Roses, Oh Yes

I bake really good bread, but “man can’t live by bread alone.” Sometimes, you’ve got to “stop to smell the roses.” Enough with the quotations! But back to the roses.
Roses in a vase
A love of roses has crept up on me over the years, due mostly to changes in kinds of roses available. Up until about 30 years ago, hybrid teas were pretty much the only roses on the block. These plants’ gangly stems are each capped by a vividly colored, fairly stiff, formal blossom whose petals wrap together into a pointy peak. You see where I’m going: hybrid teas are ugly, to me at least. 

Also available were grandiflora and floribunda roses. Grandifloras are like hybrid teas, except their stems end with clusters of a few, but smaller, blossoms. Floribunda roses have even larger flower clusters of even smaller flowers. Despite being bushes more full with flowers than hybrid teas, grandiflora and floribunda flowers are still rather prim and proper except for their traffic-stopping colors.

  Then so-called species and old-fashioned roses entered the scene, roses that are as nature made them or only slightly hybridized. These roses constitute broad groups, but generally, what they have going for them are more subdued — think pastel — colors and more blowsy blossoms on more heavily branching, fuller-bodied, shrubs. 

The downside to species and old-fashioned roses, even if you like their blossoms and their growth habits, is that many bloom only in the spring. Hybrid teas pump out blossom after blossom all summer long.

Rose d'Ipsahan blossom

Rose d’Ipsahan

Enter Rose de Rescht, my first old-fashioned rose, given to me by a local, fellow gardener. Ann told me that this rose variety had soft pink flowers and heavenly scent. She was right about the appearance and fragrance, wrong about the name. After years of sleuthing, I’ve identified the rose as Rose d’Ispahan, probably originating in Persia but first discovered in a garden in Isfahan, Iran, renowned for its gardens and roses.

If I had to grow only one variety of rose, Rose d’Ispahan would be the one, for the beauty of its flowers, for its intense fragrance, for its cold-hardiness, for its lack of large thorns, and for its pest resistance. And that’s even though it blossoms only in spring. (It does so over a long period, though.)

Rose d'Ipsahan

Rose d’Ipsahan

But I don’t have to grow only one variety of rose. My other favorites are some of rose breeder David Austin’s varieties which combine the pest resistance and repeat blooming of modern roses with the blowsy, fragrant, pastel colored blossoms and full-bodied shrubs of old fashioned roses. My currant, and perhaps all-time, favorites are Lady of Shallot and, in my opinion needing a more euphonious name, Golden Celebration.

Golden Celebration rose

Golden Celebration rose

Both sport yellow — no, Golden! — blossoms, some apricot in those of Lady of Shallot, and a rich yellow, all contained in a petal-filled cup-shape in those of Golden Celebration. Another of my favorites, Lady Judi Dench, never woke up in spring a year ago; perhaps it was the cold, perhaps something else.

 Lady of Shallot rose

Lady of Shallot rose

I also grow another David Austin Rose, LD Braithewaite, with deep red blossoms and dark green, slightly reddish leaves. Not my favorite as far as appearance but this rose is very cold hardy and pumps out tons of blossoms almost all season long.

LD Braithewaite rose

LD Braithewaite rose

And Strawberries, Oh Yes

Strawberries and rosesOn to strawberries. I’m growing three kinds: the Pineapple Crush variety of white alpine strawberries; the Earliglow variety of garden strawberry; and a few varieties of vescana strawberries, which are hybrids of garden and alpine strawberries. This also is the order, starting with the best, of flavor for the three types.

Why do I grow anything but the best? Because alpines are so small that it’s hard to fill a bowl with them. I grow vescanas, for the first time this year, because I never grew them before.

The Earliglow berries taste good and do quickly fill a bowl, ideally yielding one quart of berries per plant over the course of the season. Except this year, a problem has surfaced. Leather rot is a fungal disease (Phytophthora cactorum) that rears its ugly head — infected berries that taste bitter and have white patches that turn brown — usually following excessively wet periods from late spring to early summer, which is odd because weather has been on the dry side. Also odd because I’ve never seen the problem here before.
Strawberry leather rot1
Which brings me back to vescana and Pineapple Crush. Both are very disease resistant, and vescana berries are almost as big as garden strawberries, so I’m thankful to have them, even if they do taste like canned strawberries.

And Honeyberries, Oh NO!

After three weeks of hanging on (the berries, not me), honeyberries, which are edible honeysuckles, are ready for a fair tasting. I wrote previously about the awful flavor of this new fruit and was instructed to let the berries hang till dead ripe.
The berries sampled this year were so ripe that each had to be plucked from the branch with my palm facing upwards beneath the berry; a mere touch would cause ripe ones to drop.

Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat (a drum roll). First to be tasted was the variety Solo. Reaction: spit it out quickly. Tart with bad flavor. Second fruit tasted was Sugar Mountain Blue. Also spit out, but not quite as quickly. And finally, Sugar Mountain Eisbär. Although retained in the mouth and having a hint of sweetness, this one, like the others, had bad flavor.

The flavor of honeyberries is allegedly like a mix of blueberry and raspberry. Not so! If you have space, plant blueberries or raspberries instead.


A garden cart improves any garden, and I’m especially enjoying using my cart, now in its third decade of use. This cart has hauled hay, manure, weeds, and old vegetable plants to the compost bins, and finished compost from the bins to vegetable beds and fruit trees. It’s hauled stones for wall building and heavy locust posts that get notched and bolted together to become arbors and trellises.
Look closely: Hardware cloth in bed
A good cart has two heavy duty, bicycle-sized tires sitting just about midway across a sturdy plywood bed surrounded by three sturdy plywood walls. Tossed rocks, the scraping of a shovel, and an occasional jab with the pitchfork have eaten away that plywood over the years. Not anymore, and that’s why I’m especially enjoying using the cart.
A few months ago, I decided to replace the plywood bed, which by then had few plies left. Instead of replaying the scenario from the last replacement, about 15 years ago with exterior grade plywood, I used pressure-treated plywood, which is more rot-resistant. And next, to fend off the constant scraping of shovels, rocks, and other tools and materials, I laid 1/4 inch mesh “hardware cloth” over the plywood base and screwed it down.
Today, shoveling wood chip mulch out of the cart to spread around the base of newly planted mulberry trees, no little voice in the back of my mind was reminding me that each shovelful was also scraping off a bit of plywood. I’m expecting to get good mileage with the new bed. Stay tuned; I’ll report back in 30 years.
Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), a wildflower often mistakenly thought to be phlox (which has 5 petals instead of the 4 of dame’s rocket, has put on a great show of white, lilac, and pale purple blossoms this year. Now a dark cloud has passed over those cheery flowers.
Dame’s rocket, a European native that used to be cultivated in American gardens, escaped from our gardens many years ago to invade road sides, meadows, and cultivated fields. In some places, this comely flower is billed as “invasive.” “Left unchecked, this beautiful, yet lethal plant will wreak havoc on the natural environment, threatening the survival of native plants and degrading habitat and water quality,” writes restoration ecologist Steve Apfelbaum.
Call me irresponsible, but I still like dame’s rocket. I welcome it into my flower beds and into my meadow. In addition to beauty, the flower perfumes the air with a delicious, sweet aroma.
I have been too blasé about some other invasive plants in the past. I remember praising garlic mustard for its flavor. What was I thinking? The plant is now all over the place and doesn’t even really taste very good. Garlic mustard gets ripped out of the ground wherever I see it, in and around my garden at least. Perhaps I’ll eventually feel the same about autumn olive, which I enjoy for its fragrant blossoms in spring, its silvery leaves in summer, and the oodles of tasty, small red berries it bears in autumn. Thus far, I find Japanese stilt grass, yet another invader, attractive.
Sweet, pretty dame’s rocket is allegedly going to contribute to the alleged $200 billion of damage for which invasive plants are responsible. It’s even suggested that the plant might have some resistance to the herbicide Roundup.
The whole invasive plant threat has, in my opinion, been blown way out of proportion. Our landscapes, wild and cultivated, are not — and should not — be static. Over time, extant species might become more or less prevalent and new species might move in.
And just what does “native” mean? A few hundred feet from the alluvial soil of my garden in the Walkill River valley, the ground slopes up sharply to the craggy, rocky outcroppings of the Shawangunk Ridge. Plants native up there, such as mountain laurel, aren’t native down here. Furthermore, research has shown that non-native species sometimes have a positive environmental impact (see, for example, Mark Davis et al in Nature 474, 153–154, 2011).
Obviously, we need to try and control invasive plants, whether they are native or non-native, when they cause intolerable disruption of the environment or threaten our well-being. But change is inevitable and usually not bad. Quoting Michael Pollan, turning the “ecological clock to 1492 [or any other date] is a fool’s errand, futile and pointless to boot.”
Rose de Rescht
What a great year for roses, even if I’ve always contended that I didn’t like the roses. Actually, I didn’t and don’t like the roses that are most commonly grown, which are hybrid tea roses. The plants are gawky, something you’d plant out of sight just for cut blossoms, and the flowers are stiff, formal, and jarring in color. They’re also very susceptible to all sorts of pests.
William Baffin
I do like the roses I have growing and which are presently drenched with blossoms. The super-hardy William Baffin rose, from Canada is sporting single, large, bright red flowers. Amber Sunblaze is notable for salmon-pink blossoms on a plant whose foliage stays glossy, green, and healthy all summer long. A couple of David Austin rose blossoms look like cupfuls of pastel-colored crêpe paper.
My favorite of all the roses, one given to me as a cutting many years ago by herbalist Ann Solomon, is Rose de Rescht. At least that’s what it’s alleged to be. Rose de Rescht is supposed to have more than one bloom period each season, though, and mine has never rebloomed. Then again, mine never flowered as well as it has this year, a couple of years since I moved it to its new and more congenial surroundings.
Whether or not my Rose de Rescht really is Rose de Rescht, it’s now covered with blowsy, soft pink blossoms that send their fragrance a few feet from the bush. Everyone that smells the blossoms says something to the effect “Now that is a real rose smell.” And the rose blossomed just in time this year to provide abundant flowers for a very special wedding.


Hints of spring are evident even in the dark corners of my barely heated basement. There, buds of potted roses and pomegranate plants are starting to sprout. Some gardeners — including me — overwinter potted figs in such places and their early sprouting also can cause concern. So far, only a couple of pomegranates and roses are all that have sprouted from among the 20 or so plants in my basement.

And what are all those plants doing sitting down in my basement? Some, including the pomegranates, figs, and black mulberries, would shrivel up and die from our usual winter cold. The plants are in pots that each autumn are I carry downstairs from outside after their leaves have dropped. Other plants in the basement menagerie are normally cold-hardy, except that they are in decorative pots within which roots, which are not nearly as cold hardy as plant stems, would freeze to death if left outdoors. Larger or better insulated pots would offer roots more protection from cold.

The problem with early sprouting in my basement is that there’s little light down there. New stems on the roses are pale, stretched out, and tender “etiolated). When the plants can finally be moved outdoors, those sprouts, unaccustomed to bright light and wind, will dry out and die. If the plant has not invested too much energy in the sprouts, new sprouts can develop. Ideal conditions, for now, would be cool temperatures and the brightest possible light — preferably before the new sprouts appeared.
The pomegranates are special varieties so they get first-class treatment: into the greenhouse they go, even though space there is at a premium. The pomegranate buds were just unfolding so the bright light should not burn them.

The roses are more cold-hardy and not so special; they went into the garage where there is some light and, more importantly, it’s a lot colder than the basement. The goal is to hold back growth as long as possible while letting some light fall on what sprouts slowly develop.
The figs in the basement aren’t yet acting like it’s spring. The buds are swelling slightly but are otherwise still folded closed. The goal is to keep them that way as long as possible with minimal watering. 

It’s still too cold in the garage for these plants, whose stems tolerate temperatures down in the ‘teens. Their roots, though, like those of other plants, would be less cold-hardy. I may end up moving the plants in and out of the garage, a sheltered nook of the terrace, and the mud room as temperatures fluctuate in coming weeks. Or perhaps I can find space for them in the greenhouse.

By April, everything in the basement should be fit to face the great outdoors.

Easiest to care for among the subtropical plants in the basement are the mulberries. Anyone who is familiar with mulberries might wonder why I would coddle them in pots in my basement. These mulberries aren’t the run-of-the-mill mulberries that sprout just about everywhere outdoors and bear good-enough tasting fruit that is a bit too cloying.

No, in my basement is a plant of the most delectable black mulberry, Morus nigra, a  species not cold-hardy outdoors here. To my taste, black mulberry — which the black-colored fruits you see around here are not — is perhaps the most flavorful of ALL fruits. Each fruit, although the size of a nickel, packs such a whollop of flavor, a congenial mix of sweetness and tartness, that you’d think it came from a fruit the size of an apple.

Two other mulberries down in the basement are there because I’m not yet sure just how cold-hardy they are and because, if cold-hardy, I still have to figure out where to plant them. Gerardi Dwarf is possibly a variety of white mulberry (M. alba), a very variable Asian species well-established in eastern U.S. and often bearing black-colored fruits also. (This variety is sometimes listed as Morus macroura.) Whitman Farms (, where I got my plant, states that the fruit of this particular variety is almost as good as black mulberry, the species, and the plant grows only 6 feet high, which makes picking and protecting from birds easy.
The other plant, Kokuso mulberry (M. latifolia) is supposed to be very cold-hardy and, as rumored on the fruit “grapevine,” very tasty. The plant is semi-dwarf and the  fruit, like the others, is dark.

The thing that makes all these mulberries easy is that they are late to awaken in spring. Mulberry’s generic name, Morus, comes from the Latin word mora, meaning delay. This sluggish start in the spring usually saves mulberry flowers from being nipped by late spring frosts, which makes mulberries bear very reliably and, as described in Fruit and Its Cultivation (1919) by Thomas William Sanders, “the wisest of trees.”