Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is Old the New New?

The proverbial baby keeps getting tossed with the bath water.  Its true. And nowhere has this been more debated than in the rose world.  As the story goes, the commercialization of the cultivar "Peace" by Meilland after WWII, ushered in the age of the hybrid tea, which saw a great many roses perish in their midst.  Now, all kidding aside, I think many of us now sigh a big whew, and thank those 1960s, 70s and 80s folks who stuck to their guns and kept around an old rose or two instead of hoisting them all in favor of the latest and greatest.

But come on everyone, lets get real.  Rose growers have long been in the business of commerce, and there has always been "this years winner" be it wines, or flowers, or fashion trends.  Some of those items honestly SHOULD be deigned fit only for the history books (kindles). White skintight jumpsuits for instance. Hoopskirts, knee breeches, knob and tube electric, telegrams. And yes, many many old roses.  There are also those things that come into and go out of fashion throughout the years.  And yes, gardening itself goes in an out of style, and flower type, height, smell, and form all seem to win or lose favor with each successive generation.  Even before the advent of hybrid teas in the later 19th century, the annals of time have claimed many a flower variety.

Rosa "Peace" ~ The Conquerer
So with this as the setup, we have an interesting trend going on now in the rose world, as well as the gardening world as a whole: organic, original, heirloom, old.  Old is this generations next greatest thing.  So much so that I read somewhere recently that hybrid tea roses, once the overwhelming ONLY selection of roses in commerce are having trouble selling and languishing on the shelves!!!  This means that hybrid tea varieties, the good, the bad, and the ugly will perish in the whiplash. Hold on to your favorite varieties now, because soon they'll be hard to come by (life's full of blackspot and then you die).

And so it goes... in my lifetime I'm all but certain that new will move back into being the next new thing, and old garden roses, heirloom vegetables and whatnot will again have to step aside for some amazing new horticultural marvel as the whim of popular opinion moves along.   As most of us probably have found out in our lives, not all progress is actually progress, but no progress isn't progress either.  And sometimes you can't tell the difference for a good long while.  Something to chew on, that.

So to each his own I say.  The fact that there are remontant lilacs and hydrangeas and short versions of every old garden stalwart isn't a bad thing.  It reflects what we the people really want.  Not all of us (I sure as heck would rather the taller dianthus, coneflowers, and salvia's of yore), but the masses have spoken for this day, this moment, and have done for many many many generations.  And hey, my hydrangeas stay in bloom 10 months of the year.  I can live with that. And just to throw it out there, if I could grow lilacs at all down here, I wouldn't care if they came from Mars, and were only available at the "evil box store": I'd be growing them.

So how about this: Lets stop beating each other up about our choices... what do you say?  Organic or not, heirloom or not, OGR or knockout, purebred or hybrid, remontant or species, the choice is yours, and surely any current generational zeal you conform to for anyone's reasons but your own will shortly be the next worst thing.

For the record: in my garden in zone 9a super humid all year long Southern Coastal USA, I fertilize primarily organically with a midseason dollop of osmocote, spray for pests and disease only when absolutely necessary (but I absolutely do), think lawns are sort of pretty, and I grow 18 cultivars of roses:

3 types of knockouts
2 david austin shrubs
1 species rose
5 OGRs (or almost) a noisette, a polyantha, a bourbon, a china and a hybrid musk
4 modern bushes/climbers
2 bermuda/mysteries
1 miniature

They ALL grow quite well, and have no distain for each other.  Imagine that!  I make my own choices, and to those of you who think I do so in an uninformed fashion, I'll also state for the record, I think its nice that you have an opinion.  We all do.  And since nostalgia is such the rage these days I'll add this oldie but goodie: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  Now I sure do wish that WOULD come back to stay.

The defense rests.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Box Limerick

There once was a house with a drive
which was planted with boxwood each side
It grew so very slow, how was that family to know
Now no one can get through to inside!

The front walk to my childhood home

Happy St. Pats!  I've started my front garden gutting and knot garden construction.  Mean, lean and green.  Boxwoods are involved. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Top Ten Benefits of Gardening

1)Magic - Gardening is more than hard work, maintenance and flowers lolling in the breeze.  There are moments every so often when the sunlight is on your face, the soft sound of bees buzzing reaches your ears, and the smell of earth fills your nostrils. Suddenly you open up to another smaller, more wonderful world.  Little moments of magic, I like to call them.  There is something to be said for sitting out on a patio chair early on a May morning drinking your coffee and minding your own business when a hummingbird zips up and stares you right in the face for 30 seconds.

2)Being Present In the Moment - Gardening insists that you be present in the moment, due to the sheer ephemeralness of the pastime. What you notice this very moment well might not be there tomorrow or the next day.  In a broader context though, I find the act of gardening similar to reading in that it focus's the attention down so much that it is hard to be actively gardening while also thinking about x, y, or z.  I tend to be thinking about exactly what I'm doing... and in this day and age that's rare.

3)Hope - No matter what happens out there, I am always hopeful for each and every plant.  That it will survive, get bigger, bloom nicer, quit taking over neighbor plants. I always look at each plant and see in my minds eye its most perfect self.  And, as gardens tend get better with age, I always have hope no matter what the disaster was last season.  I think the reason people like visiting others grand gardens is because it gives us hope of what ours might be someday.  And what's really nice about all this hope: sometimes we do achieve!

4)Passion - Catch someone who gardens in the late February spring fever and you'll see passion along almost fanatical lines.  I almost went to Chamblees.com and ordered two more roses at midnight a few days back, even though my 'rose picks' of the year had already been purchased with great thought and care several months before so they'd have the winter to get well established.  Its a mania.

5)Exercise - Gardening uses muscles that most people do not use.  It is a full body isometric sport.

6)Stress Relief - Part of being in the moment (#2) I think, but a very specific benefit on its own: Stress Relief. When in the garden, because of the physicality of the entire process and the utilization of most of your senses... it tends to disrupt the brain from the circular worry/dwelling/task oriented thinking which goes on contantly in the background without our consious noticing.  It is almost hard NOT to stop and smell the roses in the metaphorical sense because your brain is busy listening to the birds and bees, watching the colors and forms, feeling the gritty dirt, and smelling all the smells that are around.

7)Sense of Accomplishment - Many of us use our jobs to get our daily fix of doing something to move forward in the world. Anyone who has ever lost a job knows exactly how much of this sense of accomplishment and achievement we derive from our jobs; they have obvious rewards.  Granted there are tons of things we do every day that provide us with accomplishments, but family chores and house maintenenance don't provide that immediate sense of satisfaction.   Take weeding though.  An hour out weeding and you can see your efforts.  An hour planting a row of azaleas...instant gratification... as well as future rewards as those plants mature and become better than even your first vision of them had been.  Like a botanical pension plan, really.

8)Alone Time. Gardening is something that is generally best done alone.  Though its nice to share the garden, and I love doing so, I spend most of my time in it just being myself, all by myself, in my yuckiest clothes with no makeup on.

9)Creativity/Individuality... yes nearly everyone has a knockout rose or two, but I can tell you my garden doesn't look a thing like anyone elses around here.  And thats not on purpose really, I just do what I think looks good.  I make mistakes in my mind, and I dig them up and move them or donate them to others.  The sum total collective is a huge expression of what I find pretty.  Its why I like visiting other peoples gardens too.  It expands my vision, but also shows me their unique creative side.

10)Acceptance.  Sometimes you cannot win.  Mother Nature is a really tough mama, and she doesn't really make exceptions.  I have learned to accept that some things take time, for instance.  I have learned to accept that I can't have any more sun, less sun, less 90+ degree days than she's going to give me.

{All Photos from my trip last week to Magnolia Plantation}

Friday, March 2, 2012

When Good Yards Go Bad II

For Part II of my series on Charleston yards gone awry, I thought I would share with you a newly planted front yard installation that cropped up this week, on my walking route to work, while I was away on a business trip.  As we gardeners so often note during this time of year: a lot can happen to a "garden" in just one short week.

So without further ado: here you have it.

"Kitchen" Garden
As with many truly unfortunate ideas, they tend to look good on paper. Communism springs to mind.  But in all fairness, and to set myself apart from the mainstream news media, let me present both sides.  What this genus does have going for it:

- It comes in many colors, an almost endless array
- Variable pricing on different cultivars, priced to fit nearly anyone's budget
- Strong silvery foliage that will absolutely never need staking
- Low water needs
- Doesn't mind if you plant it upside down
- Supreme disease resistance (although the very cheapest varieties may be prone to Rust)

But in my humble opinion, the negatives of this species far outweigh the positives:
- It remains short, sparse and invariable
- Painful if stepped on
- Companion 'plantings' tend to be empty aluminum cans and cigarette butts, two of my least favorite weedy varieties
- Attracts party-ators (aged 22 and under all night partyers) instead of pollinators
- Tends to spread: not necessarily in the same form but its companion plantings and party-ators move quickly throughout the block, overtaking well established gardens in a very short time period.

Anyhow made for a good laugh on my way to work, and I couldn't resist putting it up here!