Some days are diamonds. Others don’t glitter with promise. Instead, they are as jagged as rocks jutting out from a precipice. This summer, with its steady rainfall and cooler than normal temperatures, created beauty and surprise, but not all surprises are welcome. More rain means more weeds. Those I can handle with a tug and pull at their base. On the days I don’t drive to school, I spend early mornings writing and weeding, weeding and writing.
Rose Rosette Disease returned late summer with a vengeance. It staked a claim on the ‘Cl. Old Blush’ on one side of the arbor. I noticed the telltale signs a few days ago. I hope it hasn’t spread to ‘Cl. Old Blush’ on the other side. I can’t remove the sick rose until Clematis terniflora, sweet autumn clematis, finishes blooming. The clematis which was once my nemesis may now become a garden savior as it ambles up the main arbor in the lower garden. For one thing, it is a boon to pollinators. Before all the little flower flies, wasps and bees dream their big sleep, we need to give them nectar. C. terniflora does just that. After the first freeze, I’ll be out there with my shovel and Sawzall to take down a rose I’ve loved as long as my husband, over twenty-four years. More than a small death, it is like losing an old friend. Rose Rosette is consuming my roses one-by-painful-one.
This morning, I saw infested canes on ‘Cl. Souvenir de Malmaison.’ Losing ‘Souvenir’ is especially bittersweet. Being a young and new gardener when I planted her, I made the mistake of buying the climber instead of the floriferous original. It sat there and did nothing much until the last five years. Once as ugly as one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. I would threaten to remove it, and suddenly, one spring, fat buds opened up to this. Oh my . . . .
I then realized why people wrote odes to it like this one by Peter Schneider, “an exquisitely beautiful confection of pearl and cream, with short petals quartered in a perfectly symmetrical arrangement.” Unfortunately, ‘Souvenir’ is placed very close to my favorite rose, ‘Carefree Beauty.’
All summer, I’ve anxiously watched ‘Carefree Beauty’ because she hasn’t been well. You just know your plants when you’ve lived with them so long, and it’s as if a cancer is hiding somewhere within her stately canes. Her blooms are “off,” and she is no longer the robust lass who frolicked all summer. She and ‘Souvenir’ were bedding mates for a long time, and it will be sad to see the garden without either of them. Pardon me while I go into the corner and have a cry.
While there are other beautiful things in the garden, roses were once its backbone, the very essence of its Englishness in the Oklahoma countryside. Without them, it grows wilder everyday. While I like wild, I love the scent of roses too, and their essence is evaporating in the dusk of a long summer day.
There are some who will say the garden is returning to itself and becoming one more in tune with its surroundings. Perhaps, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. Today is not a diamond. It is a stone, and not a smooth one.
Here’s the tricky thing about working with and loving plants . . . no matter how good you become at recognizing subtle signs and making changes based upon observation and soil tests, nature nearly always throws you a curve ball. Rose Rosette is one I will never hit out of the park. There’s a lesson here, but today I am grieving too much about the roses to think anymore about it. I know diversity is the key to everything whether we are talking about gardening, our careers or even life.
Things aren’t as simple as they seem either. Another sneaky trick is the grasshopper population. My word, those little creeps are still eating my cannas down to the nubbins.
I have noticed they favor the dark cannas like ‘Australia’ and ‘Black Knight’ over variegated green and gold leafed cannas such as ‘Bengal Tiger.’ How nice of me to plant so many dark beauties for them. The grasshoppers are getting slower though. Nolo bait is taking a toll, but it is a slow process. In addition to the cannas, grasshoppers are gorging themselves upon my ornamental grasses, dahlias, the banana tree and ‘Purple Majesty’ and ‘Jester’ millets. They like ‘Jester’ best here. It is so wrong that the dahlias bloomed early because of the mild temperatures, and the grasshoppers ate them. Nothing I grew turned out quite the way I planned it.
Some things turned out better though. Planting seeds of three varieties of Gomphrena globosa, globe amaranth, made me deliriously happy, and the garage garden is as seductive as ever. By starting three different colors of seed and carefully labeling them, I could plant drifts in various colors, and I had more control over how they look in the garden. Next year, I’m going to try sowing seeds of the Audray series. I read great things about them. I tried starting seed for ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena, but it didn’t germinate very well. You can buy ‘Fireworks’ from Bustani Plant Farm next spring if he doesn’t sell out again. A hint: order early.
Don’t worry. The garden and I are okay. I harvested loads of veggies out of the vegetable patch and potager. We ate like kings.
Much of the garden is glorious from all the rain, and butterflies are starting to visit in a flurry of whispered wing. Each year the garden and I face challenges, but I also learn new things. What other hobby/passion/obsession can inspire us to work so hard I wonder?
What curve balls did nature throw you this year? How did you deal with them? Do you have Rose Rosette? If you had special happinesses this year, I’d love to hear about those too. Misery is fleeting. Life is about growth, and gardens are full of metaphor. No wonder Jesus talked about fig trees and mustard seeds so much.