Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Alba Roses - Fragrant Old Garden Roses

Old Garden Roses - Alba

I thought I would continue writing a few blogs about one of my favorite plants: roses. Some of you may have already noted this obsession of mine, considering some of my books such as Smuggled Rose or A Rose Before Dying so this blog shouldn't really be a surprise. I do love roses and history.

So here you are...a short article about Alba roses.

Alba roses are classed with the Old Garden Roses (OGR), which are generally considered to be roses hybridized or introduced prior to 1900.  The 1900’s marked the beginning of the era of the Hybrid Teas, which are the most popular roses today. OGR’s have been around this long simply because they are worth growing and are survivors.  The majority are intensely fragrant and extremely attractive when in full bloom, and the Alba roses are no exception.

Alba roses are extremely ancient and during medieval times, the white roses were often associated with the Virgin Mary.  Many rose historians speculate that the Alba rose class arose from crosses between wild Dog roses and ancient Damasks (which will be covered in the third article).

The Alba class of roses are fairly large shrubs with bluish gray leaves and white or pale pink flowers.  Albas bloom once, generally in summer, and are wonderfully fragrant.  The entire bush can be covered with blossoms during the flowering period and will fill the air with their heady perfume.

They do not need to be sprayed and do not suffer from blackspot.  They are, in fact, one of the toughest and easiest of all the roses to grow.  They are extremely tolerant of imperfect growing conditions including:  bad soil, light shade, and insufficient water. However, if you live in the hot and humid South, Albas do struggle in that climate and seem to prefer cooler climes.

The most common characteristics of the class are:
  • Thorny stems.
  • Soft, bluish gray leaves.
  • Buds are long and graceful, with long sepals.
  • The bushes are generally quite large (average 7’ tall).
  • Somewhat shade tolerant.
  • Colors range from white through light pink.
  • They require no pruning and will flower well, year after year, by only removing the dead wood.

A few Alba roses include:
Great Maiden’s Blush’ ancient.  This is one of my favorite roses and is a gorgeous soft pink.  The shrub can reach almost 8 feet and will sucker if grown on its own roots.  The glorious flowers are very double with pale pink outside petals with a deeper pink in the center.  The flower will gradually fade to white as it ages.  Very rich fragrance. 

Rosa alba ‘Semiplena’ ancient.  ‘Semiplena’ is another large shrub, known to grow up to 8 feet tall.  It has pure white flowers, semi-double, with a rich scent.  It has been grown frequently in place of Damask roses, to produce Attar of Roses.  It will grow even in partial shade.

‘Jacobite Rose’ (aka Rosa alba ‘Maxima’) – ancient origin.  Rosa alba ‘Maxima’ can grow up to 7 feet tall, with graceful, arching branches.  The flowers are pure white and some may have a touch of pink in the center.  Good fragrance

‘Céleste’ late 18th century.  It reaches 7’ tall and sports semi-double flowers in rose pink color with gold stamens.  The roses are particularly delicate in appearance and have an interesting elongated, slender bud.  The flowers are exceptionally fragrant. 

‘Félicité Parmentier’ known since 1834.  This Alba is one of the shorter, and therefore more useful shrubs that reaches 4’.  It has double flowers in pale pink set off by a green button eye.  Good fragrance.

Mme Plantier’ Plantier, 1835.  ‘Mme Plantier’ is another tall shrub which can even be trained as a small climber (approx. 8-9’).  It has lovely double flowers in creamy white.  The buds are red-tinted prior to opening.  As with the other Albas, this one has a good scent.

These are just a few varieties.  All the Alba roses are well worth the garden space and require minimal to perform exceptionally well. They aren't that easy to find, but Pickering Nursery is a good source for these and many other OGR.

Happy Gardening!

And speaking of gardening...Oriana Archer in the first of the Regency series of books about the adventures of the Archer family is also a fanatical gardener. (Hmmm, wonder how that happened?) If you want to find out more about her and the cursed family necklace she discovers, check out The Necklace.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Growing Roses Organically

Organic Rose Gardening
Bucking Conventional Wisdom and Doing the Impossible
A lot of folks have expressed an interest in converting their garden over to a more organic approach to user fewer pesticides or other chemicals.  I’ve been doing this for some time now and have learned a few lessons--the hard and very expensive way--so I thought it might be worthwhile to share.

My main focus here is on roses, but most of the hints are also useful to all kinds of gardens, including vegetable gardens.

Why grow roses organically?  There are a lot of reasons.  My own included the following:
  • Our well, which supplies the water we drink, is right dead center in the garden.  I don’t particularly want to drink the stuff folks spray on roses.
  • We are an official National Wildlife Federation Habitat which means we provide food, water and shelter for birds and small animals.  I don’t want to endanger the wildlife nesting in our roses by spraying them right in the middle of breeding and nesting season (spring/early summer).
  • I travel for work so I’m frequently gone for a week at a time and don’t have a lot of time to spend spraying.
  • Our dogs have been known to eat our roses.  In the fall, they eat the hips they can reach.  I’d rather not poison them, if I can help it.
  • We occasionally eat the roses and hips.  Rose hip jelly tastes a lot like apple jelly and is a good source of vitamin C.  I also like sugared rose petals on yellow cake, or rose petals sprinkled in a salad made of fresh spinach leaves, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, spring onions and a red wine vinaigrette dressing. Mmmmm, tasty.

So now that you know a few excuses (other than I’m lazy and don’t feel like spraying) let’s discuss how to actually accomplish this and still have a fairly nice garden.  This is possible, despite black spot and our hot, humid summers in the south-eastern-most tip of North Carolina, but it does take a little compromise.

Step 1:  Buy Liz Druitt’s book, The Organic Rose Garden.  It is written for southern gardeners and is one of the best resources I’ve found on organic rose gardening.  It is a superb little book.

Step 2:  Your roses will need a really good home if they are to survive organically.  This means lots of water, a decent bed rich with organics, plenty of mulch, at least six hours of sunshine a day, and no root competition. 

The number one reason why organic rose gardens fail is that the roses are simply not given a good home.  They are struggling in the shade of some huge tree, competing for water and food, and don’t get enough sun.  If you correct this situation, a lot of roses (and other sun loving plants like veggies) can be grown organically and will shrug off black spot as if it is nothing.

Step 3:  Don’t plan on growing a lot of Hybrid Teas.  You are lucky to be living today when we have David Austin’s beautiful English (shrub) roses which are remontant (reblooming) and can easily take the place of the Hybrid Tea roses.  There are also the Old Garden Roses, some of which cannot be sprayed or they will not do well.

There is a list of roses at the end of this article which I have successfully grown organically in this area.

Now for the nitty-gritty...
Going organic doesn’t necessarily mean not spraying at all.  If you have roses that suffer black spot, you can reduce it using organic methods.

Black Spot
Organic methods will not provide a cure for black spot, so get over the idea.

What you can do is try to prevent it, or reduce it.

Here are the basic steps to take to reduce black spot.
  • Remove all leaf litter from the roses in the winter (this should include infected leaves which dropped last summer.)
  • Spray with a dormant oil.  Yes.  This is considered “legal” if you are doing organic gardening.
  • Provide a thick layer of mulch.
  • During the growing season, pluck badly infected leaves off the roses to remove the source(s) of infection.
  • Provide enough water.  Water, water, water. Make sure the water is on the ground, not on the rose’s leaves if you water in the evening.
  • Spray with a mixture of 1Tbsp Baking Soda per gallon of water, plus horticultural oil.  In the summer, you can spray with just the 1Tbsp Baking Soda per gallon of water, but do it in the morning.  This mixture will kill new spores, which will help prevent infection, but won’t kill existing infection.
  • Keep the bed heavily mulched.  We use pine straw.  Anything, including grass clipping, will work.  Just note that if you add grass clipping, you will need to add a source of nitrogen because decomposition will temporarily rob your roses of nitrogen while the clippings decay.

·         Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the container of the plant you are planting.  For most roses, dig a hole 36 inches wide and 20 inches deep. 
·         Mix the dirt as follows
This “recipe” is built around our soil which is gray clay, acidic, and lacks almost all nutrients.  We basically have to build the soil.  I prefer to create the bed with this stuff in December/January, let it sit for a month or two, and then plant roses in it during February.
o   1/3 - 1/2 of the top dirt dug from the hole (move the bottom-most dirt aside)
o   Several cups of Gypsum
o   1-2 cups of Lime (I need this, you may not, depending upon the acidity of your soil)
o   1/2 cup Epson Salts
o   3-4 cups of Cotton Seed Meal (Alfalfa Meal is better, but occasionally hard to get)
o   1 bag of soil amendment (looks like finely shredded bark)
o   1 bag of mushroom compost
o   2 cups sharp sand
You can add any other soil conditioners you need. Ones I like to include occasionally are: Kelp Meal, Bone Meal, Blood Meal, etc.  If you have a source for horse manure, marry them or at least get heavily involved so that you can get a constant supply.  If all else fails, pay the guy to deliver in the fall and spring.  Or start raising dwarf horses.
Now that you are ready...
Once you have prepared your beds for your roses and are ready to take the plunge, you will need to purchase some roses, or at least acquire some which stand a good chance of survival.

Personally, I prefer own-root roses, so I buy almost exclusively from two sources: Roses Unlimited and Chamblee’s.  Chamblee’s in particular is my first choice since they are about half the price of everyone else.

I’ve never had a rose from either of these sources die on me.  They are sent in large pots and the roses are always in good shape.

Here are varieties I have had very good success with and seem to have very little problem with disease.  I have focuses mostly on remontant varieties, rather than listing the once blooming Old Garden Roses.
Souvenir de la Malmaison
This rose stays short-3’ tall, never needs to be trimmed, blooms constantly, and has exquisite blooms in pale pink.  Very fragrant. It is particularly disease-resistant.
Reve d’Ohr
This is a HUGE rose, so be warned.  It is a good climber.  It will take over any support unless you keep it trimmed back.  Beautiful pale, buffy yellow flowers.  Blooms constantly. Very disease-resistant.
Marie Van Houtte
Very large shrub (6’x6’) with beautiful creamy white flowers that age to pink.  Blooms constantly. Very disease-resistant.
Duchesse de Brabant
This rose stays fairly compact-4’ tall, never needs to be trimmed, blooms constantly, and has exquisite blooms in medium pink.  The flowers are shaped rather like a tulip. Very disease resistant. This was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite roses and he often wore one on his lapel.
Wise Portia
Small, tidy bush.  Stays about 3’ tall and never needs to be trimmed.  Gorgeous deep magenta flowers.  Blooms constantly.  This is a wonderful rose paired with Souvenir de la Malmaison.
Lilian Austin
Coral blend, loosely double flowers.  Blooms constantly.  The form stays short, but it “weeps”.  If you have the room for it to sprawl, it is lovely left as a loose fountain shape.  Otherwise, you can trim back the flexible shoots.
Wife of Bath
This rose stays short-3’ tall, never needs to be trimmed, blooms constantly, and has exquisite blooms in pale pink.  Very fragrant.  It is very similar to Souvenir de la Malmaison, except the flowers are smaller.
Noble Antony
Small, tidy bush.  Stays about 3’ tall and never needs to be trimmed.  Gorgeous magenta-red flowers.  Blooms constantly. 
St. Swithun
Pale pink globular flowers.  Blooms constantly.  The form stays medium height, but it “weeps”.  If you have the room for it to sprawl, it is lovely left as a loose fountain shape.  Otherwise, you can trim back the flexible shoots.
Single blooms in fire-engine red with a white center.  Glossy green leaves.  Large clusters of blooms.  Blooms continuously. Extremely disease-resistant.

And of course, the Gallica as well as many others of the Old Garden Rose classes do not require spraying and are resistant to black spot.  My favorite Gallica is currently sold as ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ and looks exactly like a crumpled piece of deep magenta-purple velvet.

Good luck and I hope you have success with your rose garden in the coming year.

And of course, I have to mention that in my Regency mystery,  A Rose Before Dying, Ariadne grows all her roses organically.

Monday, July 09, 2012

It's Summer and Time for Roses

 Hybrid Tea Roses

I can't resist writing about roses, as you probably figured out in my last blog. :) Gardening is the best way I know to relax and yet accomplish something while your mind broods over your latest novel and what twists you can possibly feed into your story.

This time, I thought I would talk about the Queen of the rose shows: Hybrid Teas.

So...Hybrid Tea roses. These are the classic rose most people today think of when they hear the word ‘rose’.  They are also sometimes called Large-flowered Roses.  It’s the rose you get for your sweetheart from the florist, and it’s the rose that wins the awards of Queen, King and Princess in rose shows.  There is a wide variety of color in this rose class, every color except true blue and black, and they all have large, stiffly petaled flowers and very long stems.  They have been the most popular class of rose for over a hundred years because of their ability to rebloom through the spring, summer and fall season.

The first Hybrid Tea Rose is considered to be ‘La France’ which was introduced in 1867 by Guillot, a Lyons-based firm in France.  The parentage is not documented, but it is thought to be a cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea Rose.  Interestingly, this rose was classed as a Hybrid Perpetual for many years until the newer Hybrid Tea nomenclature caught on.

Initial Hybrid Teas were created by crossing Hybrid Perpetuals with Tea Roses until the twentieth century when more and more Hybrid Teas were simply crossed with other Hybrid Teas to form new roses.

Because this is such a large class of roses with more being bred every day, it is nearly impossible to provide an adequate description of the class since growth, foliage, bloom form, color and fragrance all differ from rose to rose.  With the exception of the 5-petaled single form of the Hybrid Tea, most are high-pointed “florist” roses and generally considered their most beautiful in the half-opened stage of the blossom.  This is in direct contrast to older roses which are most beautiful when fully opened.

However, it is still fairly safe to provide the following list of characteristics.

{  Blooms are carried on long stems, often with a single bloom at the end of the stem.
{  Roses have high-pointed centers with large, thick petals.
{  New growth is often reddish tinged.
{  Roses rebloom fairly well (thanks to their China forbearers).
{  Colors include the full spectrum of whites, pinks, red, purple, mauve, yellow, orange, with a variety of blends.  The only colors not available are true blue and black.
{  Disease resistance varies from highly susceptible to black spot and mildew to very disease resistant.
{  Size varies from small bushes up to large climbing forms.
{  Fragrance varies from none to a rich rose perfume.

There are a great many Hybrid Tea Roses to chose from and some are even quite healthy when grown organically without sprays.

A small selection of Hybrid Tea Roses that are healthy and can be grown with organic gardening methods include the following.

{  ‘Dainty Bess’ is a silvery pink, single rose (5 petals) with beautiful deep red stamens.  It grows between 3-4’ tall and has a slight fragrance.
{  ‘Peace’ is a famous rose brought to market after WWII.  It’s a beautiful blend of yellow with pink edges and is fragrant.
{  ‘La France’ is the rose that started it all, and it is still an excellent garden plant.  The blooms are soft, silvery pink and it is fragrant.
{  ‘Mister Lincoln’ is a reliable, dark red rose with a good fragrance and excellent health.  It is also widely available. 

Newer varieties include:
{  ‘Gemini’ which is a pink blend and rated 8.2/very good by the American Rose Society.
{  ‘Moonstone’, a white rose also rated 8.2.
{   ‘Touch of Class’, an orange pink rose with a great rating of 9.0.


‘Mrs. Oakley Fisher’

When you have bought a few more roses and planted them all, what should you do? Why, read a book! And if you're a fan of light Regency romances with a bit of humor and mystery, you can settle down with Escaping Notice, the latest in the Archer family series.

Discarded by his betrothed with a parting sally that “being an earl does not excuse being a bore,” Hugh Castle, the Earl of Monnow, joins his brother on a relaxing cruise, hoping to forget. But a storm capsizes their boat, and despite Hugh’s desperate efforts, he can’t save his brother’s life. Then, when the wreckage reveals evidence of sabotage, he realizes he was never meant to return to dock. Someone intending to murder the earl killed his younger brother, instead. Angered and grieving, Hugh travels to London to enlist the aid of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency in finding his brother’s murderer.

Helen Archer attended the Earl of Monnow’s ball in expectation of joining the celebration for his betrothal, but the event seems destined for disaster. She arrives late, the earl makes no announcement, and Helen manages to lose the fabled (but cursed) Peckham necklace her sister reluctantly loaned to her. Unwilling to admit her carelessness to her sister, Helen rashly decides to return to the earl’s estate and retrieve it in secret.

When his aunt threatens to send him to the Earl of Monnow, his purportedly cruel uncle, Edward Leigh-Brown decides he’s had enough of female interference. He’s going to join the navy and follow in Lord Nelson’s footsteps to become a military hero. But finding his way to London is a lot harder for a young boy than it seems, and he’s soon lost. When he bumps into Miss Helen Archer at an inn, he’s more than happy to accept a ride in her carriage, even if she seems determined to escort him to an inquiry agency to hire someone to locate the family he doesn’t want located.

When the three meet in London at Second Sons, Helen impulsively decides to accompany Hugh to the earl’s home. They will be disguised as servants and free to pursue their secret goals. Hugh hopes to uncover a killer, Helen hopes to find her necklace, and Edward just hopes he can find the opportunity to escape again.

But they are soon engulfed in an adventure none of them anticipated, and Hugh must hurry to identify who wants him dead before their deception ends in the death of another innocent.