Spring Dreams

Looking out a window today, all I see is white, a thick blanket of snow covering the ground and howling winds periodically puff clouds of it swirling into the air. Still, I can feel the pull of spring. Perhaps it’s the bright sunlight. Couple that with the colorful gardening magazines and catalog strewn on the kitchen table, and how can I resist vicarious planting — by ordering plants instead.

David Austin roses, whose blooms have the look and fragrances of yesteryear (pastel colors and blowsy form), and the repeat blooming of pest-resistance of presentyear roses, are always a draw. Every year, new varieties are offered, some, I’m gad to see, that are cold-hardy to zone 4.

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

And m–m-m-m, the thought of picking fresh, ripe sweet cherries is also enticing. No, no! I ordered and planted what was allegedly a self-fertile Compact Stella cherry tree seven years ago. It wasn’t compact and it has yet to bear a cherry. I tell others that sweet cherries are a poor bet around here because of winter cold, spring frosts, and various inset and disease pests. And, after that, even if fruits do develop, birds will likely eat them. I should have been listening when I dispensed that advice.

The cherry tree has one more season to prove it’s worth. If it doesn’t, I have a replacement plant (hardy orange, Citrus trifoliata) anxiously waiting in the wings.Hardy orange

I’ve always wanted to plant a magnolia, of which there are many newer and older varieties, but where could I plant it? Now that I think of it, I did plant a magnolia last spring. It died. And a few years back, I planted a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) purchased on an impulse at a nursery a few years ago. I remember planting it, but not what happened to it, except that it’s no longer around.

The magnolia that I really want to plant is southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. This large evergreen gracing many homes from Virginia southward with its large, glossy, dark green leaves and it’s large, lily-white, fragrant blossoms seems to politely call for a chair in its shade, a frosty mint julep on the armrest.

Problem is that southern magnolias are not hardy here — yet. I know of a gorgeous tree about an hour south of here and two varieties — Edith Pogue and Bracken’s Brown Beauty — are hardy below zero degrees F. It hardly gets below zero here these past few winters and, with global warming . . . ?

Yes, it is hard to keep my wits about me as spring approaches, and will be increasingly so as spring edges in. “I will not buy another sweet cherry tree, I will not buy another apricot tree (even more problematic), I will not buy another magnolia (yet), . . .”

Dorris, I’d Like To Meet You

Uh oh, another new variety of filbert from the breeding program at Oregon State University. This variety, Dorris, is, like some of its recent predecessors, immune to the eastern filbert blight that has for so long made filbert growing east of the Rockies unfeasible. They’re breeding blight-resistant filbert in Oregon because the blight fungus has made its way west.

Filbert nut harvest last fall

Filbert nut harvest last fall

But eastern filbert blight is a capricious fungus, sometimes changing in a way that let’s it attack even “resistant” filberts. So I’m constantly cutting down diseased filberts and replanting “resistant” ones. One of the newest varieties, which will get a spot in the line of filberts that draws my eyes and footsteps along the edge of  meadow, is Dorris.

Good luck Dorris.

Making Trees

Some trees and shrubs coming to my garden this year are going to be home-made, that is, created by me from seeds, cuttings, or grafts. To that end, I recently collected hackberry seeds as well as scions (for grafting) of persimmon, pear, and cornelian cherry, and packed them all away in an insulated box in my garage. I will deal with them in a few weeks.

Gathering scionwood

Gathering scionwood

Collecting scionwood for grafting segue nicely with pruning. From the prunings strews about on the ground, I cut and save one-year-old stems into foot-long sections.

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose . . . Not!

Perhaps it was youthful rebelliousness, but for years, for decades, I lambasted my father’s roses. The roses reared up their colorful heads on the other side of the low, clipped privet hedge that bordered our terrace. If youthful rebelliousness was at the root of my rose aversion, that rebelliousness has lasted well beyond my youth, right up to the present day even though those roses are no more.
The plants were hybrid tea roses, in various colors. You’ve got to admit that the shrubs themselves, typically with a few gawky stems topped with disproportionately large blossoms, are not much to look at. The pointiness of the blossoms, a sought-after quality among hybrid tea breeders, is, for me, particularly unattractive. Couple that with the blaring colors and you get the picture, for me, that is.
Hybrid tea roses are not particularly tough plants, succumbing to insects, diseases, and winter cold. Which is why my father grew them practically as annuals, often having to replace dead bushes with new ones. What a waste.
Times change, and over the last few years I’ve become a fan of roses. No, not hybrid tea roses! Other types of roses, of which there are many.
Here’s my criteria for a worthy rose (not necessarily in the order of importance): Insect and disease

Father Hugo’s rose

resistance; a full-bodied, corpulent shrub; cup-shaped or single flowers; pastel colors; fragrance; and repeat-blooming. Hybrid tea roses generally lack all these qualities, except for repeat-blooming.

Some species and old-fashioned roses tend to have the qualities I seek. Father Hugo’s rose, Rosa hugonis, is one such rose with single, small, soft yellow blossoms and ferny foliage. It’s supposed to be a tough rose, but mine hasn’t yet lived up to that billing. Too much weed competition, perhaps.
Rugose rose (R. rugosa) is another outstanding rose, this one living up to its reputation for being tough. So much so that it’s considered invasive in some places. Still, I like it for its nonstop blooms of single, usually pink-red flowers, its strong fragrance, and its nice hips — fruits that is, very tasty.
If I had to choose just one rose to plant, that rose would

Rose de Rescht

be my old-fashioned Rose de Rescht. Its petals are soft cerise in color, and are crumpled like crêpe paper with just a bit of organization on the ends of flower stalks. The fragrance is heavenly, to my nose the best of any rose.

Some modern roses — but not hybrid teas! — have also

Apricot Knock Out rose

won me over to my father’s camp.

One such group of moderns are the Knock Out® roses. Very unclassical in appearance, with short, wide stature and mostly single-petalled flowers, these roses are tough and carefree, and bloom all season long. The colors would be gaudy except for their being pleasantly  subdued by the small size of the flowers and their lush and abundant backdrop of glossy, green leaves.
David Austin L. D. Braithwaite
The other modern roses that have won me over are the David Austin roses, all bred with the goal of combining the look and fragrance

David Austin Strawberry Hill

of the old-fashions with the repeat blooming and pest resistance of the moderns. Right now, Strawberry Hill and L. D. Braithwaite are growing very well in my garden, partly the result of a very mild winter.

My father eventually came around to my way of thinking and gave me free rein to rip out his hybrid tea roses and replace them with a mix of other perennial and annual flowers. The view from the terrace was transformed into a spring through autumn panoply of colors and forms from the likes of tree peonies, ligularias, lungwort, bleeding heart, and other perennials. The one constant following the transformation was the line of begonias or marigolds that marched along the edge of the bed, just as they did when the bed was home to roses.
Mulberries have ripened, so a taste test was in order: Illinois Everbearing vs. Oscar vs. Kokuso vs. Gerardi Dwarf vs. random seedling. Oscar was best with Kokuso and the seedling a close second, followed by Illinois Everbearing and then Gerardi Dwarf. These ratings aren’t writ in stone, for me, because confounding everything were big flavor changes that depended on slight changes in ripening — I think.
Note that black mulberry — the species Morus nigra — was not in the running. That’s because the fruits won’t be ripe for awhile and because, I know from experience, it’s far and away the best of them all.