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1-sacre-coeur

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.

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While we have thoroughly enjoyed vacationing in other European countries as well as the United States, our first trip to Paris in 2012 exceeded our expectations and we made plans to return “some day.” Well that day came last month and we spent 2 weeks enjoying everything the City of Lights had to offer, including its museums, churches and gardens. But when we planned this year’s trip, we kept our daily itinerary to one major attraction, making sure to give ourselves enough flexibility to add or subtract places to see and plenty of time to explore the parts of Paris that weren’t in any guide books.

2-angelinasWe enjoyed revisiting the Louvre and D’Orsay Museums, as well as the restaurant “Angelina’s” which shares my name and has the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted. Traveling by train to Versailles and Chartres were adventures we enjoyed and visiting the Bagatelle Rose Garden in the western part of Paris was high on our list. (Stay tuned for upcoming blogs.)  But what added to the enjoyment of this trip was the free time we built in to wander the neighborhoods and stroll the gardens to see how Parisians lived in what we find to be one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.

9-le-sixWe returned to the Hotel Le Six, a small boutique hotel in the 6th arrondissement in the Montparnasse section on the Left Bank. It’s centrally located, less than a block away from the Boulevard Montparnasse which offers a wide choice of restaurants, bistros and cafes. Plus it was only a few minutes walk from several metro stops, bus stops and even a train station which made getting around Paris easy. We used the Paris Visite pass which allowed unlimited use of transportation and after a few days we were using the metro system to quickly travel from one part of Paris to another.

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Since there is no shortage of restaurants in Paris, we decided not to eat in the same place twice. We broke that promise only once and returned to Invictus for our final night because our first meal there was so memorable. Invictus, a small restaurant with 12 tables, is owned by Christophe Chabanel, a former rugby player who played in South Africa for a number of years before returning to Paris, hence the name of the restaurant. He greets his guests, explains the menu in English or French, suggests wines and makes everyone feel welcome. He also assured us that he could adjust any of his meals to be gluten free. I ordered the lamb chops which were the best I have ever tasted and Mike enjoyed his entrecote steak followed by creme brulee for dessert. After sampling creme brulee  in various restaurants Mike declared Invictus’ was the best.

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Lamb Chops at Invictus

There were other memorable French restaurants and we did not have a bad meal anywhere. Paris is full of small, intimate restaurants like Invictus, located discreetly on side streets, with limited menus featuring excellent food. Night after night we feasted on entrees like crispy boneless duck, tender veal stew and chateaubriand, all accompanied by an array of French red wine.

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“Crepe Alley”

For evenings after we had indulged in late lunches, we took advantage of the creperies on Rue Montparnasse, a narrow street that we refer to as “Crepe Alley” a few blocks away from our hotel.  Creperies line both sides of the street and, to our surprise, in addition to wheat crepes all offered galettes  — gluten free crepes made of buckwheat that could be filled with a wide array of ingredients. Mike especially liked the one with ham, cheese and egg.

One place that I just had to go to was Les Deux Magot, a cafe frequented in the 20’s by Ernest Hemingway and other well-known writers and artists. It was doing a brisk business when we arrived at 2 PM but we were seated at one of the small round tables along the sidewalk and I ordered my favorite Parisian lunch: a jambon et fromage baguette (ham and cheese). We sat and people-watched imagining what it was like back in Hemingway’s day.

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While we enjoyed our dining experiences in Paris as well as visits to various museums, churches and gardens, what we enjoyed just as much was meandering around the city in order to savor the flavor of this fascinating city. Several times we took the Metro to the Ile de la Cité area, where Notre Dame Cathedral is located, and strolled along the Seine, stopping at the bouquinistes who have their stalls set up along each side of the river. Bouquinistes are licensed vendors and are allocated a pre-determined amount of space for their green painted boxes. These green boxes open up to display shelves with their merchandise and when closed the green boxes are folded up and locked. We had fun perusing the old posters and books (in French) that were mixed in with the countless souvenirs as well as some original art. We took long walks along the Seine and over the bridges that connect the Left and Right Banks, stopping to watch the tour boats taking tourists along the river to see the many sights, including the Eiffel Tower.

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Boats on the River Seine

8-luxumbourg-gardens-chessOn one of our free days, a Saturday, we strolled through Luxembourg Gardens to find the park filled with Parisians, both young and old. There were men and women playing serious bocce, a couple of tables of men gathered around a very lively game of chess, children playing soccer, as well as people basking in the sunshine or reading under the trees that surrounded flower gardens. Parisians love their parks and gardens in the city because they don’t have backyards where they can otherwise enjoy outside activities.

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Edith Piaf’s Tomb

Another day we chose to go to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, a very old cemetery in Paris. The Père-Lachaise is the resting place for well-known celebrities such as Edith Piaf, Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and even Jim Morrison. It was impressive and a little eerie with over 100 acres of tombs and monuments so close together, there was hardly room to walk between one and the other. There was also an area with monuments honoring the French who had died in the WW II French Resistance and powerful remembrances of Nazi Concentration camps.

4-boulangerieWhen we made our way back to the hotel late in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing, we detoured onto side streets and found small shops and markets. We shopped like Parisians — got cheese at the fromagerie, bread at the boulangerie, and wine at the local wine shop. We’d take our purchases home (back to Le Six which had become our home away from home) and be greeted by the staff  who always asked about our day. After chatting for a while and getting recommendations for dinner, we’d return to our room where we would slice the cheese, pour some wine, put up our feet, and come to the conclusion that this was the life.

Now that we’re home, we ask ourselves what was the best part of our trip to Paris. It’s hard to pinpoint just one part. We’ve come to realize that a really good trip is more than the sum of its parts — it’s the whole experience melded together into an incredible adventure and the memories only get better with time.

Drought!

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Passionate Kisses

Drought is a nasty word for a rose gardener. While water is found everywhere, even on Mars, it’s currently in short supply throughout much of the Northeastern United States, including our moderate Zone 6 Rhode Island. We usually receive about 50 inches of rainfall each year. Usually. But we are in our second year of a 25% rain deficit, well below normal, and find ourselves in an official drought and water restraints are suggested. Roses grow best when they receive steady, abundant watering and this long-term lack of rain for the last two years presents a challenge.

Droughts start with a dry winter which is exactly what we had last year. But prior to that, lower than normal precipitation last fall accompanied the long, warm, and very dry weather that lasted until Thanksgiving. The dryness continued throughout the following cold, snowless winter followed by still more dryness. As a result of this departing gift from El Nino, Rhode Island, the Ocean State, surrounded by Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is experiencing a moderate to severe drought and we are not used to this.

The fact that water has also become expensive, due to costly upgrades to local sewerage treatment facilities, adds to the problem. It can no longer be called the “poor man’s fertilizer.” Fully realizing that roses need water, I had to change the way I managed our rose gardens with limited water resources. This is what I did.

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Soil Well

I cut my tap water usage in half. Then I looked first to the soil. Soil rich in organics, which mine was, has the ability to hold water and release it slowly to plants. I scratched in some extra compost anyway. Next, I added 2 inches of mulch to part of the garden and that soil remained significantly more moist than other beds. Not only did the mulch retard evaporation, it also served to control weeds. More mulch next season. Then I built a soil well around the base of each rose bush trapping water and preventing it from running away and refreshing weeds.

I’ve been putting off installing a rain barrel, but I plan to get one next year. Rain is a warm, soft, renewable water source and it’s free. I think any large container will do — just stick it under a downspout. Also, when rain is forecast, I have been putting out muck buckets, pails and any sizable container that will hold water around the garden.  I then ladle out the collected water as needed.

Historically, late July is the hottest time of the year and this year was no exception. In a very hot year, roses will go into a forced semi-dormancy until the heat subsides. Those roses that manage to bloom will be undersized and heat-sensitive varieties like most mauve (purple) roses will shatter and petals fall almost as they open.

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Party Hardy

However, there were some varieties that tolerated the heat better than others. They included Party Hardy, Lady Elsie May, and oddly, Passionate Kisses plus a few others.

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Lady Elsie May

All it usually takes is a few drenching late summer rains to jump-start the garden for a robust fall bloom. Usually. We did receive some precipitation from the what was left of Tropical Storm Hermine a few days ago but most of the rain fell someplace else.

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Passionate Kisses

So as I sit here along coastal Rhode Island bounded by water on three sides feeling somewhat like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, I patiently await those late summer rains.

Stone Men

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Natural materials gathered locally make great garden hardscape. We embellish our gardens with an eclectic mix of local stone, quahog shells, an old concrete bird bath, stepping stones, and a large piece of driftwood.

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Driftwood Serpent

We even include seaweed mulch that adds visual interest as well as a soil amendment. These coastal items make sense because, after all, Rhode Island is the Ocean State surrounded on three sides by Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

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The use of stone dates back to the beginning of time. From the famous Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Irish Burren to simple cairns, man-made stacked stones are used as landmarks, trail pointers and indications of ancient burial sites.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen

Last year when Angelina and I were in British Columbia, we discovered another unique use of stone called Inuksuks, stones assembled in the shape of a human being, widely used in arctic regions.

6-Stone-Man-2We employ all these natural elements as creative, easy-to-make garden hardscape that adds interest and welcomes visitors into our garden room of roses.

The Inuksuks, or stone men as I call them, are the latest addition to our garden. Any stone will do as long as it can somehow be stacked one upon the other without toppling over as soon as I turn away. As I am no mason, I quickly discovered that flat stones become important. I’ve now divided my stone cache into leg stones, arm stones, neck stones, and head stones.

7-StonemenI even stacked small stones to make a gang of stone boys hanging out under Graham Thomas. I use no adhesives, just gravity and a few well placed shims to keep the stone people upright. I keep the size of the stone men in scale with the roses, adding a sense of strength that does not distract from the horticulture.

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The Stone Boys

I like my stoic stone men; each one is different; each one is my new garden buddy. It’s mid summer now but looking ahead to the end of the season when the garden is completely dormant and roses are dozing, I expect these sturdy, snow covered stone people will serve as steady sentinels in the silent stillness of the winter garden.

2-Rose-Show-RosesThis year our rose gardens peaked on June 20, a few days later than usual, and we had plenty of roses to bring to the RI Rose Society Rose Show on Saturday June 18th.

Mike was the 2016 Rose Show Chair so we spent the Friday before the Show getting the venue ready with other volunteers from the Rose Society. We set up over 30 tables in anticipation of exhibitors arriving on Saturday morning with loads of roses.

1-Rose-Show-Set-UpWe weren’t disappointed. Before the judging began, all tables were filled with stems and sprays of roses — including different varieties of hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, climbing roses, shrub roses, old garden roses, miniature and miniflora roses, even mystery roses with no known name. The room was transformed into a spectacular indoor rose garden with hundreds of vases filled with colorful roses.

8-Rose-ShowWe had arrived at the Rose Show at 7 AM with dozens of stems from our gardens. We especially enjoy exhibiting English boxes and, while our Graham Thomas rose wasn’t in full bloom in time for the Rose Show, we still had enough blooms for the Shrub English Box and Graham rewarded us by winning Best of Class. Graham Thomas never disappoints and when his blooms are fresh they’re tough to beat. We entered a spray of Graham in the David Austin class and he won again.

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Graham Thomas English Box on right. Day Breaker English Box on left

Other English box winning entries were Day Breaker and Cherry Parfait. Day Breaker is a big favorite of ours but we had to replace the bush this spring due to excessive winterkill. The day before this year’s  Show, the new Day Breaker had only a dozen or so blooms, but they were all the same size and perfect to enter in the English Box for Floribunda Class.

Cherry Parfait is a floriferous grandiflora so we had an abundance  of blooms from which to choose. I think its striking lipstick-red and white flowers against the black of the English boxes makes a great presentation.

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Cherry Parfait English Box

The theme of this year’s show was “The Rose – America’s Flower” and the theme class was one stem or spray of any white and one stem or spray of any red rose displayed in a cobalt blue vase. We had a difficult time finding a white rose to display with our red Super Hero rose, but at the last minute a spray of Macy’s Pride, an Easy Elegance rose by Ping Lim, opened and the combination produced the red, white and blue we were looking for.

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The Rose-America’s Flower

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American Beauty Rose

The rose I was hoping we could enter in the Show was American Beauty. It is the only old garden rose we grow and I like to enter it in the Old Garden Rose Victorian Rose class which is for roses introduced in 1867 or later. American Beauty is a hybrid perpetual rose introduced in 1875 and tends to bloom early. This year, though, American Beauty started producing great clusters of roses the second week of June. To my surprise, it continued to bloom until the end of June. We have been growing American Beauty for 5 years and in its first season it produced 3 roses. Since some varieties take a few years to become established, we waited until the second season, but didn’t get more than 8 or 10 roses. Still, we waited. And this year American Beauty exploded into bloom with dozens of fragrant cabbage-like roses in great sprays. The rose bush was spectacular and American Beauty did win Best Victorian Rose. Patience paid off.

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Awards Table

Early each June I wonder if we’ll have roses in time to exhibit in the Rose Show and each year we always do. We just never know what varieties they will be. But no matter. All the roses at this year’s rose show — and there were hundreds of roses on display — were beautiful. While we always enjoy all the roses in the June Bloom in our garden, there’s nothing quite like Rose Show Roses.

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Yellow Brick Road

What a difference a week makes. On Memorial Day weekend we had a garden full of buds. Now we have a garden full of roses with more opening daily. In another week, our garden will be at its peak and we’ll have the long awaited June Bloom.

One of the first roses to bloom in our sustainable garden is Super Hero, an Easy Elegance rose that is super easy to grow and very disease resistant. Here is a picture of it just starting to bloom on Memorial Day weekend.

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Here it is a week later.

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Another rose in Ping Lim’s Easy Elegance Series is Yellow Brick Road. Its ruffled, lemon yellow flowers set against a backdrop of dark green, disease resistant foliage make it a great addition to any garden

Last year Mike replaced the Knock Out roses we had growing around our flag pole with Party Hardy. It was bred in Canada by Weeks Roses hybridizer, Christian Bedard, and is hardy to Zone 3 which means it needs no winter protection here in southern New England. It has bright pink blooms with lighter pink/white accents and has over 40 petals. Look at all those buds waiting to bloom.

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Party Hardy

Here is Earth Song surrounded by yellow yarrow and I love the combination of the pink, green and yellow. Earth Song, also winter hardy to Zone 3, is just getting started and will produce these luscious saturated pink blooms all season.

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Earth Song & Yarrow

Scarlet Sensation, aka Everblooming Pillar #73, was the first Brownell rose in our collection to bloom this year.  It’s a large flowered climber that grows to about 8 feet tall. Scarlet Sensation has been around since 1954 and is one of Walter Brownell’s Sub-Zero roses, making it winter hardy to Zone 5.

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Scarlet Sensation

If you’re looking for sustainable, easy to grow roses that can thrive without the use of pesticides, you may want to give some of these varieties a try.

 

1-IrisesNext week is the end of May and spring has finally arrived…I think.  Although we’ve had some warm weather, it’s been “spotty” and our roses are confused. In late March we  thought spring was almost here with temperatures in the 70’s and then a totally unexpected snowstorm on April 4 gave us 5″ of snow.  Mother nature has been especially fickle this season.

Now we wonder when we will see our first blooms. From the notes I made in my garden journal last year, I see that All the Rage, as well as Campfire, started blooming on May 23, 2015. While those varieties aren’t even close to blooming yet, the good news is they’re chock full of buds just waiting for enough heat and sunlight to allow them to open.

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Winterkill

Strangely what was a good winter for humans — warmer than average temperatures and well below average snowfall — was not a good winter for roses. When temperatures plummeted suddenly to minus 10F for several nights in February, the  roses were taken by surprise as were we. With no insulating snow cover to act as additional winter protection during what Mike calls the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” the rose garden took a major hit. Because of these extremely low temperatures, our bushes experienced significant winterkill which resulted in a garden full of black canes poking out of the winter cover like a noir scene from a Steven King novel.

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Basal Growth

Mike spent several days in mid April pruning away all the damage which resulted in some large, older bushes losing half or more of their size. He was sure some irreplaceable old favorites were dead. Nevertheless, he applied his special poultice and patiently waited for the soil to warm up and lo and behold,  fresh new basal breaks appeared. Other bushes that we also thought were goners gained new life with lush new growth emerging from the bud union. Now we’re keeping our fingers crossed, hoping to get some consistently warm weather to turn our garden full of buds into a garden full of  blooms in time for the RI Rose Society Rose Show on June 18. The warm weather over this Memorial Day weekend is a good start.

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“Crib” rose with gnawed cane but new growth

However, one truly sour note occurred when Mike uncovered the winter “crib” in late April only to find that mice had camped out in the crib all winter and ate the bark and roots of almost all the potted plants. He had to throw most of them away but was able to save a few.

Meanwhile, I walk around the garden, noting what is in bloom. Surprisingly, our irises bloomed about the same time as last year, even a few days earlier, starting on May 14. We’re especially thankful to the friend who passed these fancy flowers along to us 2 years ago, because right now they are the Stars of our Garden! The white, purple and peach irises are a welcome sight in an otherwise garden of green!

6-First-ClematisOther signs of spring include the ever reliable blooming of our chives, clematis and catmint and the garlic planted last October is jumping out of the ground.

But as far as our roses go, we’ll just have to be patient — warm weather is forecast for this Memorial Day Weekend which is a good start and we’re hoping our roses will get into the holiday spirit.

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