Golden Celebration rose


Plant Dreams

You’d think that after living in the same place for over 35 years and every year planting new trees and shrubs, that there would be nothing new for me to plant this year. Or, at least, no where to plant them. Well, t’ain’t so!

I’m now trying to wrap up getting anything I need in terms of plants or seeds for this growing season. Let’s see: Did I succumb to any of the enticements for new and wondrous plants mentioned online and in the slew of gardening magazines and nursery catalogues that appear almost daily in my mailbox?

Lady of Shallot rose

Lady of Shallot rose

David Austin roses, which have the pastel blooms and blowsy form of yesteryear’s roses, and the pest-resistance of present-year roses, are always a draw. But I have quite a few of them; do I have room for or need more of them? It’s cold here (or used to be), so I choose for beauty and hardiness, and, for an added attraction, fragrance. Among my favorites are Lady of Shallot, Dame Judy Dench, Golden Celebration, and LD Braithewaite. Read more

Immigrants Welcomed

Sad to See This One Leave, ‘Til Next Year

“So sad,” to quote our current president (not a president known, so far at least, for his eloquence). But I’m not sliding over into political commentary. I use to that pithy quote in reference to the fleeting glory of Rose d’Ipsahan.

A little background: Rose d’Ipsahan was given to me many years ago by a local herbalist under the name of Rose de Rescht, which it soon became evident it was not. Rose d'Ipsahan in vaseDescriptions of Rose de Rescht tell how it blossoms repeatedly through the season; not my rose. I finally honed down my rose’s identity from among the choices suggested by a number of rose experts based on photos and descriptions I had sent them.

Under any name, Rose d’Ipsahan would be my favorite rose. Without any sort of protection, it’s never suffered any damage from winter cold. Insect and disease pests do it little or no harm. And rather than intimidating thorns, the stems are covered by more user-friendly prickles.

The best part of Rose d’Ipsahan is its blossoms, a loosely packed head of soft, pink petals that are attractive from the time the opening bud shows its first hint of pink until the head fully expands. Rose d'Ipsahan blossomAnd the fragrance! Intense, and my favorite of all roses. Rose d’Ipsahan is a variety of Damask rose and has the classic fragrance of that category of rose.

This rose was discovered in a garden in the ancient city of Esphahan (sometimes written as Ispahan, Sepahan, Esfahan or Hispahan) in Iran, making its way to Europe from Persia sometime in the early 19th century. Interesting that a rose claiming as home a part of the world with very hot summers, mild winters, and a year ‘round very dry climate does so well in my garden. And elsewhere; this is a cosmopolitan plant.

Why, the “So sad?” Because Rose d’Ipsahan blossoms only once a season. Then again, it does have a relatively long season — for a Damask rose. I’m thinking of making some new plants to plant near the east or north wall of my home where spring’s later arrival would delay the onset — and finish — of blossoming a few days after my plants in the sun. Rose d’Ipsahan also tolerates some shade. 

A Wild Italian

Another immigrant in my garden is arugula. Not your run-of-the-mill arugula (Eruca sativa), but a different species, this one usually known as Italian or wild arugula (Eruca selvatica). Italian arugula has a peppery flavor similar to common arugula, to me a little less sharp.

Italian arugula has it over common arugula in two ways. First of all,I think it’s prettier, with deeply lobed rather than mostly rounded leaves. Italian arugulaMore important, Italian arugula tolerates heat better. As my rows of common arugula are sending up seed stalks, the Italian arugula just keeps pumping out new leaves.

The native home of arugulas, common and Italian, is the Mediterranean, where their flavors have been enjoyed since Roman times. Perhaps more than just for their flavor. In his poem Moretum, Virgil has the line “et Venerem revocans eruca morantem  which translates to “and the rocket, which revives drowsy Venus’ [sexual desire].” Perhaps that’s why it was forbidden to grow arugula in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages.

It’s also been suggested that the reason arugula is often mixed with lettuce in a salad is to counteract arugula’s effect; lettuce contains the chemical lactucarium, a non-narcotic sedative and analgesic, structurally similar to opium. Lactucarium isn’t nearly as strong as opium, to say the least, because studies have shown none of the alleged effects from “lettuce opium,’ as the lettuce compound has been called. (I didn’t come across any studies confirming or denying the effects of arugula beyond good taste.)

Glad to Have These Immigrants

So there you have it, two immigrant plants well worth growing. I’m glad I welcomed them into my garden, and suggest you do so also.


Blackcaps All Season (Almost)

It’s a bumper year for blackcaps (also know as black raspberries or, botanically, Rubus occidentalis), at least here on the farmden. Up to last year, we harvested wild blackcaps from plants that pop up at the edges of woods. The current bountiful harvest is from blackcaps that I planted a couple of years ago. Last year’s harvest was unimpressive because the plants were still settling into their new home.Black raspberry fruit

Most blackcaps, like many other bramble fruits, have biennial canes that grow stems and leaves their first year, fruit in early summer of their second year, then die back to the ground. (Annual harvests are possible because while those second year canes are fruiting and then dying, the perennial roots are pushing up new canes, which will bear the following year.)

Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure, the two varieties I planted, stand out from the crowd in bearing on new, growing canes as well as on two-year-old canes. Their two-year-old canes, like those of run-of-the-mill blackcaps, bear now, in early summer. Berries are borne on new, growing canes towards the end of the growing season, until stopped by cold. The next season’s summer crop is borne lower down on those same canes. The upshot of all this is that I get to eat fresh blackcaps in early summer and then again in late summer.

I knew I could expect two crops each season from these varieties when I planted them. That’s why I planted them. What I didn’t know is how abundant and flavorful the berries would be. Unfortunately, for the purposes of evaluation, the two varieties are growing in separate locations that differ markedly from each other. The one in the better location — a humus-rich soil basking in abundant sunlight — yields oodles of large berries. The other variety — planted in a weedy bed shaded from the east by a greenhouse wall — yields less and smaller berries, with perhaps a tad better flavor.

Pruning Recipes

Pruning Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure is as important for ease of picking and pest control as it is for other brambles. And it’s easy.

Right after the current crop grinds to a halt, I’ll cut every cane that bore fruit right to the ground. These two-year-old canes are going to be starting to die anyway. I could cut them down in winter, but cutting them sooner gets the thorny canes out of the way of late summer harvest.Blackcaps on plant

All summer long, I’ll also pinch out the growing tip of any new canes when they reach about four feet in height. Pinching induces side shoots, on which fruits are borne.

That’s it for summer pruning. Sometime next winter I’ll reduce each clump of canes to the six healthiest and shorten each side shoot on remaining canes to about 18 inches long.

All in all, Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure yield a lot of delicious fruit over a long period of time for minimal effort. Now, if only the canes were thornless.

And More Pruning

Whoa, I can’t yet put away the pruning shears. I need the shears for some rose bushes. With the rose “crop” subsided, pruning will get varieties that bear only in June ready for next season, and those that bear again and again through summer to bear again and again.

For roses that bear only once each season, such as the heavenly scented Rose D’Ipsahan, or the cheery, lemon-colored blossoming Father Hugo’s Rose, I cut back some very old stems right to or near ground level, and shorten the remaining stems, some by a quarter of their length, others by three quarters of their length. Then I go over the bush to thin out any crowded stems. This pruning makes room for and stimulates growth of new shoots with ample time for them to initiate flower buds this summer that will unfold next spring.

Repeat blooming roses get pruned differently. The goal is to cut off stems with spent flowers and coax new growth that will flower this season. Instructions for pruning hybrid tea roses are very specific; and I quote: “. . . . cut the stem back to a five-leaflet leaf. Retain at least two five-leaflet leaves on each shoot.”

I don’t grow hybrid teas, which generally are finicky roses, preferring tougher roses such as some of the David Austin varieties, such as L. D. Braithewaite

Braithewaite rose

Braithewaite rose

and Charlotte. Pruning is very simple. I just lop stems or groups of stems laden with spent blossoms as far back as I feel like to keep the shrubs from growing too large. They both get another pruning in late winter.
Rugosa rose blossomAnother rose I grow, rugosa rose, won’t get any pruning this summer. Besides its nonstop, fragrant flowers, rugosa rose also bears nice hips, that is, fruits. The hips make excellent jam and are rich in vitamin C. Pruning in summer would remove spent flowers which then couldn’t go on to swell into fat hips.Rugosa rose hips


 Death shows Life

   It was with red rose in hand — a long-stemmed red rose — that Deb returned from a recent bridal shower. The rose was a party favor, the flower a welcome sight in the dead of winter. It found a home in a vase of water on the kitchen table.
    After a week, the rose was still sitting on the kitchen table, its bloom looking as perky as the day it had arrived. After two weeks, still no change.
    Okay, I’m sure that the vase was clean, the water fresh and initially warm (for quicker absorption into the stem), and that the base of the stem was freshly cut at a 45 degree angle just before immersion. All that, and the cool room, would make the blossom last longer. But that long?

Commercial rose, after 2 weeks

Commercial rose, after 2 weeks

    No special potions were added to the water. Like sugar, to feed the leafless stem and flower. Or an acidifier to make the water’s acidity more near that of the cell sap, stabilizing the flower’s color. Or an inhibitor to prevent microbes from running amuck. Such potions can be purchased or made at home by mixing: 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of plain household bleach, 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice and a quart of lukewarm water; or mixing 2 parts water to 1 part tonic water (or non-diet lemon lime soda).
    The problem was that the blossom was eerily too alive after a couple weeks. Without roots, sunshine, or leaves, the flower should have started dropping petals and looking generally forlorn. It didn’t, at least not quickly enough to exude that there was a life force within.
    Contrast this behavior with that of the carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) that blossom sporadically in my greenhouse through winter.  I cut the fragrant, pink blossoms, put them in a vase of water, and within a week they’re spent.
    I’ve gained appreciation for the transience of cut blossoms. Their timely decline and death declare their aliveness.

Blame it on (a) Gas

    Comparing roses and carnations may be like comparing apples and oranges.
    Ethylene, a simple gas that’s also a potent plant hormone, comes into play here for its role in plant senescence, including that of cut flowers. Combustion, whether from a cigarette, an automobile engine, or a candle, produces some ethylene, as do plants themselves, especially when they are wounded or in their final throes of aging.
 Carnation, fragrant and pretty   Carnations are among flowers, along with baby’s-breath, lilies, snapdragons, and most orchids, whose ethylene production ramps up as senescence begins. These flowers also are very sensitive to the effects of ethylene, which speeds aging, which generates more ethylene, which further speeds aging, which . . .
    Roses, in contrast, are less sensitive to ethylene. (And ethylene plays no role in the decline of daisies, daffodils, and irises.) Also, as a commercial product, the long-stemmed, red rose that sat on my kitchen table could have been pre-treated with silver thiosulfate or aminoethoxyvinylglycine, both ethylene inhibitors.
    No matter. I don’t require a whole lot of carnation blossoms, and new ones appear at a rate sufficient to replace spent ones, or, if slower, to increase appreciation for each new one.

In the Greenhouse, Out with the Old, In with the New

    All winter, the greenhouse beds have been vibrant green with lettuce, arugula, celery, parsley, mâche, chard, kale, and claytonia. Just lately, the greenery has lost some of its vibrance.Lettuce going to seed
    Planted in early fall, these greens grew to size — as hoped — to provide good eating through winter. Over the past few weeks, as days grew short and dim, and temperatures cooled, the greenery — as expected — mostly just sat still. In anticipation, I had grown them to size before the onset of winter. A bigger greenhouse would allow for a little something to be harvested from a lot of little, slow growing plants, enough for the daily fare. But the greenhouse is what it is.
    And some of the lettuce plants, though not very big or old, are going to seed. It seems that lettuce transplants, rather than plants from seeds planted right in the ground, are more prone to this bolting.
    Time for some fresh young growth: I pulled out some old and bolting plants, and sowed fresh lettuce, spinach, and arugula seeds. Growth will be slow for now; older plants should supply sufficient harvest until young’uns are ready for picking.


 Rose Fan: No, Yes?

   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a big fan of roses. But I can’t help myself. The garden is awash in golden yellow, crimson red, soft pink, apricot pink, and plain old pink blossoms. Almost all of this is thanks to David Austin, breeder of roses.
    My father was a big fan of roses, so I was exposed to them at an early age. Pre-dating Mr. Austin’s creations, my father’s roses were the ever popular — except with me — hybrid tea roses which everyone — except me — liked and likes for their pointy, formal blossoms, their bold colors, and their repeat bloom. Nobody mentions their gawky stature, general lack of strong or interesting fragrance, and attraction to pests.

L. D. Braithewaite rose, cold-hardy and just keeps blooming

L. D. Braithewaite rose, cold-hardy and just keeps blooming

    David Austin roses won me over with their softer colors, fuller blossoms borne on more full-bodied bushes, delicious fragrance, disease resistance, and repeat bloom. Not all have all of these qualities, of course.
    L. D. Braithewaite has been the most florific of my David Austin roses, even weathering two very cold winters unscathed. The crimson, red petals made their first appearance a few weeks ago, and are still going strong. They’re not my favorite color, though. Least successful of my roses has been Bibi Mazoon,  which is my favorite of the David Austin roses, in its blossoms, at least. Cup-shaped and apricot pink, the blossoms are admittedly few and far between, and can hardly be held up by the weak stalks. The rich yellow color of Golden Celebration is another of my favorites; this variety blooms fairly well and also pulled through winter unscathed.
    I grow a few pink David Austin roses, including Charlotte, Brother Cadfael, Sharifa Asma, and they’re all looking pretty and growing well.
    Of all the roses I grow, my favorite is . . .  well, I’m not one hundred percent sure of its name. It started life here many years ago as a cutting of Rose de Rescht, given to me by local herbalist Anne Solomon. Except that, reading descriptions of Rose de Rescht, I came to realize that mine wasn’t it. Whatever the name (after all, “a rose is a rose is a rose . . .”), the attractive crumpled, crêpe-paper blossoms fill the air with a delectable, heady fragrance, more than that of any of the roses I grow. The bush, robust, armed with prickles and clothed in leaves having having a bluish cast, has never been fazed by pests or cold.
    With the help of some rosarians (especially those at, Rose de Rescht was assigned its probable proper name: Ispahan. The alluring name, the blossoms, and the toughness of the plant more than offset the plant’s one deficiency, that of blossoming only in spring.

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, But It’s Not Xmas

    I can’t just stop and smell the roses all day long; there’s work to be done. Time to grab a hoe and hoe, hoe, hoe. How retro, you may think. What with all sorts of mulches and tillers and tilthers available, the hoe is an under appreciated and underused garden tool these days.

My favorite hoes: wire weeder and winged weeder

My favorite hoes: wire weeder and winged weeder

   But a hoe does good work — if you use the right hoe in the right manner. The best hoes, which include the scuffle hoe, the stirrup hoe, and the colinear hoe, have sharp blades that, in use, run parallel to the surface of the ground. Among these types of hoes, my personal preference has always been for the winged weeder, which looks like an airplane wing, sharpened fore and aft, attached at an angle to a long handle.
    I’ve recently taken up with another hoe, the wire weeder (from, whose head is a stiff wire cleverly bent to be easily worked amongst plants. Rotated 90 degrees puts its short edge to work, which is very useful for wending the head in amongst closely spaced plants. The lightweight aluminum handle doesn’t look  traditional but makes the tool very light and spry in use.
    Ideally, I’m out in the garden with my winged weeder or wire hoe on sunny mornings following rains. (I’m not sure which hoe I like better, so I alternate between them.) The goal is to loosen the soil, uprooting weed seedlings before they establish, and leaving a rough surface to welcome in the next bit of rain. The work, if it could be called that, is quick and easy if done before weeds grow large.
    Only when weeds get out of hand is it necessary to get out the tool that most people associate with the word “hoe,” the traditional garden hoe with the large blade at 90 degrees to the handle. This hoe is also the one Charles Dudley Warner was referencing when he stated (My Summer in a Garden, 1870), “what a [gardener] needs is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it.” I reserve mine for mixing concrete.

Hoe or Mulch

    Not that mulching doesn’t also have its place in the battle with weeds`. Mostly, though, you have to do one or the other — mulching or hoeing — thoroughly. It’s impossible to hoe even thinly mulched ground.

Vegetable garden, kept "weed-free" and fed by compost mulch

Vegetable garden, kept “weed-free” and fed by compost mulch

    Unless, that is, the mulch is compost. Given that mulch is anything that covers the ground, compost qualifies as mulch, except that you can plant right in, or hoe, a compost mulch just as if it was soil.
    Weeds occasionally poke up through or sprout within the inch of compost with which I blanket my vegetable garden beds each year. I pull large weeds individually. Periodically, or where small weeds are starting to show, I’m out in the garden, sliding the business end of either my winged weeder or wire hoe back and forth, or just pulling it along, just beneath the surface of the ground.