Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An article from my St. Pete Times column back when I summered in Denver


   Even though as I write this in my summer home in Denver,  with my gardens blanketed by snow from a 3 day  April blizzard (!), I am a native Floridian and organic landscaper from Tampa who has been servicing his Tampa  Bay clients 2-4 times  a year these last 16
years.  So while my Denver landscape has 130 own root rose cultivars ( all but 8 of which need a colder climate than Tampas) I have planted in Tampa  Bay area gardens hundreds of own root subtropical roses that require little maintenance beyond 3-4 feedings per year, deep weekly waterings, and an occasional lye soap spray (Octagon  bar soap like Grandma used on shirt collars, or  if she caught you cussing) for aphids, winter mildew or black spot in summer. And 140 of them will soon grace my new yard in south Tampa.  These roses belong to 3 classes of Old Roses called Chinas, Teas and  Noisettes, and are sometimes seen in Old Hyde Park or Seminole Heights or similar older neighborhoods in central Florida¼.Malcolm  Manners has a spectacular collection of them ( grown mostly budded onto Fortuniana root stock and sprayed routinely) at Florida Southern College. A century ago these subtropical roses thrived all over Florida and up into the Deep South; it is my hope that they, and new hybrids of them, will  once again fill our landscapes with their voluptuous forms, unique fragrances and  admirable toughness.

   The Teas and Chinas were the critical ancestors of most of our modern roses, bringing their precious gift of repeat blooming to Europe  from mild regions of southern China,   beginning in the mid 1700s through the early 1800s. They thus also brought with them a tenderness to cold temperatures. The Noisettes were born in South Carolina around 1807, the result of a chance mating between the fall-flowering and spicily scented species Rosa moschata, and the first China rose to arrive here, Old Blush (1752). Noisettes soon merged with the Bourbons, Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals to create the Hybrid Tea class, and lent their heady scents, climbing habit and fall blooming urges to the genetic mongrel that is the Modern Rose.

   Central Floridas acidic, nutrient-poor, nematode-laden sandy soils, and mild winters offering very little dormancy, can make growing grafted modern roses a challenge for the busy family person and home owner, though exhibitors may enjoy meeting that task head on with special pruning and spraying regimens. But for very spread thin folks whod still
love to have  the beauty of  organically grown, pesticide free roses in their yards and for occasional bouquets for the table,  the old-fashioned Teas, Chinas and Noisettes, being subtropical in heritage, can thrive in the heat and humidity with little fuss. Just buy them as own root plants, choose a full sun location,  incorporate 5 cups of dolomite, 2 cups of Ironite and half a bag of cheap clay cat litter plus  2 gallons of compost into their deep planting holes, and keep them thickly  mulched with coastal hay, wood chips from a tree trimming service, or alfalfa hay. A spring, summer and fall feeding of a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or fish meal (which also supply sea minerals), or fresh horse poop spread out in a thin 1 inch layer around each rose, or a generous sprinkling of cottonseed meal, can reward you with lush growth bearing  beautiful blooms throughout the year. For the spring feeding I also like 1-2 cups  each of Epsom salts,  kelp meal  and Ironite to supply extra vital minerals for each rose bush. (ask feed stores supplied by  Manna Pro to bring in 50 lb.  bags  of kelp meal for about $40 !!)  A good  DEEP  weekly watering  is ample  IF  the mulch is kept thick¼a monthly sprinkling of that cheap clay cat litter over the garden will, in time, slowly clayify that sandy soil and make it  much more water retentive. Remember, these are SUBTROPICAL roses, so disease issues are minimal, vs. the fungal nightmare of grafted Hybrid Teas in our hot humid summers.

   Now the fun part¼choosing which ones to grow! Teas lent their classic form to the modern Hybrid Tea, along with the tendency of long stems to bear singular blooms. My favorites for central Florida gardens include  the dusky pink Mrs. B. R. Cant (1901), the shell pink Duchesse de Brabant (1857),  the pastel yellow Perle des Jardins (1874),  the rich apricot Mlle. Franziska Kruger (1880), the  soft yellow Etoile de Lyon (1881), the brick-and-salmon Monsieur Tillier (1891) and Mme. Berkeley (1899), which offers a charming blend of  rich yellow, apricot and warm pink.

   Chinas are exceptionally resistant to harmful nematodes in our sandy soil, quite tolerant of drought once established, and tease a hungry nose with rich fruity perfumes  wafting from a steady stream of blooms throughout the year. I like  the snow whiteDucher (1869),  the rich pink Old Blush (1752),  the yellow-then-pink-then red Mutabilis (ancient China), the cherry red Louis Philippe (1834) and the infamous  indestructible Mystery Rose of old central Florida neighborhoods, the Pink Cracker Rose often seen thriving with no care, frequently as a climber if not pruned.

   Not only do many of the Noisettes make fine climbers and offer heady scents, a few bear blooms toned in  the rich apricot and buff tones rarely seen in healthy roses. My favorites are the  light pink, spicily scented  Blush Noisette (1817), the bronzy yellow Reve dOr (1869), the VERY vigorous tangerine-apricot Crepuscule (1904) and the very first Noisette,  Champneys Pink Cluster (1811),   which wafts a potent cinammon-clove perfume and can get huge, easily 10 X  10 !.

   So if you want to beautify your yard with roses but are swamped with job, kids, and housework, try some of these reliable old beauties which can do double duty as exhibited blooms in local rose shows, if you wish. A very  trustworthy mail order source of them that provides large 2 gallon own root plants expertly shipped is  The Antique Rose Emporium in Texas at  1-800-441-0002¼their $5 reference guide is educational in tone and beautifully illustrated with accurate color photographs. Picture your dinner table graced with a fragrant bouquet , or harvesting the  pesticide-free petals for teas and potpourris. Imagine growing a low hassle rose that is REALLY fragrant like a rose SHOULD be but rarely is at the florist. You dont have a brown thumb when it comes to roses, you just havent been buying roses suited for our hot muggy climate. But own root Teas, Chinas and Noisettes have Florida written all over them! 

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