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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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1-Stone-Man

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.

2a--Birdbath

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.

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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.

7-New basal growth

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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3-Winter-Moth

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.

1 Winter Moth Damage

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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6-Sand-Sculpture

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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Olivia Rose Austin - David Austin English Rose

Olivia Rose Austin                                   Photo by David Austin Roses

The holidays are over, the decorations have been put away and it’s time to review our “Wish List” of roses to plant in the spring. The trio of spectacular 2016 varieties that David Austin Roses has introduced for the United States and Canada sit at the top of the list. Read the descriptions below and you’ll see why!

Olivia Rose Austin with soft pink flowers of 90 petals each releases a strong fruity fragrance. This beauty features dark green foliage, grows 3-5 feet tall by 3 feet wide, and blooms repeatedly throughout the season. Interestingly, it been known to bloom 2-3 weeks earlier than other English roses. The Olivia Rose Austin rose is reported to be disease free and David Austin himself has described this rose as “possibly the best rose we’ve ever bred.”
This rose was named for David Austin’s granddaughter Olivia Rose Austin and is hardy in USDA Zones 5-10.

The Poets Wife - David Austin English Roses

The Poet’s Wife              Photo by David Austin Roses

The Poet’s Wife has yellow flowers, 4-5 inches in diameter, each with approximately 80 petals. It has a strong Old Rose fragrance and is on Austin’s list of Most Fragrant English roses. The Poet’s Wife’s typically grows 4 feet high by 3-1/2 feet wide but may grow larger in warmer climates. It is a repeat bloomer and the first yellow rose introduced since 2003. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5-10.

The Lady of the Lake - David Austin Roses

The Lady of the Lake                  Photo by David Austin Roses

The Lady of the Lake is a rambler that grows to 10-15 feet, perfect for trellises, walls, fences and obelisks. Most ramblers lack fragrance but The Lady of the Lake exudes a strong fresh citrus scent. Its blush pink flowers are 2 inches around with golden stamens in the center of 30 petals. It is hardy in Zones 7-10 and would need winter protection in USDA Zones 6 and colder.

Visit www.davidaustinroses.com for more information about these roses.

Ct Flower  Garden Show Banner

Learn more about David Austin Roses by coming to the 35th Annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show in Hartford, CT (www.ctflowershow.com) on Saturday February 20, 2016. Mike and I will be presenting our program “David Austin’s English Roses for New England Gardens” developed in concert with David Austin Roses.

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