Friday, October 18, 2013

Requiem for a Red Rose

My apologies to you, my dear rose loving friends.  I admit right off the bat that I am not a rose person. They always seem to be more trouble than they are worth, and most rose bushes lack any sense of grace, in my eyes. That said, there are exceptions - to be noted later.  

I don’t like plants that stick me. Last week, I spent way too many hours with my friend Kim, pulling overgrown blackberries out of the display garden at the nursery in Battle Ground - humongous arching canes that seemed to come out of nowhere, poking up through thickets of overgrown shrubs, sometimes arching out 20' or more - 3 big pickup truck loads worth of brambles - 3 smashed down, overflowing loads. We are both showing the battle scars.  

And blackberries are really, in a way, just little roses. Well, sort of. They are, after all, in the same family (Rosaceae). And yes, I know you shouldn’t judge someone by the family he was born into, but still – a prickle is a prickle is a prickle. (blackberries and roses technically have prickles, not thorns. Prickles are outgrowths of the epidemis - the outer skin of the stem. They grow all long the stem and are usually easy to break off without damaging the stem. Roses and blackberries have them, in abundance! 

Prickle on a rose 

Thorns are different. They grow out of the leaf axils and are really modified, pointy stems, as in this Meyer Lemon or in Pyracantha.  

Thorns on a Meyer Lemon 

Pyracantha - can't see the spines, but they are there

Now, spines are something different again. They are really modified leaves, as in this Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus) - think of this cactus pad as a big flattened stem and the spines as the leaves.  

Spines on an Opuntia Cactus 

(Nomenclature note:  Pyracantha comes from 2 Greek words -  pyr: meaning 'fire' – think funeral pyre or pyromaniac) and akanthos – meaning 'thorn' – so, literally, ‘Fire thorn’. This is also the common name of this plant, because of the fiery orange or red clusters of berries it gets in the fall, and the sharp thorns.)     

Yes, an individual rose is beautiful, and a well tended, disease resistant plant, can be lovely. And no one can argue that the fragrance is heady and intoxicating. And those bright orange or red rose hips are very pretty and very healthy for us.    

And, I admit to not knowing as much about roses as perhaps I should and so maybe I am pre-judging. But I do know that most roses are very disease prone and need lots of maintenance, usually of the chemical kind.   

I have seen some very effective and clean looking shrub roses. In fact I have one - ‘Paprika’ in the ‘Oso Easy’ series of landscape roses. I really do like his one. The color is exactly right, the size is right (I can easily keep to about 3 x 3, with occasional selective pruning.) I like that it is bushy and forms a nice foliage mound with small, glossy, dark green leaves that have never had a spot of disease, and it just keeps blooming all summer with 2”+ open faced flowers that the bees love. There are other colors in this series, but I only have room for one. So, see, maybe I do like roses !  

Paprika Rose

There is an exception to every rule, so they say, and this is mine. A rose that I really love, and this one is BECAUSE OF the prickles, is a species rose called (get ready) Rosa sericea forma pterocantha, or sometimes called Rosa omeiensis forma pterocantha (the Flora of China lists these as  separate species - small differences , but both have the ‘pterocantha’ form - botanists don’t always agree) – nevertheless, it is the pteracantha part here that is the key. Now these are prickles I can get behind! They are huge and beautifully translucent red and they light up like lanterns when the sun shines through them. It is the main reason that gardeners grow this one. It gets much too large for our little garden in Salem, but it’s a pretty cool plant and I would grow it if I had room to spare. It has small white flowers in early summer, but they come and go quickly, lovely but fleeting.

Rosa sericea forma pterocantha

(Nomenclature note: pteracantha  from the Greek word pteron meaning 'wing' (think Pterosaurus – literally –‘winged lizard’) and acanthus meaning 'thorn' – so 'winged thorn', referring to the giant thorns (well okay, prickles, but obviously used interchangeably in this description.)  


I said my final goodbyes to the red hybrid tea rose that was growing in the front corner of the garden this week. It has been here at least 26 years, and I am guessing that it is much older than that. Since I have known it, it has always had black spot and mildew, has been somewhat misshapen, sort of weak, and this year I started noticing viral symptoms.    

So I finally did it. I dug it up. I feel good about it, but kind of bad also, because Marc does love his roses. But we all have a life span, and this one, I’m afraid, had reached the end of hers. It had a long life, and it is time to make room for the younger generation. If it does in fact have the mosaic rose virus as I suspect, it is probably the reason that it never lived up to its potential, at least on my watch, and will just continue to get weaker with time. So it is in the compost bin now, soon to be on its way to the municipal compost heap. But I thanked it for its long life and the pleasure it gave to Marc and to anyone else who paid attention to it all these years. (yes, I really do that)

Requiem for a Red Rose   
Now I have an open spot to plant something else. It’s a big decision in this tiny yard, where everything counts. In preparation though, I started a little mini compost pile in the hole where the rose was. I loosened the soil to about 20” deep and a little wider around, dumped in a bucket load of food scraps, added some of the not-quite finished compost from the pile that I am using for mulch, and mixed it with the soil from the hole, making sure that any food scraps were deeply covered. By next spring, the worms and microorganisms will have done their job and I should have a nice fertile spot for something new.   

Till Later ---