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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Old roses


I try to keep most of the plants that came with the place intact, with an eye to utility. The grapes, being a long way off and not apt to get maintenance, I dug out, despite their maturity, and brought down to the garden, where they did fine. Trees that I cut for wood tend to be of regenerative native species, which I leave to come back from the stump, "eight rods to the stool" as they say in the coppicing trade. There had been a garden across the creek, where we wanted pasture; we were forcibly notified that the site is prone to serious flooding, so we moved all that was left of it -- the elephant garlic -- to the new garden, where it has been a blessing and a curse ever since, like bamboo or kudzu.

We were never fond of roses. I think both of us had experience mainly with hybrid teas full of aphids and insecticides hopelessly and haphazardly maintained by relatives and friends. We have nothing against rose hips, mind you. There are some wild roses along the creek that make hips, albeit tiny ones. A good way to "waste" a November day is to gather and gather and gather these, enough for one bottle of infusion.

The former owner had one unidentifiable rose bush, a gangly thing entwined with a half-dead crabapple; I thought about getting "rid" of it as it had a tendency to snag me when ever I went by -- a behavior forgiven in blackberries -- it did not have much in the way of bloom and no hips that I could find. But rose petals have uses -- in sachets, salads and so on.

I moved the rose to one spot by the front door -- where it attacked us within a few years with its long prickly shoots, and gave us little in the way of blossoms. I was asked to move it and dug it up and tried it on the north side of the house, where it languished but refused to die -- or bloom. We then had other ideas for the spot and I dug out the root ball -- having cut the rose down to the ground for two years running to keep it out of my way. The thing was almost two feet in diameter, and split when I wrestled it out, this time with a come-along suspended from a stepladder.

Beloved passed by as this operation ended. "Hard to kill, that one."

"Yes," I responded. "I could just throw it over the fence down by the creek, let it become part of the dike. But I'd like to try it in one more spot, maybe feed and water it a little better, see what happens."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well, it's a climber. I can put the two chunks on either side of a gate, on the corner of the garage, like we talked bout doing with vines, see if i can train it over the arch."

"It's not very pretty."

"No, not as a bush, but we've been denying its nature. I'll keep it tied back, I promise."

Four years later, the roses began to bloom. They're a lighter color than we would have preferred, but have a good strong scent, and the petals are great on a spring salad. Best of all, they seem to be disease- and pest-free -- a benefit of sticking with old rose varieties.


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