If you ask me about my favorite plant or flower in the garden, I unfailingly respond, “roses and hydrangeas.” I can’t help it.
While I do love and appreciate native plants–and try every year to add more and more of them to my garden for my pollinators–they are not yet my favorites. Maybe someday.
But my favorite roses–the lovely cottage garden-y David Austins–I pulled out of my gardens probably 4 years ago now. Every spring when I see them at the garden centers I still swoon–and then I walk on by to the more practical things I have come to buy.
What happened? Two things: the usual bane of an organic rose growers existence, black spot, and the rose sawfly larva.
Black spot is bad enough and there are ways to “manage” it organically but I am truly a hands off organic gardener. I try–unless it is absolutely necessary–to spray absolutely nothing ever. That’s one benefit to living in a climate where the only seasons are winter and July. “Winter” kills most of the obnoxious pests–or prohibits them from running too badly amok.
If I lived in a climate that was the other extreme, as one of my prolific commenters calls it “summer and January,” well then all bets would be off. I would definitely have to “manage” my landscape more intensely.
This is a photo of the rose sawfly larva. It may be a little hard to spot–it’s on the lower right hand quadrant of the leaf. It looks like a little green worm or caterpillar.
And here’s a photo of the damage. Now mind you, this is damage to a yellow Knockout rose. Considering how pest, disease and carefree the Knockout family of roses are supposed to be, you can imagine how badly the David Austins took this sort of thing! It’s not that they got defoliated–but you almost wished that they had!
Then just about when they had re-flushed out, the black spot hit. Nope, sadly, they had to go.
So this is what I replaced them with–all nice shrub roses.
I am in love with the Drift roses. I have them in 3 colors, Pink, (which is a single, shown above) Sweet (which is a double pink, immediately shown above) and Red (shown below). They are easier and more carefree than Knockout, in my opinion, although they grow lower.
They are not fragrant or good cutting roses however.
Another fabulous shrub rose–but alas again not fragrant or good for cutting–is the OSO Easy rose. I have OSO Happy Candy Oh! (Shown above). And I must say that unless you are careful, its thorns will positively impale you! So you will want it in an out of the place.
Bees regularly visit these–there’s a bumble bee on Candy Oh! in the photo. So again, while I prize my natives, don’t feel that you must grow only natives to please your bees!
I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)
One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?
But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.
What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.
This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.
But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)
But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?
It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.
Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)
Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!
I promised a post about cutting back roses. I don’t actually grow any roses that have to be cut back at the moment. Everything I grow is technically deemed a “shrub” rose which means that in the spring that only dead wood is trimmed off.
But it wasn’t always this way. I used to grow hybrid teas on occasion. And the first roses I ever grew were floribundas, which is a funky cross between a hybrid tea and a shrub rose.
They grew quite well considering they were in heavy clay and in a spot that wasn’t the sunniest I had (they were where the hydrangea hedge is now so that tells you it wasn’t a terribly sunny spot!). But the interesting thing was that the Spoiler and I chose them and planted them together–one of the few gardening things that we actually did together. Usually it’s all me.
So about November of that first gardening year, the Spoiler came to me and asked, “Aren’t you going to cut back the roses?” or “Isn’t it time to cut back the roses?” or some such question. Needless to say, I looked at him as if he had sprouted 3 heads. I certainly don’t do any gardening in November. And I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about.
He was fairly persistent about this. “You have to cut them back. It’s what you do,” he told me. And although I began to feel like a cranky three year old, I asked him, “Why?”
“Well, if you don’t, they’ll all whip around in the wind and die back.”
At that point, I really felt as if I had entered some alternate reality. You were cutting a living plant back because you didn’t want it to die? Who invented that rule?
So I tried logic with him. “Let’s try it my way. Let’s not cut them back. That way if a 5 foot shrub whips around and dies back, we might start with a 3 foot shrub next spring. If we do it your way and cut them back to a 3 foot shrub now, what happens if we have a hard winter and the plant dies back anyway? We’ll be starting with a 1 foot plant. Do we really want that?”
So we tried it my way. And gradually, because of sun issues, we moved the rose garden out near the street where the roses regularly get blasted by the snow plows. And we still don’t cut them back. And they survive just fine–a little bit of breakage from the heavy snow thrown by the plows, but nothing terrible.
So if you have a good reason for doing something in the garden, try it. What’s the worst that could happen? A plant dies, perhaps? Isn’t that how we all learn as gardeners?
It struck me a few days ago how many different shades of pink there are in my garden.
Many of these are roses, and many of the roses are similar shades of pink. This is a new version of one of the OSO Easy roses.
And here’s the original Knockout rose, probably a good 20 years older–and yet, a similar shade. Does it keep me from wanting–or acquiring each? Of course not.
Then there are the more old-fashioned looking roses. Although this cluster of roses looks for all the world like an old-world rose, if you spy the catmint flower poking its head up in the background, you realize how tiny these roses actually are. This is one of the Drift roses. Another–a single form–is right next to it.
This is a totally different look–but no less charming.
This is supposed to be the “red” version of the Fairy rose. It’s “red” only if you know how pink the original Fairy rose is.
And here’s that tropical house plant that was in bud in my window earlier this spring. It certainly has lived up to its promise of glorious flowers.
Even begonias can have wildly differently “pink” flowers. This one doesn’t look so pink–until you contrast it with the one below which is almost salmon-y by comparison!
Even the dipladenia, shown below, screams out a shocking fuchsia hue after the salmon-y hue of the above begonia!
So let’s end with some true pink, shall we, of a miniature pelargonium in a trough garden. Hope you enjoyed the “pink tour!”
On Monday I talked about the importance of native plants. I said that if you had a choice, and if you liked native plants, you should choose them because wildlife will always seek out native plants.
For all of you who don’t have natives in your yard (& I include myself in that group because a large portion of my yard is planted with ornamental plants) I will refer you to Douglas Tallamay’s still excellent book Bringing Nature Home. It was there that I learned about the true importance of native plants, and that an native oak tree will feed several hundred different types of creatures whereas some of our imported ornamentals feed none. They’re lovely to look at but absolutely barren in terms of value to wildlife.
But that doesn’t mean that all our ornamentals have no value to wildlife. Anyone who has watched bees on Japanese pieris early in the spring knows that that shrub, imported ornamental that it is, is quite valuable to the early emerging bumble bees in my region.
Similarly, hydrangeas of all sorts are usually covered in pollinators (at least in my yard). I have seen several different types of bees, a couple of different types of wasps, and a few different types of flies all on my hydrangeas (yes, I have a lot of hydrangeas).
Another non-native ornamental, roses, also attract bees. This Oso Easy rose was full of several different kinds of bees, none of which obligingly posed for me. I saw several smaller bees, plus honeybees and bumblebees all on this large shrub.
Catnip (nepeta) and lavender are two more perennials that are always covered in bees of all sorts. You can see a bumble bees on the nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ in the above photo.
And speaking of herbs, we are told to plant various sorts of herbs to assist different types of pollinators: parsley, dill, anything with an umbel flower. None of those are “natives.”
In the heat last week, some of my leaf lettuce went to seed. But the smaller bees are loving the flowers so I am letting those stay as well.
So if you are feeling a little inferior, perhaps, because you don’t have native plants, or enough native plants, or the right kind of native plants, fear not! You can still garden for pollinators and they’ll love you!