Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Portland Roses

Portland Roses

This week I wanted to talk about a less well-known class of roses called "Portland". (It's one of those cute factoids that Portland, Oregon, is famous for it's rose gardens and the fantastic Portland Rose Festival .) Anyway, this is about the historic class of Old Garden Roses, dubbed "Portland".

The Portland class of roses was one of the first to combine the European roses with newly imported, repeat-blooming China roses that were brought to England in the late 18th/early 19th century by English explorers of China.  The first member of the Portland class was recognized as such around 1800 in the gardens of the Duchess of Portland. 

Details about the origins of this first Portland are sketchy, but it does appear that the Duchess may have originally obtained the rose, Rosa paestana, i.e. ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ from Italy.  This rose was eventually sent from England to André Dupont, the Empress Josèphine’s gardener in France, where he named the rose ‘Duchess of Portland”.  The French then raised numerous varieties, crossing them with other classes such as Chinas.

Theories abound about precisely which roses were involved in the creation of this class, although most sources cite some combination of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and China.  David Austin believes he recognizes Damask in the ancestry as well as China, and speculates that ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ may have been thrown into bed with a French Gallica rose at one point or another.

Although Portlands were only really popular for a brief period in the early years of the 19th century before Bourbon and Hybrid Perpetuals overshadowed them, they are still excellent garden additions.   

The Portland class is a small group of roses, only a few dozen were hybridized during the 19th century and none in the 20th or 21st.  They are very winter hardy, however, and are very strong rebloomers.

Most Portlands show some of the same characteristics as the Damasks, except they are generally shorter.  And of course, unlike Damasks, Portlands rebloom.

Characteristics include:
v  Moderate size, most are around 4’ tall, making them good garden additions where there is not a lot of room.
v  The flowers have very short stems with leaves growing around the flower.  Graham Thomas describes this as a rosette or shoulder of leaves.
v  Flowers repeat fairly reliably.
v  Portlands have a rich, strong Damask rose fragrance.
v  Disease resistance is quite good.

Some good varieties include:

v  ‘Comte de Chambord’, introduced 1860 by Moreau-Robert (France).  An extremely popular rose, even today.  The flowers are very full, quartered, in a clear pink with an extremely powerful Damask rose fragrance.  This is a strong grower and forms an upright shrub around 4’ tall with lots of foliage.  Repeat flowering.

v  Indigo’, circa 1830.  Forms a compact bush around 4’ tall with dark green foliage.  The flowers are large, with a lovely dark purple hue.

v  ‘Rose de Rescht’ was brought to England by Miss Nancy Lindsay from Iran or France.  This rose forms a bushy shrub that stays fairly small, approximately 3’ tall.  Very double flowers have a purplish-crimson color and are fragrant.  There is ample, rough-textured foliage, and it reliably produces at least two crops of flowers.

v  ‘Marbrée’ was raised by Robert et Moreau in 1858, in France.  The shrubs tend to grow to about 4’ tall with plentiful dark green foliage.  The flowers are a deep purple-pink, mottled with pale pink.  They open flat and have only a slight fragrance.  These roses are generally free of disease.

v  ‘The Portland Rose’ (the ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ according to David Austin).  This rose is healthy and forms a spreading bush about 3’ tall.  Blooms very well in both spring and fall.  The flowers are semi-double in light crimson, and open wide to display yellow stamens.  It is very fragrant.

Hope you enjoy the last few months and are preparing for the fall rose season. It can be a pretty spectacular way to end the summer. But if you need a cooling break from the summer heat, there's always a new book to be had...

A Rose Before Dying
Only Sir Edward had the motive and the opportunity.
When the first victim dies, Sir Edward is the likeliest culprit. The murdered woman was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress who threw him over for a younger man, and she dies after receiving a mysterious rose. Confused and stricken by her death, Sir Edward is horrified when a second rose is delivered, along with a note insinuating that he had something to do with his mistress’ death. In desperation, he begs his nephew, Charles Vance, to help him prove his innocence.

Charles Vance, the new Earl of Castlemoor, is convinced Sir Edward is innocent and agrees to work with the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency to flush out the murderer. But the investigation soon reveals more reasons why Sir Edward may be responsible and even the inquiry agent warns Charles not to let family loyalty stand in the way of the truth. There may be some truth behind the rumors. "The roses may simply be Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere." "Misdirection." Or so the whispers say.

Desperate to stop the murders, Charles enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, to identify the roses in hopes of saving the next victim. Unfortunately, his actions sweep the Wellfleet household into the killer’s net and puts friends and family alike at risk. He has no choice but to finish the investigation, regardless of the costs.

A Rose Before Dying is a witty Regency whodunit combined with a heart-warming romance in the tradition of Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn. This addition to the Second Sons mystery series includes an unwilling detective whose family loyalties are tested as he seeks to catch an elusive killer. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Gardening in August

It’s hot—really hot—and the hardest thing this time of year seems to be keeping ahead of the weeding. The weeds seem to grow even without water or care, while the other flowers suffer as the weather reaches the highest temperatures. Last year, we had a drought, but this year, it's been raining every afternoon. That's terrific for my roses, but not so great on the weeding front as we're literally taken over by weeds. We are particularly plagued by pink purslane (Portulaca pilosa L.). It’s related to that wonderful and very colorful annual Portulaca (moss rose) and some folks have decided to stop trying to weed out purslane as it does have a lovely, bright hot pink flower about ½” across that opens during the day.

You can see from this picture that it has reddish stems and less clearly, rather “succulent” leaves. This specimen is getting ready to bloom, but isn’t quite there yet.

Some have been known to use purslane in salads as it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. In antiquity, it was one of several pot herbs that “should be sown in April” according to Theophrastus (4th century BC). Pliny advised wearing it as an amulet to expel all evil due to its healing properties. It is known as Ma Chi Xian in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for dysentery and topically to relieve skin abrasions or insect bites.  However, it also contains oxalate, a compound implicated in the formation of kidney stones, so I personally do not include purslane in our diet, particularly since our variety of purslane is not the yellow-flowered variety one commonly uses in Europe in salads.

So you see, what is one man’s weed is another man’s sought-after herb.

And it’s hot enough now that I’ve decided not to make any real attempt to eradicate purslane from our garden. I’m very fond of it growing over the edges of our brick walkway, so I think I won’t worry too much about pulling it out.

This is, of course, the time of year when marigolds really come into their own. I’ve always loved marigolds and adore all the new varieties available. There is even an off-white one that is absolutely terrific as a “bridging” plant between the hot colors of late summer marigolds and the mums of fall, which often include rich rose and burgundy. And don’t forget the plants with colorful foliage like coleus that come in everything from lime green and white to deep burgundy. They can also be used effectively in planters and gardens. They are beautiful all summer, even when other plants have stopped blooming, since they are grown for their foliage. They do need to be pinched back, though, to keep them busy.

Late July and August is also prime time for verbenas, as shown in this photo. The plans are blooming powerhouses and will attract hundreds of butterflies and hummingbirds. They come in a variety of colors, including delicate pinks as well as hot orange and pink combinations. If planted in good soil with the occasional watering, they will grow as high as your waist in one season. Folks in USDA gardening zones 7-10 will find verbenas will grow as perennials as long as you remember not to cut them back too far in the winter. The hollow stems will fill with water and freeze, thereby killing the plant, if you forget.  Nonetheless, this is an extremely easy to grow plant that requires virtually no care and will survive if you forget to water for a few weeks.

If you grow roses, don’t forget to water them and feed them to prepare for another glorious season of bloom in late August-September. Remove any hips (dead flowers) to encourage bloom production. Old wisdom said to clip off spent flower sprays down to the first 5-leafed leaflet. I simply pinch off the hip, leaving all leaves on the stem. Leaves are good—they are the energy factory for the plant—so the more leaves you can leave a plant, the better.

Hope you are enjoying your summer garden!

Stay cool in the dog days of summer and don’t worry if you let a few weeds intrude. Just tell anyone who comments that they are an herb you meant to grow there.

Finally, although the nearby cotton field has another month to go before the cotton "balls" form, this time of year always reminds me of my second Archer family Regency romance, I Bid One American. The heroine is a "fish out of water" as an American heiress living in London. If you want a light, funny read with a touch of mystery, you might check it out. And yes, those white things on the cover are cotton...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Thinking About the Fall

Most of you are probably wondering why I suddenly diverged from writing about writing, books, history and those types of things to gardening. The fact is, I love gardening almost as much as writing, so I thought I'd share some of the information I've gathered over the years. There is also the odd circumstance that my rose gardening and researching roses led me to set some of my mysteries (A Rose Before Dying, Smuggled Rose,  and The Necklace, to name a few) in the period when rose gardening really started coming into its own (early years of the 19th century).

Although we are firmly in the middle of summer, it will only be a few weeks before the weather starts cooling off. That means, now is a good time to line up and even order plants or seeds you want to plant in the fall.

Which brings me to the real subject of this blog: Fall Rose Planting. :) You knew I'd get there, one way or the other, right?

Fall is a Great Time to Order Roses

Fall is a wonderful time to order and plant roses.  As the weather cools, you can start thinking about what new roses you’d like to see blooming in the spring.  By ordering--and planting--in the fall, you give your roses a chance to “dig in” and get settled over the winter in their new location.  When spring arrives, they will be ready to put on a wonderful show for you.

In North Carolina, fall planting has an additional benefit in that we often start getting a great deal more rainfall.  This rain and the cooler weather will help your roses put down good roots to support extra blooms when the weather warms up in March and April.

If you’re considering taking this advice, there is a new category of “Earth Kind Roses” that Texas A&M University has been using to designate roses which stand up to insects, widely varying soil conditions, and minimal care.  The program has been used to find roses which can be used in areas, such as between roadways, where they will have to survive with very little cosseting.

A few of the roses identified as EarthKind follow.  They span a range of rose classifications and there are sure to be some which would do very well in your garden.

Belinda’s Dream:  Shrub rose with medium pink, very double flowers.  ARS rating of 8.4
Caldwell Pink:  Polyantha rose with lilac pink flowers, height up to 4’.
Else Poulsen:  Floribunda, medium pink, semi-double with 10 petals.  ARS rating of 8.1.
Katy Road Pink:  Also called Carefree Beauty, Shrub rose with medium pink blooms of 15-20 petals.  ARS rating of 8.7.
Knock Out:  Shrub with blooms that are a red blend, single flowers.  ARS rating of 8.6.
Marie Daly:  Polyantha rose in medium pink with an ARS rating of 7.6.
Mutabilis:  Hybrid China rose with single flowers (5 petals) that start out pale yellow and age through pink to deep rose.  ARS rating of 8.9.
Perle d’Or:  Polyantha rose with double flowers that are a yellow blend.  ARS rating of 8.4.
Sea Foam:  Shrub rose with white flowers which are double  ARS rating of 8.1.
The Fairy:  Polyantha rose with light pink, double blooms.  It has some (slight) fragrance.  ARS rating of 8.7.

The list of EarthKind roses has been expanding recently to include the following roses, as well:

Cecile Brunner:  Polyantha with double, light pink flowers.  ARS rating of 8.4.
Comtesse du Cayla:  Hybrid China rose with semi-double blooms that are an orange and pink blend. [Picture on the left.] ARS rating of 7.0.
Duchesse de Brabant:  Tea rose with light pink flowers consisting of approximately 45 petals.  ARS rating of 8.6.
Marchesa Boccella:  Hybrid Perpetual rose with light pink blooms that are very fragrant.  ARS rating of 9.1.
Marie Pavie:  Polyantha rose with white flowers which are double.  ARS rating of 8.9.
Mrs. Dudley Cross:  Tea rose with double flowers in a yellow and pink blend.  ARS rating of 8.3.  In North Carolina, this rose can grow into a very large and well-formed bush, about 6’ by 6’.
Reve d’Or:  Noisette rose (that in my personal experience can very well take over a small building in one season).  The blooms are pale yellow and double. [Picture on the right.]  It has an ARS rating of 9.4.
Souvenir de St. Anne’s:  Bourbon rose with light pink, fragrant blooms.
Spice:  China rose classified as an Old Garden Rose.  Spice is blush pink and is very fragrant.  It grows from 3 to 5’ in height.

 Roses Unlimited is a great source for "Earth Kind" roses, so I hope you'll check them out.

Planting Roses

Planting roses in the fall is really not much different from planting in the spring, except you do want to ensure you use a good, thick coat of mulch.

Select a site which has both good air circulation and at least six hours of sunshine.  There are a few roses, such as Rambling Rector which will grow into trees and can withstand some shade, but they are the exception and even they will do better with more sunshine!

Make sure you prepare your beds while you wait for your roses to be delivered.  It is never too soon to prepare a bed since having good soil is a key element to healthy roses.  If you can, get the Agriculture Extension Office to test some soil samples to make sure you use the proper amendments.  Good drainage is critical.  No roses like to stand in water.  If you have clay or slow-draining soil, you can add organic matter and gypsum to help condition the soil.

When you get your roses, be sure to water them well.  Dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the container in which they are growing.  Plant your roses at the same depth in the ground as they were in their container.

After you dig the hole, mix the soil you removed fifty/fifty with organic matter and soil conditioners, such as alfalfa meal or cottonseed meal and gypsum.  You can also use the fine, bark-like soil conditioners to break up clay soil.

Trim back any broken or damaged stems, but leave healthy leaves if you plant before November.

Top dress with three to four inches of mulch to allow for good drainage, moisture retention, and weed control.

Once your roses are planted, don’t forget to water them (unless the winter rains have already begun, in which case you can sit back and relax).  Water deeply at least once a week; two to three inches of water is recommended.  Try not to get the leaves wet when you water, particularly in the fall as the cooler nights can promote diseases such as black spot.

You will not need to fertilize your roses in the fall, that task can wait until spring.

 Duchesse de Brabant, a Tea rose and one of the EarthKind roses that do well in the North Carolina area.  “No spraying required!” [Picture on the left.]

Interestingly enough, Duchesse de Brabant was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite roses, and he frequently wore a bloom from this wonderful rose in his lapel.