Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Instead of writing the Regency novella I'm supposed to be working on (theoretically for a Christmas book), I'm sitting here messing around with photos from my garden. I kept thinking all last month that I ought to take some pictures when the roses were really in full bloom, however, I didn't do so. I took pictures of our puppy, Molly, instead. She's a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a real handful. I feel sorry for poor old Rowdy, our chocolate Lab, because he puts up with a lot of her nonsense. But he's good with her and when she gets too aggravating, we let him inside to relax for a while.

Hard to believe it's already May and the "first flush of spring" is pretty much history for 2008. Around here, you've got to get your peas and cool weather crops like lettuce, cabbage, and radishes planted in January or February. I blew that this year—didn't make the time table, but I tried to make up for it by planting tomatoes and pepper plants last month. Unfortunately, our few remaining chickens found the fresh, nice plants pretty tasty, so I'll have to start over again. Sometime soon, too. I also sort of missed the whole "rose bush ordering" deadline as well and it will be too hot to do any planting in about three weeks.

We do have a few roses, though, and I've come to treasure those bushes that will grow with benign neglect. My garden has dwindled down from around 140 roses to around 100. I'm through with all the sprays and nitpicking. I stopped showing roses in favor of working more on my writing, so I'm not so concerned about growing the perfect rose. Now, my garden consists mostly of Old Garden roses (roses hybridized before 1900) and a few other very hardy types that can withstand the rigors of a garden in the humid, hot southeast.

As you may have guessed from my book 'SMUGGLED ROSE', I sort of like roses. The idea for the book arose from my research into roses and varieties that might do well around here. My research took me down some fairly dark alleys, and I discovered some fascinating history, particularly concerning the Empress Josephine and her gardens at Malmaison in the early part of the 19th century (the Regency period in England). The Empress had problems with folks rampaging through her gardens at night and stealing roses, so she had to engage guards. 'SMUGGLED ROSE' grew out of the notion that some of those stolen roses might have been smuggled to rose enthusiasts in England. After all, if fistfights could break out in Regency London when a limited stock of some new rose was put on auction, then more than one person in England was fairly interested in roses and more than a little eager to get the latest variety.

Hence, Margaret, my lady rose smuggler, was born. My latest book, 'I BID ONE AMERICAN', doesn't have much in the way of gardening, but I'm sure gardens and specifically roses will work their way back into future stories. I can't hardly help myself.

In my garden, 'Knockout' is one of the few modern, shrub-type roses that actually lived up to its reputation for being hardy and prolific. It has been covered with fragrant blooms for a couple of weeks, and I haven't sprayed a drop. In fact, now that I think about it, I believe I also forgot to feed most of my roses, including 'Knockout', last year. So that rose is giving its all and then some. A few of David Austin's English roses do well here, too, although I tend to buy the ones that are listed as "tender" or have the old Tea and/or Noisettes in their family tree because those do best here. David Austin may despise the old Teas and Noisettes, but they are the backbone of my garden because they can withstand the climate and flourish without any effort on my part, whatsoever. You gotta love a rose like 'Reve d'Or' which will attempt to take over the world without even the slightest encouragement. It broke down three metal arches and we finally had to cut the darn rose back and put up a huge wooden support system. It has now completely covered that once more and is home to several bird nests. So far, it hasn't been able to break up the wooden beams, but it's not for want of trying.

Most of the time, however, I find that rose advertising tends to be somewhat optimistic about the health of most roses. And what grows in one person's garden, often fails for others.

For example, I love 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' which is a Bourbon rose hybridized around 1842. It has lovely, fragrant, pale pink blooms that look like Hybrid Tea blooms, but it's a lot healthier. At least for me. I've never sprayed or fertilized the darn bush and it keeps pumping out those blooms in a big spring flush, another huge flush in the fall, and sporadic blooms throughout the killing heat of summer. However, I recommended this rose to friends who grow roses near Wilmington and they have not had very good luck with it. But their soil is sandy and mine is clay. They can grow Hybrid Teas and I cannot. For the most part, Hybrid Teas die within a few months of planting here. So…your mileage may vary.

A few other bushes that seem to do well for more people than just me are the Old Garden roses in the Hybrid Perpetual class. This class was sort of a precursor to the Hybrid Tea, but I find them much, MUCH healthier. In fact, they are pretty much in constant bloom, have a wonderful rich rose fragrance, and seem almost entirely disease free. Varieties I grow include: 'Sydonie' and 'Marchesa Boccella'. Another class that is very healthy is the Portland and I absolutely adore 'Yolande d'Aragon'. (And yeah, if you click on the links--those are all pictures I took of my roses...not to brag or anything... *grin*.)

Didn't mean to spend the entire blog on gardening, but it's been on my mind lately.

Wishing you lovely weather and a nice layer of dirt under your fingernails!



Sonja Foust said...

How beautiful! I truly admire people who have the gift of gardening. I can kill just about anything myself, but I have a lot of fun trying anyway. :) The Reve d'Ors are my favorite. Gorgeous!

Amy said...

Thanks! I appreciate it, although you'd be shocked to know how many plants I've killed over the years.