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ROSE CARE FOR FEBRUARY
PENELOPE AND ME
by Sandy Simon, Consulting Rosarian

Years ago, there was an article about Penelope Hobhouse, my favorite English garden authority, writer and garden tour director, that appears to have left an impression on me. She and her husband had looked for a walled garden space for their retirement garden. They found a 120 by 120 foot empty walled garden in Dorset with a roofless ruin of a coach house and ĺ acre in front. There were views of gently rolling hills with animals grazing. They were delighted.

They built a new home, her husband died and she moved in alone at the age of 63. First she had the challenge of improving the heavy, water logged, alkaline soil. Then she planned and planted an incredible, floriferous garden with a shrubby structure. She planned that as the shrubs grew and matured, they would block the out the light so that the flowers would gradually and eventually be eliminated. The low maintenance, various shades of green, shrubby structure would remain. In the article she said, ĒIím going to be 74 years old now. I have a man help me once a week. Iíve seen older people despair over their gardens or move away because they couldnít cope. I want to stay here, and I think this garden is a good example to people.Ē

Her planning impressed me 10 years ago when I first read this article so I saved it to reread. By contrast, my garden has not been planned but evolved as more roses have been acquired. To be clear about this, the older I have become, the more roses I have. Instead of less maintenance, there is more, and more resources are required like water, mulch and fertilizer. My garden is located on flat land, with good soil, in Tam Valley. There is an abundance of wind and fog coming right over a single ridge directly from the ocean. All new roses stay in pots for a year or two just to see how they will adapt to these conditions.

Directly behind my house in the backyard facing south, is a long bench. Itís a good place to sit, lean back against the house, and meditate or daydream and catch some sun. There is a concrete walkway underfoot and a long rose bed with annuals at one end and a vegetable garden at the other end. Because of this bench, this garden gets my most thoughtful attention. In the middle of this space there grew a huge, extremely thorny , spread out David Austinís Othello. If you know the rose, you know it has a wonderful, intoxicating scent and the new blooms are a deep raspberry color. Unfortunately, those blooms turn to a dull maroon and the rose, in my garden, is very susceptible to powdery mildew, blackspot and rust even in early summer. I do not spray. One fine morning in early September, I spent an entire morning digging it out. It had really entrenched itself with deep roots into the soil. Cutting the branches back was no easy matter and still there were dangerous, thorny stubs to loosen. Once it was finally out there was left a huge space right in the middle of the garden. It was a good space to think about. There was a certain feeling of liberation and exuberance in me after I finally dug that rose out. As a result the other roses in that bed came under closer scrutiny.

It seemed a good time in the fall to remove a few more roses. One had not been planted deeply enough and never flourished. Another was a poor specimen of a great rose. There was a thriving ĎGeminií that I cut back and transplanted to a side garden. These changes made it easy to make this 23 by 5 foot garden a foot narrower. The 4 by 4 foot annual bed was eliminated at one end. The raised 4 by 8 foot vegetable bed on the other end was shortened to 4 by 4 feet. These changes have decreased my back garden by 55 square feet! 55 square feet that will not have to be watered, mulched or fertilized this coming year. I am exhilarated by this change and plan to continue next fall to simplify and tidy up the garden on all sides of the house, making them less time consuming to maintain and using less resources. Penelope Hobhouse is not the only one getting older and as we know our resources may be limited.


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