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1-Crested-Moss ChuteAs I was reviewing my rose photographs during our latest snow storm, trying to envision what our garden will look like in just a few more months, I came across some photos of Crested Moss. I had taken these photos when we visited the Giardino delle Rose in Florence, Italy a few years ago and it was the first time I had ever seen a moss rose.

2-Giardino-delle-rose-FloreI recall walking through the rose garden that day and being delighted when I spotted Crested Moss (also known as Chapeau de Napoleon because the moss-covered sepals surrounding the buds are reminiscent of the tri-cornered hat Napoleon wore). Moss roses are unique because of this distinctive moss-like growth around the buds and bases of the flowers. In the photo above, you can see that the terminal bloom is encircled by at least 10 buds with pink petals peeking through what is often described as parsley-like growth. What a photo opportunity!

Moss roses are believed to have originated as sports, or mutations of centifolia roses. The mossy growth has a strong pine or balsamic fragrance most noticeable if the mossy growth is rubbed between your fingers.

2-Crested-Moss-bud-ChuteCrested Moss is a “Found Rose,” discovered in 1827. It has rich, clear pink flowers with a yellow button eye in the center, a damask, spicy fragrance and is known for its disease resistant. It clearly looked disease-free in Florence with its unblemished foliage. It  blooms once in late spring to early summer for several weeks. Our visit to Giardino delle Rose was in late May just as Crested Moss, as well as the rest of the garden, began to bloom.

We have never grown moss roses since we felt that they wouldn’t tolerate the hot, humid mid-summer Rhode Island weather. Now, after seeing the picture of Crested Moss again, I may just give it a try.

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Swollen Rose Buds

What’s with the heat wave in February? Temperatures went well over 60F for four days last week and actually hit 70F for a few hours the other day and it’s still winter. This is not Miami Beach. We are in New England and it’s supposed to be cold!

3-stone-men-2-27-17I strolled through our rose gardens yesterday, as the snow has melted, and found swollen buds on all bushes, some ready to pop — five weeks too soon.  Even the Stone Men object and want their snow back. This very early retreat from dormancy, reminiscent of last winter, does not bode well for the upcoming growing season. Last year’s week of warm winter weather, followed by a period of plummeting nighttime temperatures, created wide-spread winter kill, requiring severe spring pruning and a whole season for some varieties to recover. The garden roses were not used to such uncertainty and were flummoxed and confused. With a repeat of last year, I fear we may have to bring in a rose therapist to provide counseling.

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Hilled Up Roses for Winter

While we have long since replaced tender roses with winter hardy varieties, with a few exceptions, we winterized them all last fall anyway as added protection. But some years that’s not enough. With temperatures scheduled to return to seasonal normalcy, even drop below 20F this week, I see a repeat of last year’s carnage.

Nature has become increasingly fickle and there’s nothing we can do about it.

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                 Photo Courtesy of David Austin Roses

The 2017 David Austin Handbook of Roses has arrived! This beautiful and descriptive rose catalog features this seasons two new David Austin introductions now available in the United States and Canada —  ‘Desdemona’ and ‘The Ancient Mariner’.

Desdemona’s lush white flowers with hints of pink can be seen in the photograph featured on the cover of the 2017 David Austin Handbook. It is described as an upright rounded bush that produces sprays of roses with approximately 52 petals. Starting out as “peachy pink buds,” Desdemona has chalice-shaped blooms that, with time, open wider to reveal its stamens. According to Michael Marriott, technical director and senior rosarian for David Austin Roses in Albrighton, England, “Desdemona is Austin’s best white English Rose to date.” It is reported to have done well in both hot/humid and hot/dry conditions, so Mike and I think it will be able to cope with the hot and humid summers we experience here in southern New England, especially in late July.

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            Photo Courtesy of David Austin Roses

Desdemona, named after the tragic heroine of Othello by William Shakespeare, is described as having a strong and complex fragrance — a mixture of “old rose and almond blossom with hints of lemon zest and cucumber.” It is hardy in Zones 5-10 and grows 4’ x 3’.

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       Photo Courtesy of David Austin Roses

The Ancient Mariner, the second 2017 introduction,  is named after the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Ancient Mariner is larger than Desdemona, growing 5’ x 3’ with blooms of 160 petals — more than 3 times the petals of Desdemona. These blooms are very large and face upward as opposed to the nodding characteristics of other David Austin roses. The Ancient Mariner yields cupped, rich pink flowers that are paler pink at the outer edge which results in a halo effect. As expected with David Austin Roses, The Ancient Mariner is very fragrant with the scent of myrrh. Since this rose is a larger than average shrub, it is ideal for the middle or back or the border or as a specimen bush, planted on its own. It is hardy in Zones 5-9.

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    Photo Courtesy of David Austin Roses

Both roses are said to be healthy and bloom all season, from late spring to late fall. They are also described as being disease resistance and having charm — one of the hybridizing objectives that is essential for David Austin Roses. For rose lovers like us, all these characteristics, especially the “charm” of David Austin Roses, make them irresistible.

For more information and to order these roses and/or the free 2017 David Austin Handbook of  Roses, visit www.DavidAustinRoses.com

If you enjoy David Austin Roses, you may want to consider our program David Austin’s English Roses for American Gardens for your organization. It covers the history of English roses as well as the unique David Austin breeding program that focuses on hybridizing healthy, fragrant roses with superior flower form. For more information about this program, visit the Program Page on our web site: www.rosesolutions.net

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The holiday season is over and planting passions are rising like sap in a maple tree as gardeners have been waiting impatiently for the holiday hullabaloo to fizzle out. Paper and online plant catalogs are arriving daily, fuelling this annual horticultural mojo. There is no one more enthused, more filled with anticipation and more optimistic than a gardener in January.

2-creating-an-easy-care-rosThis also signals the beginning of our 2017 Lecture Series and we can’t wait. Our entertaining lectures, seminars and workshops are designed to illustrate to every gardener the enjoyment of growing roses. We annually review, revise, and refresh our program list as well as add new ones. We are currently developing a new and different program based on our travel and garden experiences. We are excited about this and will have it ready later in the year.

Our 2017 season starts with some sad news as well as some good news. The sad news is the demise of the long-running Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show where we presented annual lectures and rose care demonstrations since the late 1990s. We will miss the floral flash of color and the pungent tang of fresh mulch each February.

Boston Flower ShowThe good news is we return once again to the Boston Flower and Garden Show on March 25 at 2:30 with a unique PowerPoint program and lecture titled “Twelve Super Roses Anyone Can Grow” which follows this year’s show theme “Superheroes of the Garden.”  (See the complete list of programs, dates and times on the 2017 Lecture Series page.)

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Mike speaking at 2016 Boston Flower Show

On April 8 at 10 am, we will be in the Victorian Rose Garden in Roger Williams Park in Providence with a hands-on pruning demonstration as part of the RI Rose Society’s “Rose Day,” when we open the Victorian Rose Garden. Come learn spring rose care, including the best way to prune roses, then practice on bushes in the garden — bring pruners and gloves. This event is free and open to the public

Saturday June 17, at 1 PM is the Rhode Island Rose Society’s 19th annual rose show in Wickford, RI. Join Angelina and me at New England’s premier display of  roses of every type and color.

On Saturday, November 11, we will be back in the Victorian Rose Garden with the RI Rose Society, providing tips on fall rose care along with a demonstration on winterizing a rose garden.

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In between these events our schedule includes visits to garden clubs and other horticultural organizations throughout New England plus time out for a springtime motor trip along the Atlantic coast through Philadelphia, Washington, DC and down into the Carolinas with lots of stops along the way.

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Angelina and I have been on the lecture circuit presenting lectures, conducting seminars and leading workshops for over two decades and it never gets old. We are available to speak at symposiums and conventions and will travel to just about anywhere. We can customize programs and even produce one-of-a-kind presentations. We continue to add bookings throughout the year so keep checking in. As always, if your organization needs a program at the last minute maybe we can help. Contact me at mike@rosesolutions.net.

Happy New Year

Mike and Angelina

2-deserted-beach-and-mikeNo matter where you are in Rhode Island, you cannot be more than 45 minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean. One of the many advantages of being a gardener in the Ocean State is easy access to seaweed whenever the need or mood arises.

5-seaweed-and-shellsLate every fall after Thanksgiving, Mike starts his winter compost pile. In addition to loads of shredded leaves, he adds potato, apple and banana peels and other raw vegetative waste plus coffee grinds and tea bags. Then he mixes in a special  ingredient — seaweed. We call seaweed “seafood” for roses — or any other plant — because it contains a wealth of nutrients plants need, including all the major and minor nutrients but no weeds, weed seeds, insects or diseases.

The Rhode Island state constitution guarantees each citizen the right to gather seaweed below the high water mark from any beach. So, on a bright and sunny day in December we traveled the 45 minutes to Newport where I grew up, planning to arrive at the time when the tidal tables, published daily in the newspaper, indicated low tide.  One of our favorite seaweed stashes is at Easton’s Beach also known as 1st Beach to locals.  Low tide was at 11 AM and when we arrived at noon, we saw the parking lot full of occupied cars with people eating lunch and enjoying the view. The beach itself, though, was deserted.

6-mike-gathering-seaweedAfter unloading his muck buckets and grabbing his rake, Mike and I walked down to the beach, and while dressed for a December day in New England, we were pleasantly surprised that the day was warm and the raw wind that blows in off the Atlantic in late fall was non-existent.

Usually we harvest seaweed after an ocean storm churns up and washes in the crème de crème of seaweed. But no storms were predicted for the imminent future, so we hoped that enough seaweed had washed ashore with the incoming tide.

3-gathering-seaweedWe indeed found clumps of seaweed covered with fine beach sand deposited along the high water mark which made it easy for Mike to spear with his special short-handled beach rake, shaking off the excess sand and tossing it into the bucket.

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Meanwhile, I watched as the beach filled up with people walking their dogs, children running along the water’s edge and stopping to stare out into the vastness of the Atlantic and a lone surfer measuring the waves.

1-children-on-beachMike filled several buckets with seaweed, along with some quahog and scallop shells, all the while chatting with folks walking by and explaining to them, when asked,  why he was “cleaning the beach.” After an hour, we packed up, a little reluctant to leave, realizing that we had chosen the perfect day to go “seaweeding.”

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2017 Rhode Island Rose Society Calendar

Wondering what to buy for the gardeners on your Christmas list? Here are some suggestions of gifts that have pleased many of the rose gardeners, and even some non-gardeners, I buy gifts for.

2-prunersARS 310 Curved Pruner: This small curved-blade pruner is ideal for cutting roses as well as vegetables and bonsai. The one-inch blades are made from Japanese high carbon tool steel for clean and accurate cuts and the rounded tips fit easily into your pocket without poking through.The overall length of these pruners is only 6.5 inches.

1-prunersWe still use the original pair we bought over 20 years ago for cutting roses, roots, wire, and anything else in the garden that needs pruning. They are also good to use when making flower arrangements.

We have dropped them in mud holes; lost them in the garden and found them a week later; and have never sharpened them. Dollar for dollar, this is the best gardening tool we own.

3-cobraCobraHead Weeder and Cultivator: The CobraHead is a “steel fingernail” that shaves off weeds at or below ground level. It can be used for planting, transplanting, cultivating, making seed furrows, digging bulb holes and scrapping mud off other garden tools. The soft handle is made from recycled plastic and flax and feels comfortable in either or both hands. This is a very versatile tool.

Rose Calendars: Everyone needs to know what day it is and what can be more pleasant than seeing photographs of different roses every month, especially in the middle of winter? We buy our calendars from the RI Rose Society. Each year, RIRS has a member-only calendar photo contest and members vote for 12 photos that will be featured for each month. Other societies may have similar calendars, or you can buy a calendar from the American Rose Society on their web site. (See Cover of the2017 RIRS Calendar above.)

Rose Books: Winter is the perfect time to plan for the upcoming gardening season. We wrote our book, Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening, because there were no books about rose gardening in New England so it makes the perfect gift for our friends. Many of the rose books sold nationally were written by people from California or Florida where roses are grown differently because of the warmer USDA Zones. So if you buy a book on how to grow roses, be sure that it’s zone appropriate.

One of my favorite books that I find helpful to any gardener is Jackson & Perkins Rose Companions, a book by Stephen Scanniello. It discusses roses as well as companion plants that grow well with roses. This book provides me with many choices to make as far as what plants I want to plant with my roses. One of the companion plants I tried this past year was larkspur which added a nice rich purple/blue to our sustainable rose garden.

Gardening Journals: I had looked for years for a gardening journal that worked for me. Part of my problem is that I don’t like being restricted by space — either too much or too little. So the journals that provide 5 or 6 lines may be too little space and the ones that gave me a page — especially in months like January, February and December — gave me too much space. So I decided to design my own journal which is how we came to write Rose Gardening Season by Season: A Journal for Passionate Gardeners.

Gardening journals come in many styles. When I choose one for a gift, I like to make sure it includes photographs of roses and gardens, interesting sayings, and is versatile enough for the person I’m buying it for.

4-note-cardsRose Note Cards: There are many people, me included, who still write notes, whether it’s a thank you note, a note of condolences, or a quick hello to someone you haven’t seen in a while. There’s no shortage of beautiful note card with pictures of roses and other flowers available. Sometimes, if I have time, I like to make my own note cards, using some of my rose photos. (Card on the top left is Sexy Rexy rose; bottom is Julia Child rose.)

Membership in a Local Rose Society: If you have someone on your list who is interested in roses, a membership gift to a local rose society is a great idea. There are rose societies in most states in the United States as well many other countries. Being a member of a local rose society is a great way to find out what rose varieties grow well where you live. If you’re not one for attending meetings, you can still learn a lot through the local society’s newsletter. Also, some nurseries may offer discount to rose society members. We are active in the RI Rose Society (www.rirs.org) that holds monthly meetings and provides rose programs that help members learn more about roses and activities where we can share our love of roses.

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A Rhode Island Rose Society Meeting at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. Program was a Ask a Consulting Rosarian Panel

Membership in the American Rose Society: A gift membership to the ARS will give the recipient access to many resources as well as the American Rose Magazine which is published 6 times a year. Listed on their web site (www.rose.org)  are local rose societies organized by state.

These are just a few of the possibilities for gift giving. If you have some I haven’t mentioned, please share your ideas and leave a comment.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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Sacre Coeur

We are a lá carte travelers. We enjoy creating our own trips, day by day — from starting with months of research to arranging airfare to booking hotels to renting cars and especially to planning a flexible itinerary. This past September we returned to Paris for two weeks and re-discovered this magnificent City of Lights. Our schedule included places we missed on our first visit in May, 2012. This time, in addition to revisiting some of our favorite places, we explored Paris’s rich history of churches and cathedrals. Since we had been to the famed Notre Dame Cathedral several times, we targeted other well-known sites.

We began with a metro ride to Montmartre, one of Paris’s oldest neighborhoods and the location of a thriving artist colony and the Basilica of Sacré Coeur. While we walked from the metro stop to Montmartre, the last leg of the trip was a choice of walking up a some very steep stairs or taking the funicular, an electric tram. Tough choice…we took the funicular. However, that meant waiting in a long line but it went quickly.

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St. Michael

Once we reached the top, the sight of Sacré Coeur was impressive (see photo above). Throngs of people were seated on the steps that overlooked the city of Paris. After climbing these steps, we stood in a short line and passed through a security check in order to enter the church. (Security checks were at all public sites in Paris, churches were no exception.) We viewed the interior and admired a dramatic statue of St. Michael, lit a candle as we did in each church we visited and then rejoined the throng outside. Since Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, the broad steps of the basilica are popular with tourists for their panoramic view of the city.

We walked up the small, winding streets, had lunch at a small café and then roamed through nearby Place du Tertre, where artists set up stalls in the famous outdoor square. We purchased a small original watercolor from an elderly French artist as a permanent reminder of this iconic Parisian neighborhood.

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The next day was Sunday, the day we traveled to Chartres, a small town 50 miles outside of Paris and this called for a train ride. (We found train travel in France to be clean, safe, reliable and reasonably priced — round-trip Paris to Chartres cost €64 for two.) So here we were at Gare Montparnasse to catch the 10:06 train for the 90-minute ride to Chartres. 4-gare-montpanasseThe train was only half full and we enjoyed seeing the French countryside — lots of agriculture and cows, some shabby houses, some nice ones.

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Our Lady of Chartres

We knew when we were getting close to the town of Chartres because the cathedral, aka Our Lady of Chartres, could be seen from a distance, soaring in its gothic glory high above everything. A spectacular introduction to this medieval town.

Since we were here for the day, our plan was to explore the cathedral and the nearby town on our own, have lunch and then take a one-hour guided tour of the cathedral. The cathedral is surrounded by restaurants and small shops but, being Sunday, all the shops and most of the restaurants were closed. Sunday closings seemed to be the case throughout France.

After lunch, we met Elizabeth, our guide, who began the tour outside the church explaining the history of the cathedral as well as its gothic architecture. This was followed by a descent into the dark and deep Crypt, the remains of the old church. The tour finished with a walk through the cathedral and details describing the extraordinary stained glass windows.

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Stained Glass and Rose Window at Chartres

As we returned to the train station, we looked back one last time at this magnificent Gothic cathedral with its tall pointed steeples, towering stained glass, grand rose windows, gargoyles, flying buttresses, hundreds of statues, and a compelling history.

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St. Chapelle Upper Chapel

Next on our list was St. Chapelle which is located in the shadows of  Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité in the heart of Paris. We arrived at noon on a Tuesday and expected a long queue but found a short one instead. We bypassed the line anyway with our Museum Pass and entered into the lower chapel where we rented audio guides, a must to fully understand the history and contents of the church. (A Museum Pass doesn’t save much money but allowed us to bypass the line at many venues.)

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St. Chapelle

St. Chapelle was built in the gothic style in the 13th century by King Louis IX and has the most extraordinary collection of stained glass anywhere in the world. The church is divided into two chapels, the upper or royal chapel was for the king and the lower was for everyone else. The walls of the upper chapel consists of 15 towering gothic stain glass windows stretching 3/4 of the way up the wall, each a jaw-dropping 49 feet high, with a glorious rose window at one end. Each window has 90 or more panels and relates a biblical story or depicts an old testament scene. St Chapelle is much smaller than Notre Dame and only takes an hour, two at the most, to visit.

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St. Sulpice

If it weren’t for the Da Vinci Code movie, we may never have known about St. Sulpice Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Paris, second only to Notre Dame. After Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, and Chartes, the architecture of St. Sulpice is subdued, lacking dramatic stained glass windows and big crowds. What it did have, however, was a gnomon and an extraordinary pipe organ. It also provided the dramatic setting for a scene in the Da Vinci Code — which was actually filmed on a duplicate stage elsewhere.

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Obelisk

The gnomon, once used in the calculation of Easter, is a brass meridian on the floor that leads to a white marble obelisk. A ray of sunlight passes at noon through an opening in a window opposite the obelisk and rests on the meridian at various points throughout the year.

As luck would have it, we were in Paris on the autumnal equinox and went to St. Sulpice at mid-day along with a small crowd of visitors there for the same reason. We all saw the oval sunray cross the meridian on time at just the right spot. This was an unexpected bonus on the trip.

We returned to St. Sulpice the following Sunday to attend Mass, a little surprised to find the Cathedral only three-quarters full, and stayed for the organ concert afterwards. The 45-minute concert is presented each Sunday after the 11 o’clock Mass with a combination of ecclesiastical and classical  compositions. The great organ with 5588 pipes is a remarkable instrument dating back to the eighteenth century. The sound was amazing, easily filling every nook and crevice of the enormous cathedral. Afterwards, we took our time strolling back to the hotel through Luxemburg Gardens to start packing for the trip home.

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The Great Pipe Organ

This trip was special and we talk about it all the time. The great benefit of being a lá carte travelers is the blend of spontaneous events, chance meetings with locals and other travelers, and serendipitous happenings that occur while we are out and about in a far-away place that would not happen on a more structured trip.