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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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Winter Moth larva

Here in the Northeast, spring is taking its time arriving. Mike had to postpone pruning because of cold temperatures and a snow storm on April 4th that brought us 5″ of snow. Now with temperatures a bit more in the normal range, our roses are starting to show a burst of new growth, but with warmer temperatures comes a new annual event — the arrival of winter moth larvae.

Winter moths are small, light brown moths that were first recorded around 1930 in Nova Scotia. They slowly migrated south along the east coast into New England, were detected in Massachusetts in the 1990s and arrived in Rhode Island in 2004. Our first encounter with them was several years ago. The moths mate in early December, hence the name, and lay their eggs in trees and shrubs. The eggs hatch sometime in April in our garden. It’s this larvae stage that does the damage by feeding on a wide variety of plants including our roses and blueberries.

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Foliage Damage

Mike noticed chewed-up foliage and discovered moth larvae yesterday — small, green caterpillars that had rolled up in a silky cocoon inside our rose leaves. This is when they surreptitiously eat away on the foliage and young rose buds unless an intervention takes place.

While we very rarely apply insecticides in our garden, we do spray our roses, as well as our blueberry bush, for winter moths with a very low toxicity product called Spinosad. This is a naturally occurring soil dwelling bacterium that works on larvae by contact as well as by ingestion — IF applied at the right time. The best time to apply Spinosad is immediately after egg-hatch in early spring before the tiny worms tunnel into buds.

2.Captain-JackSo today Mike applied his first dose of “Captain Jack’s Deadbug,” an organic pesticide containing Spinosad.  (Another effective product is “Monterey Garden Spray.) Usually, spraying twice, seven days apart will solve the winter moth problem and as an added benefit, rose sawflies will be controlled at the same time.

Without the use of Spinosad, the foliage on our trees, roses and blueberry bushes wind up looking like Swiss cheese. Since Captain Jack’s toxicity is extremely low, we find that using this product gives us the best outcome.

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Each year Mike and I look forward to speaking at the Flower Shows as well as viewing the display gardens and visiting with vendors. A few weeks ago we were at both the Rhode Island and Connecticut Flower & Garden Shows.

We were at the Rhode Island show on Thursday when Mike presented a demonstration called “Growing Great Roses in 6 Easy Steps” and included pruning a potted rose that he had wintered over in our ‘crib’ just for the show. We spent some time at the RI Rose Society booth and chatted with a few folks who later joined the society. There wasn’t much time to view the gardens, but we managed to see the sand sculpture that we look forward to seeing each year. This year the sculpture featured a lighthouse. (See photo above.)

3-HardscapeOn Friday we had more time to check out the show after our lecture “Rose Gardening Season by Season” and it was a treat to admire the creativity used in so many of the gardens. I especially enjoy seeing the unique ideas used for hardscape. Above is a picture of a large branch of bittersweet, of all things, that caught my eye at the show. It reminded me of the piece of driftwood we spotted on the shore on one of our walks along the East Bay Bike Path. Mike calls it The Night Watchman.

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The Night Watchman

One of my favorite display gardens at the RI show was “The Birds & the Bees & Other Creations” by Adam Salisbury from Pawtucket, RI. Using recycled and found materials, he created some whimsical hardscape.

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The Birds & the Bees & Other Creations

Another display I found most impressive was the Fenway Rooftop Garden by Cityscapes from Boston, MA. They showed vegetables and herbs grown in lined milk crates against the backdrop of Fenway Park’s Green Monster scoreboard. Growing vegetables in milk crates is a novel idea, especially when you lack space for a traditional garden.

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Fenway Rooftop Garden

On Saturday we hit the road early for the 2-hour drive to Hartford, CT and the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show where we had 2 lectures: “David Austin Roses for New England Gardens” in the morning and “25 Fabulous Roses” later on. In between lectures we had time for a quick lunch and then we took a stroll around the show floor to see the gardens as well as many of the vendors.

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Connecticut Rose Society’s Rose Garden

The first garden we went to see was also our favorite: The Connecticut Rose Society’s rose garden. It featured Downton Abbey roses such as Anna’s Promise and Pretty Lady Rose in a Victorian/Edwardian setting that even included an area with table and chairs where afternoon tea could be served. Many of the roses were in bloom and we know from past experience how difficult it is to force roses into bloom on time for a winter event. They succeeded, though, and their garden looked fabulous when we were there on Saturday. By Sunday, under the heat of the lights from the show, I’m sure this rose garden was even better! Hats off to Connecticut Rose Society

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Hillside Display Garden with waterfall

Water features are often used in gardens but the display garden created by Hillside Landscaping was outstanding. Their water feature was an upright piano with plants growing out of its top and water rushing out below the keys. They even added a piano player wire sculpture. Fantastic.

There were many other gardens we admired, but we didn’t have quite enough time to stop and enjoy them between lectures. In a few weeks we’ll be at the Boston Flower & Garden Show and can’t wait to see what creative and beautiful designs we’ll find there.

If you make it to the Boston Show, stop by and say hello. We’ll be there on Saturday March 19 at 1:30.

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