Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pruning standard roses

Continuing on the roses theme... I found myself this morning faced with a couple of standard roses - at least, they used to be standard roses but they've now grown several variations on the theme, including long upright shoots from halfway up the main stem, and one of them has sprouted a curious double-head to the standard. By this I mean the main stem has burst out with a second ring of shoots about a couple of inches below the first. The second rose is even odder - it's not really a standard, strictly speaking, as it has two main stems, each of which has a standard head.

What to do? One bit is easy - I've already sliced off the shoots growing up the stem. I'm inclined to prune back the first rose to the lower ring of shoots - the top ring isn't much to write home about, and it's right up against a fence, too. It'll make the rose a bit weedy this year, which won't make my client very happy, but needs must and I hope he'll understand! The second one I think I'll just leave for now and make it into the double-standard it wants to be. It'll be a curiosity if nothing else!

Just for the notebook: pruning standard roses (when they aren't as wierd as the ones above) is easy. You simply cut back the shoots by a third to an outward-facing bud in late winter/early spring. If the head is a bit overcrowded, cut out inward-growing or crossing shoots at the base to generally thin out the crown. And as with all roses, get rid of any dead and diseased wood completely. And that's it!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Plant of the month - January

Helleborus x hybridus

This lovely pure flower is a real sign that spring is on the way in my garden. I have a few - this white one, which occasionally sports flecks of burgundy at the base of the petals; one deepest purple, though that isn't quite out yet, and some rather dirty pinks which I'm probably going to rogue out at some stage. But I can't grow snowdrops in my soil (though I'm going to try Galanthus elwesii soon in the hope that it'll live up to its publicity and grow in poor dry soils - unlike most snowdrops) - so Hellebores are my substitute. I love the fact that you have to get right in there to see the flowers, modestly nodding amid deeply-cut leaves but hiding the most exquisite form and shape. And the leaves provide an evergreen ground cover the rest of the year. I clip the old leaves down to the ground every autumn to give a fresh flush over winter, and then I can look forward to the flowers in all their beauty when nothing else is out yet. Glorious.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Excuse me for getting excited - but I just love the snow. It's powdering my garden to a depth of about 2" this morning - not much to hardened northerners but for us softy southerners here in Surrey it's unusually thick and a real novelty!

The only trouble is that it's the one weather condition (with the possible exception of gale-force winds accompanied by driving torrential rain) which will stop me gardening. I've had to cancel one garden this morning and it's probable I'll be having some forced holiday time tomorrow morning as well.

Not great for the bank balance - one of the rare disadvantages of life as a gardener is that you don't always choose when you take your (unpaid) holidays, and the weather is always awful. Or at least cold. Never mind - I can always look out of the window!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Banksian roses

Banksian roseIn two of my gardens now I've come across a Banksian rose, and in both cases the owners didn't know what they'd got. The sad thing is, that meant the roses had never flowered - because they'd been pruned in the late winter, like regular climbing roses.

Banksian roses are wonderful, though very rampant, climbers which flower on last year's growth. So every time you clip them, you're taking flowers off. Instead of pruning them at this time of the year - which will remove all last year's growth and therefore this year's flowers - you have to wait until the plant has flowered in May/June.

Then you either remove entire stems to reduce the size (and these are really, really big plants - they cover entire houses without even thinking about it) or take back side shoots to 3-4 buds. That'll give the plant plenty of time to produce new wood to flower the following year.

If you do prune it right, the plant will reward you with the most beautiful flowers - clusters of palest yellow buttons in profusion all over the plant. The species is white, but most plants turn out to be Rosa Banksia lutea - the yellow version, and a beautiful shade of yellow it is, too.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Roses in hedges

id=It's rose-pruning season: I've been pruning roses nearly every day for a week or so, from shrubs to climbers to ramblers. My secateurs (Felco no 9's, in case you're an anorak) are fair worn out.

In one of the bigger gardens I look after, there's a rather neglected hedge of Rosa Hansa - a rugosa hybrid that's covered in surprisingly soft downy bristles and which, as I discovered to my cost, suckers like crazy. I spent much of my three-hour session there on my hands and knees in the mud (and rain) heaving at inch-thick stems that had burst from the ground up to a metre away. Such are the delights of a gardener's life...!

Rose hedges don't require a lot of work for the pleasure they provide. A quick once-over to tame them in winter (suckers allowing - better to keep on top of these year-round rather than let them get out of control like my Hansa hedge), and that's it for the rest of the year - for which care they reward you with (in the case of Hansa) deep pinkish-crimson flowers with a heavenly scent, followed by fat luscious hips.

The daunting and supremely Victorian rose expert, Gertrude Jekyll, had quite a bit to say about rose hedges in her classic Roses for Gardens (1909). She recommends tipping young shoots to promote bushy growth and prevent the legginess that invariably afflicts roses left to do their own thing:

"If in July [strong young shoots from the base] are shortened about a third, instead of continuing their growth in length, their energy goes to strengthening the shortened piece that is left," she says. "This will then, the following season, be thickly set with flowering laterals that will clothe the lower part of the hedge."

And just as a post-script: in this same chapter she takes the trouble to urge gardeners to learn from doing, not reading about it:

"It is more helpful to show one simple thing that is easily understood, and that awakens interest and enthusiasm... than it is to prompt the learner at every step, fussing like an anxious nurse, and doing for him, what, if his enthusiasm is true and deep and not mere idle froth, will give him more pleasure in the doing, and more profit in the learning, than if it were all done for him," she writes.

"For the very essence of good gardening is the taking of thought and trouble. No-one can do good decorative work who does it merely from a written recipe."

You have been told!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tulips again!

I'm currently reading Anna Pavord's "The Tulip" - it's been around for a while, but I thought since I've spent much of last autumn planting over 100 tulips in my own garden it was about time I found out about them.

What a lovely book. It's quite heavy-going, I find, largely because the scholardship is so dense: but once you've got into it, you can't help but be drawn in by the extraordinary story of this unique flower.

It's evident from the first page how well-educated Anna Pavord is: I'd always suspected it of her, but now I have proof that she not only speaks French, but 17th century French at that: the only trouble is she does rather assume her readership is as erudite as she is, and leaves great passages untranslated. I'm lucky enough to speak near-fluent modern French - but I find this is beyond me.

Never mind: it's not necessary to enjoy the book. It's full of little amazements: did you know, for example, that the French had their own version of tulipomania a full century or so before the Dutch? Or that the Turkish, who began the tulip craze, spurned the traditional European goblet shape (or more accurately, didn't even consider it in the first place) for the acutely waisted shapes only seen these days in Parrot tulips and the like?

Anna Pavord is one of those people who has always existed in the horticultural firmament. I can only wish I were half as good - or indeed as successful - a garden writer as she. I can't make out a professional gardening connection, but she's one of the best kind of gardeners: that is, one who has learned her craft through her own personal experience. She spent 30 years restoring a garden in Dorset before moving and starting again. She made her name with this book, though she has several others to her name, all sharing her particular brand of intelligence and insight. She just seems to be a true enthusiast and scholar of all things garden-related.

It's made me see tulips in an entirely different light. I'm looking forward to my spring blooms all the more for reading this: a whole new layer of knowledge and pleasure to add to what I hope will be a wonderful display.
Related Posts with Thumbnails