Garden Notes — May 2008

If posting has been a little scarce this past week, I have one word in reply: garden. This being Ontario, and also being the Victoria Day weekend, it’s time for the annual horticultural frenzy. I have been happily digging in my rotten nasty old clay, getting dirt under my nails, battling blackflies (fierce and bloodthirsty this week: I have several bites on my scalp the size of peanuts) and otherwise getting everything in order for the growing season. It’s actually been a good season so far. The rain has been generous, so everything is getting to a good start and the temperatures, while not exactly warm, haven’t been too cold either.

The business of this time of year makes me think of English and American gardening books, which often set out meticulous schedules of things to do by month.  English ones are particularly funny, advising as they do, to trim roses in February, and to plant fruit trees in December.  My highly simplified Canadian schedule looks like this:

January: Read seed catalogues over steaming cups of hot coffee.

May: Do everything else.

It’s an efficient system, and easy to remember.

Thus far I have dug out the perennial borders. My aim this year is to finally and completely eliminate the evil twitch grass once and for all. (I say this every year. One can hope.)  The vegetables I plan to plant out next weekend, if the weather warms up enough.  Luckily, in southern Ontario at least, we have a longish window of opportunity to plant vegetables: I’ve planted out as late as the middle of June with good results. As far as ornamentals go, I’m usually a perennial sort of person.  This year, though, I have a plot in my border about 30′ by 20′ which I dug last year, and I still haven’t decided what to plant in it.  So instead I shelled out forty-odd bucks for four flats of annuals (ridiculously cheap!), the sort your mum or Nan used to grow — coleus, love-lies-bleeding, snapdragons, zinnias, China asters, cosmos. Good sturdy virtuous old fashioned plants, gotten a bad rap from their ubiquitousness in hideous municipal plantings.  I avoided planting them all in serried ranks, like botanical soldiers facing an onslaught of insects and drought, choosing instead non-military irregular ovals and crescents —  the infamous “drifts of colour” garden writers talk about. But none of the plants I bought were available is separate colours, and thus I violated the Fundamental Law of garden design: mass colour for mass effect. There is nothing to make it hang together. So it’s going to either be an idiosyncratic, cheerful success or a garish horticultural mess.  One thing is certain, it will be bright.

The other things I planted were five more “antique” roses from Pickering Nurseries: ‘White Bath’ (Moss),  ‘Tour de Malakoff’ (Centifolia), ‘Baroness Rothchild’ and ‘Ulrich Brunner’ (Hybrid Perpetuals) and ‘Conrad F. Meyer’ (Rugosa).   I have to confess I am smitten with heritage roses, and I acquire them like Fafner hoarding gold.

‘Tour de Malakoff’ (Centifolia)

They are stunning in full bloom, fragrant, largely disease-free and certainly much less fussy in our climate than the hybrid teas, those fastidious and annoying aristocrats. The only disadvantage is many of them are non-recurrent; but I have planted these among some vigourously reblooming Austins (which I like almost as much: ‘Pat Austin’ and ‘Benjamin Britten’, for example, are very fine roses indeed.)

‘Paul Neyron’ (Hybrid Perpetual)          /              ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ (Rugosa)

It’s a mystery to me why heritage cultivars aren’t more readily available since they are so well-suited (as roses go) to the Ontario climate, though to be fair, some family-owned nurseries carry a selection.  Maybe there’s a bit of a fetish for the byzantine genetics of hybrid teas, the rose of the florist’s bouquet, the standard against which all other roses are judged.  But for me, anyway, there is a lot of virtue and charm in the uncomplicated simplicity of a ‘Paul Neyron’ or a ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Mack
    Loved reading ,belatedly ,your garden post as I am trying to de-stress just now.How does your garden grow?
    Those old roses are wonderful, conjuring up across the ether the perfume as I read and view. Must see if I can come by those Austin roses you reccomend, and I like the idea of Having BB in the garden….(Oh I wonder if she has a rose too!)
    mud under the nails UK

  2. Hello to all, since I am truly eager of reading this Garden Notes — May 2008 | The Stray Dog Café web site post to be updated daily. It contains pleasant stuff.

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