Thursday, April 28, 2011

Old Cemeteries: Where Roses Keep On Living

Like so many other things, roses often fall victim to changing tastes: a certain variety, or color, or class comes into fashion, and all else is forgotten, sometimes for years and years. The unfashionable varieties may quickly go out of commerce, and disappear for good. But sometimes, if we are lucky, they can be still be found growing near old homes, or in old cemeteries, often surviving in complete neglect, without water, or fertilizer or pruning or any of the cosseting we tend to give the plants in our gardens.

R Fortuniana growing in an old cemetery in Northern California
Recently, we took a trip to an old cemetery located along El Camino Real, the King's Highway connecting Alta California's Spanish missions. I made the trip because I wanted to see an over 100-year old specimen of Devoniensis, a beautiful Tea rose with lovely cream blooms and a strong tea fragrance.

A Tea rose believed to be Devoniensis
How awe-inspiring it was to see such a gorgeous old rose that became a tree taller than I am with a gnarled moss-covered trunk and blooms weeping all the way to the ground.

Looking at these delicate blooms nodding at the graves beneath them I was thinking of the person who planted this rose over a century ago. It was comforting to know that something might endure so long after we are gone.

This cemetery has several other old roses, but one more I was delighted to see is Rosa Fortuniana, a vigorous once-blooming rambler that is often used as an understock for grafting.

This rose has beautifully shaped creamy white blooms with a strong fragrance of violets.

It is a very big rose (it is the one in the first picture) and can be easily grown scrambling up a tree. It would eat my whole house and garden in one gulp, so I dare not grow it, but it is a treat to see it rambling unrestrained and blooming with such abandon.

While rosa fortuniana is well-known and still widely grown, not all found roses can be identified right away. Many of them still only have "study" names, such as a beautiful family of hybrid perpetual roses, 'Grandmother's Hat', 'Larry Daniels' and 'Tina Marie'.

'Grandmother's Hat' (Hybrid Perpetual, found)
Their real identity may be discovered one day, or perhaps they will live on with their study name, appreciated by discerning gardeners for their unique beauty enduring beyond the whims of fashion.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Golden Celebration

My Golden Celebration (shrub, Austin, 1992) is a four-year old own-root rose, now easily 10 ft tall.

It is gorgeous in spring, with a profusion of huge, perfectly shaped orangey-yellow blooms with a strong citrus fragrance. They last up to a week in a vase (very long for an Austin) retaining their fragrance for a long time.

I am trying to grow mine as a climber on an arbor, and it does well this way except for about 4 ft of naked canes at the bottom. I prune it as a climber too, cutting back flowering laterals in winter and leaving the main basal canes alone (there aren't that many of them yet).

It has no mildew or rust in my climate, and only a bit of blackspot most springs. Unfortunately, repeat is not spectacular although I have heard from several people that older specimens do repeat reliably. I'll just have to wait and see :).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's In a Name: A Tea or Not A Tea

Rosette Delizy (Tea, Nabonnand, 1922) in my garden
Rose classification can sometimes be confusing, especially where antique roses are concerned, so I thought I would point out a few differences between hybrid tea (modern) and tea (old) roses.

 A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are two photos for comparison (below).

Hybrid Tea:

Ville de Paris (Hybrid Tea, Pernet-Ducher, 1925) at the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden (the Heritage)

Mrs. Dudley Cross (Tea, Paul and Son, 1907) at the Heritage
What you might notice is a stiffer upright growth habit of a hybrid tea, and its brighter, more "modern" color. Teas are bushy, well-branched shrubs with pastel colored blooms that often look down.

Maman Cochet (Tea, Cochet, 1892) at the Heritage
Tea roses were imported from China at the beginning of the 19th century. They were called Tea roses because they have a fragrance reminiscent of tea leaves.

'Alexander Hill Grey' (Tea, found) at the Heritage
Tea roses have some of the most sumptuous, elegant and delicately colored blooms in the rose world...

Mrs. Dudley Cross at the Heritage
...which are also quite susceptible to weather damage, such as balling and spotting.

Rubens (Tea, Robert, 1959), with outer petals ruined by spotting, a very common occurrence with this cultivar (at the Heritage)
Tea rose blooms are "weak-necked", or nodding,...

Mrs. Dudley Cross at the Heritage
...which can be great in a landscape, especially for climbers (as you want your roses to look at you rather than up into the sky).

A cane of climbing White Maman Cochet (Climbing Tea, Knight andSons, 1907) over my head (at the Heritage)
While teas were graceful landscape shrubs...

'Curtiss Ave. Yellow Tea 31' (Tea, found) at the Heritage
...their blooms (being weak-necked and weather-damaged) were not ideal for rose shows which became popular in the 19th century, or for cutting.

Catherine Mermet (Tea, Guillot fils, 1869) at the Heritage
At the time, hybrid perpetuals were the rose of choice for that purpose. They had the necessary stiff canes but lacked the refined high center of teas.

'Spiny HP' (Hybrid Perpetual, found) at the Heritage

They also came in "classic" colors of pink, purple and white, lacking the subtle apricots and creamy yellows of teas.

Géant des Batailles (Hybrid Perpetual, Nérard, 1845) at the Heritage
The obvious solution was to cross these two classes, which resulted in the creation of a hybrid tea. Hybrid Teas are florist roses, and it is these roses that you buy in bouquets. They were bred for long cutting stems, and were not originally meant to be grown as a landscape shrub. It is their tendency to create these long stems that gave them their unkind description of "lollipops on sticks", or "soldiers on parade".

April in Paris (Hybrid Tea, Zary, 2007) in my garden
Because of their popularity with rosarians and gardeners, hybrid teas were more and more extensively hybridized, resulting in plants that resembled less and less the antique teas.

Captain Harry Stebbings (Hybrid Tea, discovered by Stebbings, 1980) at the Heritage
As the public became more demanding, hybrid teas developed more and more unusual colors....

Singin' In The Rain (Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, McGredy, 1994) at the Heritage
....and some really weird shapes:).

Meilland Decor Arlequin (Shrub, Meilland, 1986), looking unusually ruffled (at the Heritage)
After saying all this, I don't mean to create an impression that I don't like hyrbid teas. I do, and grow quite a few.

Comtesse de Provence (Hybrid Tea, Meilland, 2001) in my garden
These roses can have a place in the garden too. They are very good for cutting, and lots of them are really fragrant too. Their sparse awkward growth habit is a great excuse to grow some perennials or herbs at their base, and if you have a narrow planting bed, nothing will work better.

Double Delight (Hybrid Tea, Swim, 1977) in my garden with lots of pelargoniums
Finally, nothing is quite as clear-cut as I have said so far :). Hybrid Teas are modern roses with quite a distinct set of genes from the original teas, but sometimes they do resemble each other. Many hybrid teas come in pastel colors, and quite a few have heavy petalled blooms that manage to bend down even their sturdy long stems :).

Golden Oldie (Hybrid Tea, Davidson, unknown) at the Heritage
Well grown, hybrid teas do not have to sport naked legs, and stiffly upright blooms all at the top.

High Noon (Hybrid Tea, climbing, Lammerts, 1946) at the Heritage
On the other hand, some tea rose blooms can hardly be described as softly colored:)

Niles Cochet (Tea, discovered by California Nursery Co., 1906) at the Heritage
But still, antique teas will remain my favorite for the exquisite soft colors, muddled heavy petalled blooms, and, of course, the tea fragrance.

White Maman Cochet  (Tea, Cook, 1896) at the Heritage

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our Little Patch of Wilderness

We often go on a hike on a nice weekend morning. It is our favorite place to spend a few idle hours, peaceful, quiet, yet full of color, sound and movement.

Walking along a winding hillside path, we enjoy sweeping views of South Bay Area on one side...

And The Santa Cruz mountains on the other, restful and refreshing, with every shade of cool green and grey, and an intricate pattern of textures.

The hills are silent, and the air is still, yet we are being carefully watched.

There are so many things to see, if you walk slowly and quietly. The wildflowers are blooming after the winter rains.

There are lots of California poppies by the path.

They look lovely in their natural environment.

We are but passing visitors, our presence short and without a trace.

We will leave, and our patient hosts will go on with their lives.

But for us, a pleasant memory of a quiet weekend walk will remain.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On the Cusp Part II - Almost There

It has been a week since my previous post, but a cold week, with wind and even rain. Some more roses are blooming, but the garden has yet to reach its peak. Still, there are lots of plants to enjoy, and as this is my favorite season, I spend a lot of time in the garden.

Carding Mill, along with William Shakespeare 2000, is my best Austin rose. It is a generous bloomer with a bushy restrained growth habit. The blooms have a heavy myrrh fragrance, are nicely sculpted and tolerate heat very well. It is just gearing up for the spring flush, and I can't wait.

Purple Pavement is opening its first blooms, just as my snowball viburnum's flowers get heavy enough for branches to start falling all over the rose. A few weeks later, it will be a gorgeous show of deep vibrant purple against pure white.

My other viburnum, doublefile, is also starting to bloom. Both viburnums bloom at the same time as the roses, creating a nice white foil to their exuberance.

Bishop's Castle is full of buds, and they are still so heavy that they are hanging upside down. Pruning, fertilizing and talking to it in a stern voice do not seem to help.

Mme. Berard has not been enjoying the chilly wet spring we have had so far. We are not supposed to have blackspot here, but the rose doesn't seem to have heard about this...

I can't fault the spring flush of Elie Beauvilain. It is covering more and more of our long fence, and the blooms are lovely in a charming old-fashioned way.

Golden Celebration is opening more and more blooms each day. I love the strong citrus fragrance and the huge beautifully sculpted blooms, but it does get some blackspot and repeat is not that great.

A wonderful rose that I would grow for its name alone is Gloire des Rosomanes (Glory of Rosaholics if you don't speak French). It is a very vigorous plant (it was used as understock at one time), full of lovely deeply colored blooms, and look at the size of the clusters. It happens to be my husband's favorite rose:).

My lovely Lady Hillingdon is opening its delicate flowers which remind me of curlicues. Its growth habit is a bit stiff (it could be hybrid tea, not a tea), but the blooms are lovely.

At the end, a bright and bold Sheila's Perfume, a floribunda bred by an obscure British hybridizer and named after his wife. Mine is very bushy and vigorous, and the blooms are very fragrant, so its bright colors are forgiven.