In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2008
Regional Report

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Roses growing on a split rail fence remind me of old friends.

For the Love of Roses

I miss tending roses. There was a split rail fence that surrounded the Sunset magazine property when I worked there. On the fence we grew Mrs. Sam McCready roses that we trained as espaliers. Mrs. Sam was a hybrid tea that didn't mind all the fuss involved in keeping her in bondage and off the sidewalk. Every morning, after sweeping and tending to the patios, I would roll my cart along the rose fence, clipping faded blooms, pulling the stray weed, checking for broken branches, and just saying good morning to each plant. Occasionally, a car would run the stop light at Willow and Middlefield and take out one of the elderly rose bushes. We kept spare bushes in the nursery, just in case.

The collective Mrs. Sams got their annual dormant season pruning the Tuesday after Martin Luther King's birthday. All of the garden staff would arrive, clippers sharp and loppers and pruning saws in hand, for a marathon rose pruning session. Usually the weather was mild, but some years we pruned on through winter rainstorms. Two gardeners on the back side, two on the fence, and one to follow behind to do any staking or tying of branches. Any job done with more than two hands makes for easy work.

Roses in Containers, Too!
I also maintained the multitude of roses we kept growing in containers. Every year we would be provided with new varieties for display on the patios and in the garden. Roses in containers require much more water than you would imagine, especially when they are blooming. Until the container roses were in full bloom, we kept them in the nursery in rows. I would water up one row and down the other, then back again to fill the containers for a second time. This chore was done three times per week! If I spotted a container that had not drained by the second time I came around, I tipped up the pot and reamed the drainage hole with a pen knife. That usually solved the problem.

Fertilizer is the Secret
All of the roses were fertilized with a dry, slow-release product made by Romeo Fertilizers in Half Moon Bay. It was specifically formulated for Sunset, but I believe it was 22-14-14 with iron and calcium thrown in for good measure. The roses certainly thrived on it. We dosed out a cupful of dry granules for each rose three or four times during the spring and summer growing season.

Because the climate here is mild and we don't get really cold winters, roses can keep their leaves and bloom all winter. So to make our pruning and raking easier, we allowed the roses to form hips in late September. The formation of rose hips signals the plants to go into a state of dormancy, where flowering ceases and leaves drop. Usually when we were pruning in January, there would be one or two plants still blooming, but we simply removed the flowers and any remaining foliage.

Special Beauties
My special beauties were Olympiad Roses created by Andersen (now Jackson Perkins). I had a bed of 30 or so Olympiads right outside the front lobby. I planted them from bare-root stock in late November, and until they began blooming, I grew colorful nemesia under the bare stems. When the foliage started to appear in mid-February, I pulled the nemesia. Once the roses started blooming, I knew they were something special.

I believe they were grandifloras and they held multiple blooms on long, straight stems. The glorious, deep, blood red blooms kept coming and coming. Oh, how I babied those roses! I kept the soil raked clean under the plants, and they were so well mannered that they never tried to nip me with their thorns. I never had an insect or fungus problem with the Olympiads, either. My diligent care was rewarded with an abundance magnificent flowers. Is it any wonder we love gardening?

I have no sunny bed for roses now, but I have passed the torch to Henry of Henry's Garden television show. We still receive all the new varieties, but now he gets to care for them on a regular basis, I just get the reward of a beautiful bouquet every time I visit.


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