerate cold. At this time more than 5,000 cultivars have been named.  

Don't want to plant mums? Enjoy them in pots, then discard
Mum care 101                           

 Yoder, one of America’s leading mum breeders, offers the following tips which apply regardless of color, flower form or flowering time:

• Always plant mums in a spot where they will receive at least half a day of sun.  Plant in fer­tile, well-drained soil.  Loosen the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and mix in peat moss or com­post to condition the soil and improve drainage. Measure from the center of the plant and space mums about 15 to 20 inches apart.

• Water thoroughly, adding 1 to 2 gallons of water to the soil around each plant.  When rainfall is scant, continue to water as needed to prevent wilting.  Keep the soil moist as colder weather approaches.

• Never fertilize the flowering garden mums you plant in the fall.  All the season's growing is finished by that time.  Plants will not need fertilizer until next spring.

• Mother Nature doesn't prune back plants as win­ter approaches and you shouldn’t either.  Let the brown foliage stand through the winter.  Mulch plants after the ground begins to freeze - not before - with leaves, straw, peat moss or other organic materials.

• Prune away old stems and gradually remove mulch in the spring. Pinch mums back from June through July 15 to encourage bushy growth and a greater show of fall flowers.   
So there you have it.
Everything you need to know to keep your mums thriving from year to year. 

The dry summer in many areas of the country may mean colors will be more vivid this year. With a little luck and a lot of water, you should have loads of blooms that will last well into October.
As for me, I’ll still be enjoying my roses.