Thursday, April 28, 2011

Roses As Teachers

I'm inspired most by rosarians who are curious and open-minded and willing to experiment instead of being fossilized by dogmas that can prove to be baseless.....Miriam Wilkins and David Austin and Ralph Moore come to mind as free-thinking heroes of mine. Rose growing here in Florida has long been constrained by "truisms" like "you have to spray for bugs and disease" or "you have to bud roses onto Fortuniana".....the latter overlooks the fact that in the 1800s and early 1900s Floridians grew vast numbers of own root roses successfully long before the advent of Fortuniana budding. For 19 years I created all-organic rose gardens for my landscape clients using a wide range of own-root OGRs, occasionally planting a modern rose on Fortuniana to meet a specific wish of a client, say 'Peace', as many modern roses DO seem to suffer here own root. Those gardens thrived long term until this now-perennial drought and draconian watering restrictions became the norm... many roses DO love water.

Since the early 90s, rosarians of note in central Florida have decreed to me that "Bourbons won't grow here" except for 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' and 'Souvenir de St. Anne's' due to the infusion of Tea blood via 'Gloire de Dijon', and even they needed to be budded onto Fortuniana. (both thrived own root in clients' gardens, with 'Cl. Souvenir de la Malmaison' displaying extreme vigor). I loved the Bourbons in Denver due to their form and fragrance and so I try one now and then here, own-root and all organic and in the Water Wise Container Gardens I make from 15 gallon plastic barrels that mimic the basic principles of the Earth Box. As a result I am blessed with the lovely blooms of 'Coquette des Blanches', 'Louise Odier' and "Jo An's Pink Perpetual" from Denver's Fairmount Cemetery that when I still lived in Denver, Fred Boutin and I discussed as possibly being 'Champion of the World'. I am so glad that these roses don't know they can't grow here, and that the hundreds of own root OGRs I planted in those many clients' gardens were also blissfully unaware of that "fact". A friend has a thriving 'Mme. Isaac Pereire' I gave him three years ago, no spray and own root in a large pot in his greenhouse.

These same Florida rosarians told me that the Wichuraiana class and Multiflora class also can't grow here, but don't tell that to the 'Francois Juranville' and 'Aviateur Bleriot' and 'Gardenia' and 'Jersey Beauty' and 'Leontine Gervais' and others, plus the 'Seagull' and 'Pink Clouds' that are stupendous performers own root and all-organic here IF given ample water.

In the early 90s an influential Colorado rosarian stated as fact that "David Austin's English Roses are not cold hardy in Colorado". But when I realized he had trialed only those on Manettii from Wayside, on multiflora from Pickering, and Dr. Huey, I bought some own root ones from HOGR and found them to be stellar performers in my and clients' gardens. So I promoted own root English Roses in my column in The Rocky Mountain News, local nurseries started offering them, and I got nothing but glowing feedback from them and their customers who had previously lost grafted plants to the brutal winters there, and when I left in 2002, many hundreds were being sold annually in Denver as people built UP collections of own root English Roses vs. replacing dead ones.

I am very lucky to have known Miriam and others who served as models for me to try new approaches vs. obeying the dictates of self-appointed "experts" who'd long since substituted dogma for humble, curious experimentation. For years I've been inspired by the fact that not long before the Wright Brothers made their first historic flight, the world's top scientists released a report declaring that heavier-than-air flight was "impossible' as it would require "infinite acceleration'.....they totally overlooked the principle of lift that keeps heavier-than-air birds aloft!

Before the drought set in and when we were getting so many hurricanes my front yard here had 170 roses; just a few were on Fortuniana. But I was an environmentalist long before I was a rosarian and so as the drought deepened I would not use the copious amounts of water they demanded and I lost them to attrition (plus consumption by a MONSTER 'Mermaid' that gloried despite the drought). But by making then burying 5, 7 and 15 gallon Water Wise Container Gardens, I am slowly rebuilding my collection while keeping my water use very low despite growing much of my own food and raising ducks and chickens on my urban water bill last month was $3.84. I turn 58 in August and so can remember a lush, green WET Florida where even the IDEA of watering restrictions was unthinkable. Yet we live with the current fine structure of $100 first offense, $500 second offense, $500 and court third offense...if you blow off the court appearance a lien is put against your home. Two rosarians I know here who grow budded, sprayed roses using underground emittters to avoid the fines, in all seriousness say, "I give just 7 gallons per day per rose". While Fortuniana DOES resist nematodes admirably, it is a very thirsty rootstock due to its roots hugging the surface vs. going down deep as do my own root roses. Nonetheless I cherish my 'Oklahoma' on Fortuniana growing in a restricted drainage container and will try it own root next.
I said goodbye to Bourbons when I left Denver in November 2002, so it is such a joy to be seeing and SMELLING and breeding with them again!



  1. I agree. Though in 4 years of growing roses I have stayed on the safe side with Teas, Chinas, & some polys and only grow the two "approved" Bourbons plus sports Capitaine Dyel de Graville & Mystic Beauty, I have ventured out into HP/DP land with Baronne Prevost (she's got some very funky spots now), Rose de Rescht and Marchesa Boccella. I grow Francois Juranville per your recommendation on HMF. All own root (91 roses) except for Mrs B R Cant which I wish was own root. In preparing my beds I removed 8" - 12" of native crappy soil/cement (a lot of limestone rock, white clay streaks and cement-like sand) and incorporated tons of composted horse manure, pine fines, bagged topsoil, etc into the next 10". I put about 3" of free CHM on the whole garden every spring. I have nice black, fairly crumbly loamy soil though it's still basically sand (didn't use kitty litter). I use a micro-spray irrigation system (an exception to the St Johns River Water Management watering restrictions) daily in the early morning for 30 minutes. The roses made a complete turnaround on this system. From leafless with every other day hand watering to well foliated, blooming and growing. My water bill is lower than when I was hand watering fewer beds - but more than $3.84. $24.88 to be exact plus sewer. I use alfalfa, milorganite and Rose-Tone or Purely Organic. Can't find Calf Manna. If someone is growing roses in Florida, organic is the way to go. I don't spray for anything. I just de-flowered and de-budded most of my garden on Saturday trying to get rid of thrips. Tell me you don't get thrips.

  2. Wow I admire your very comprehensive, all-organic approach that lets you enjoy so many roses for what strikes me as a very sensible water bill! Feed stores supplied by the Manna Pro Corporation can order the Calf Manna for you in either 25 or 50 lb. supplies beneficial yeasts and bacteria plus hard-to-get cobalt. I get very few thrips but I suspect that is because I innoculated my whole yard with the Trichogramma Wasp Combo from Gardens Alive in the spring of 2003. I'd love to see pics of your roses! My hat is off to you
    Sherry. John