Sunday, June 30, 2013

A rose is a rose is a rose is absolutely untrue when it comes to your garden.

There is something almost subversive about writing on roses as it snows that makes me want to do it so apologies to those where were expecting snowdrops. I’m not a rosarian in any sense of the word, however I’ve never been known to pass up a rose as I think they’re all fabulous. What I don’t really love is how difficult it can be to take care of them.

If we’re going to be honest, roses aren’t an easy-peasy flower, but it helps if you start with more disease resistant roses. One of my friends (and clients) has the most incredible roses, insanely beautiful columns of blooms that climb to his rooftops, while the same roses are struggling along pathetically at my house. Now granted he has drip irrigation on his while mine are in garden beds where they get a face full of water whenever the sprinklers come on, but he’s also a chemical guy. Which makes him a tad evil (sorry darling – you know I love you anyway.)

Treated systemically with fungicides and pesticides and fertilized to the hilt, someone comes by the house weekly to coddle his blooms, and I confess that my rose envy is so bad, I’d be tempted to follow in his evil footsteps if it weren’t for the fact that I keep bees. One whiff of any of his pesticides and they’d be done for, and that’s the sad truth of his wicked rose beauty.
So no pesticides, but I’m going to have to get on the stick with my fungicides. I’m going to use a lime sulfur spray in late March when I’ve finished pruning (hahahaha – like I’m ever going to finish pruning, I’m not sure I even pruned at all last year) and be more on the ball with a biweekly, pro-biotic, spraying program of a hydrogen peroxide based fungicide. Still organic, and a lot more work then I want, but after my ‘Knock Out’ roses almost totally defoliated last year I know I have to up my game.
There are literally thousands of rose cultivars, and I could write a hell of a tome on the ones I want or just lust after of the 145 varieties I have on order for this spring at the nursery, but here’s a few I think everyone should start out with.

True rosarian snub them, but for us regular gardeners all the ‘Knock Out’ series are winners.  No scent to speak out, and either single or double flowers, but these shrub roses have really excellent disease resistance. ‘Home Run’ is a single flowered rose that didn’t have a single issue all season at the nursery and this year there’s a new pink variety (woo hoo!) that’ll be jumping in my car and following me home. Next add in 'Fairy', 'Carefree  Wonder' (shorter) and 'Carefree Beauty' (taller) as additional shrubs, pick 'New Dawn' as the easiest climbing rose on the planet, add ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ for an old rose, ‘Eden’ for your English/Romantica rose and ‘Julia Child’ as your floribunda and you have my basic list.

You’ll notice I haven’t listed any David Austins. I know people adore them, but I’ve lost more of them to black spot or overwintering death then I care to admit to. Of course if you had to try one, I’d choose either ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Abraham Darby’, ‘Graham Thomas’ or ‘Heritage.’ And although it’s failed here three times, I adore the color of ‘Pat Austin’ and the jury is still out on the white climber ‘Claire Austin.’

There really are no easy to care for, all-summer blooming, great, white roses. Everyone has ‘Iceberg’ for sale, and in California it’s crazy great, but here on the east coast, if you’re organic it’s close to impossible to have both healthy flowers and healthy leaves at the same time.  My two favorites subs would have to be ‘White New Dawn’, and ‘White Eden’.

‘White New Dawn’ has no real disease problems that I know of; it just does its main flurry of flowering early in the season and then has a little secondary flush in the fall. A fantastic climber, it soars to amazing heights fairly quickly, but it's never a long enough bloom time for people who want white gardens like Sissinghurst.

I’ve used ‘White Eden’ with some success, so it would be my second choice, but it does have a pale blush pink tone to the center, so some people don’t love it. These two are both climbers, which is where most of my requests fall, but I also use a lot of ‘Crystal Fairy’, ‘White Meidiland’ and of course, ‘Blanc de Coubert’ the fantastic double white rugosa rose.

Be careful buying ‘White Meidiland’ though, one year we got a great batch that was as disease resistant as could be, the next year, the plants from the same supplier came in with the same label, but with a different leaf, and a much smaller flower, so look for those to have a dark green glossy leaf and a large almost 4” wide, double, refrigerator white, blossom.

You start pruning roses when the forsythia blooms which is also when you start feeding. I feed every month through August as roses (along with annuals, dahlias and anything else that blooms its guts out all season long) are heavy feeders. I used a premixed organic rose food last year,  but this year I’m going to also use alfalfa pellets since my friends who do better with roses than I swear by it. I’ll battle the aphids with ladybugs and blasts of water from the hose or with a shot from a spray bottle of water with a little soap added, and then hope to address everything else with neem oil.

And I’ll try not to feel overwhelmed.

It’s certain that my roses get more attention than almost everything else in the garden, and they don’t look as good as they should, but I’m not giving them up. There’s far too much romance and drama and perfume and the possibility of beauty attached to their promise. And that’s one of the main reasons I garden, for the possibility of gorgeousness, and to grow beautiful things to either stare at, paint or give to people as impromptu gifts. So yes, I’m going to try growing DA’s ‘Pat Austin’ yet again in yet another spot in the garden. I’m going to try ‘Cloud 10’,  a new white climber, in both my client’s white gardens and around my vegetable patch. And a bunch of other roses are most likely going to find their way to my house somehow or another.

And I’m going to continue to try and match that fence full of pink roses that blooms all summer long on Daniel’s Lane in Sagaponack that I’m still trying to identify — I think it’s a mixture of ‘Fairy’ varieties and ‘Meidlilands’ but I really have no idea. I’m just going to have to knock on their door and ask one day, perhaps after this snow storm stops.

Paige Patterson is jonesing for a ‘Russell’s Cottage Rose’, a flower she saw on Facebook in a EH garden planted by the brilliant rosarian Stephen Scanniello.

Monday, June 3, 2013

this could be an annual addiction

It’s the beginning of June, although my garden very much doubts the truth of those words. In the last week we swung from 48 degrees one night to 84 degrees the next day, and both my plants and I are feeling a little confused.  Last fall I might have gone a little overboard with the tulip planting (it was brilliant this spring) and then this spring I was lazy about cleaning off the yellowing foliage, so now I have places in the garden where the bulb foliage smothered out the new perennials that were trying to push their way out. What to do? Hmm, perhaps shop you say? Well why not.

I’m actually spending quite a bit of time (and money) studying the writings and ramblings of a few of my favorite plant people and am thinking of doing mini homages to them in various places in the garden. I’m doing an Oehme van Sweden thing in the back forty using eryngium, stachys, Russian sage and grasses as well as a Joy Larkcom inspired planting of artichokes and fennel in my flower beds and roses among my tomato plants. 

And where the tulips have rotted out my perennials, I’m pulling a Nancy Ondra and planting annuals. I actually adore annuals, for both their terrific foliage and their gushes of flowers all summer long — I would use masses of them every year, if I only had access to the next Powerball numbers in advance. Sigh. But this year, in the hopes of a few perennials still poking up their heads, I’m filling in the spaces with coleus, salvias, perillas and more. Oh my! For a dedicated perennial gardener, it feels very transgressive, but ever since we encountered downy mildew on impatiens last summer, I’ve been thinking about what I can put in the ground to replace it, and from there, the need to try other annuals in the garden instead of just pots has spiraled out of control. It’s sort of like the first few coleus I stuck in the ground were the gateway drug, and now I’m an addict.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always stuck a few annuals in the ground, the fill a spot where something died, or to have cosmos to cut, or to add a little more oomph to the bed closest to the kitchen porch so we can have a better chance at spotting the hummingbirds after work, but this year I’m shopping the annual tables with a more compulsive eye. Can I use calibrochoas? Sure. Would geraniums be insane? Perhaps. What about the chartreuse sweet potato vine? Brilliant! Actually, I saw this used as a ground cover three years ago at one of my client’s home. She said she put it in the ground because she didn’t know what to plant in the spot that year and she just didn’t want to see the dirt. Well let me tell you, it was fantastic. I’ve always used pineapple sage, but not as an herb. Rather it’s a tremendous way to get a big mass of electric yellow foliage into the yard. In fact, I’ve never once worked it into a recipe although I’ve heard it’s excellent on fruit salad, and I have a recipe for a pound cake that uses it and one with chicken and ginger.

Both Nancy and Joy have encouraged me to plant Swiss chard and kale for it’s foliage’s incredible ornamental uses — now I just have to figure out how to eat it, since I’m tucking it in everywhere.

I was always a fan of snapdragons, but this year, I’m investing in the more elegant and ornate form of the angelonia, in a pure white and I’m going to back it up with the taller ‘High Tide Blue’ Ageratum. The combination of blue and white, is a no brainer when it comes to gardening, but my decision this year to take home a tray of the double flowering white bacopa we have at Marders, to put in front of my perennial beds, is surely a sign of my having gone past the point of no return.  Normally I use the hardy geranium to thread among plants and sew them together, this year I’m staring at a sea of 4” pots tucked scattered throughout my beds.

Lobularia ‘Snow princess’ is a no brainer in planter. Looking just like sweet alyssum, it billows and blooms all summer long in a cascade of white so amazing and lush it looks like I stuffed down pillows into my pot. Add to that the tricolored form of perilla and a few leonotis leonurus, also known as Lion's Tail with it’s electric orange tubular flowers that the hummingbirds adore and we’ve got something that’s starting to sing. I’m still looking for the celosia she featured called ‘Cramers’ Amazon’, which is a fantastic bubblegum pink and grows over 5’ tall, but will have to settle on one of the globe amaranth (gomphrena globosa) instead for an unusual flower form substitute until I find it.

Finally, this year I’m also bringing ponytail hair grass back into the garden. When this plant first came on the scene, we all thought it was a perennial and were totally disappointed as it failed in all our gardens. And although lots of the books say stipa tenuissima is hardy here, I’ve accepted it for what it is, a fabulous wisp of elegance that needs to be replanted every year, just like my dahlias, just like my garlic and just like my foxgloves. I don’t resent the repeated purchase of them each year, so why should I deny myself to pleasure that these new yearly investments will bring?

So lets mass some hebes and a tray or two of cuphea. It’s silly not to enjoy the pleasures of Verbena bonariensis. My columbines and delphinums don’t come back and I plant new ones every year. So why not try euphorbias and South African foxgloves. They’re just as pretty and just as satisfying.

And far less dangerous to my health then a few of the other possible addictions I could have.
You can read all about Nancy Ondra, one of my favorite garden authors and inspirations on her blog at where she writes about gardening in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in a zone quite like our own. She has amazing photos of all her annual combinations as well as photos of her gardens that will make you drool with pleasure but perhaps also want to throw in the towel or start all over again with your own gardens.

Paige Patterson is on the hunt for flats of pink and or purple cleome. If you see some email her at