A festival by any other name
OK, I was late for the Annapolis Royal Rose Festival. But hear me out: a lot of festivals are jammed into weekends.
When there are car shows involved, the people will drive away afterwards. Music festivals? The bands and audiences go home.
But I figured the roses weren’t going anywhere — and, as it turned out, the roses wound up being late for the festival, too.
The festival wrapped up on a recent Sunday with more than 200 people at the Wine and Rose event, walking the gravel paths and grass verges, marvelling at the thousands of bright blossoms, but chances are,
I saw a better floral display Tuesday. And Tuesday was a welcome relief for others, too. The festival? “It’s a lot of pressure,” says Anita Dobson, the garden’s rosarian. (I bet you didn’t even know “rosarian” was a word — I didn’t.) “Everything was two weeks behind.”
That’s the problem with depending on nature; just ask the people behind the Brigus Blueberry Festival.
Dobson’s responsible for the over 1,000 rose plants at the garden, all of which are supposed to be ready for the crucial first week of July.
“There are 282 varieties this year — I only know it because I counted.” She pauses. “I take that back, because we lost two miniatures. So, 280.”
And it’s a job that doesn’t stop. After the festival, there’s deadheading spent flowers, pruning, feeding, bed work.
“I start breathing again in September. It’s a non-stop thing.”
And that’s not counting the pests she has to deal with.
“There’s many of them. The most problems were with the deer; of all of them — two, four, six and eightlegged creatures — they were the worst. We tried everything.”
Finally, fencing the gardens solved the problem.
Dobson’s been working at the gardens for 35 seasons. Horticulturist Karen Achenbach has an equal amount of experience at the gardens, but Dobson’s the Rose Queen.
“She prunes them all,” Achenbach says. “She has a love/hate relationship with the roses.”
Dobson doesn’t show any hate, grubbing new soil in around the plants. There are a lot of tricks to keeping the roses healthy. They are, she says, sometimes nicknamed “the rich man’s annual.”
She seems almost at peace in the garden. It’s quiet, and she’s methodical, surrounded by gorgeous roses and their sweet perfume. Irony of ironies? Dobson’s been working with roses so long she doesn’t even smell them anymore.
“Every once and a while, my nose will kick in. When people ask ( for fragrant roses), I just point them to the ones I remember.”
Almost all the roses have been introduced. If Dobson had her way, she would have liked to see the area’s original varieties.
“If I could have been there, I would have liked to have been there when Champlain stepped off the boat, to see what roses he would have tripped over.” The question she’s asked the most? “Black spot is the main problem.” It’s a rose fungus with few cures. “I’ve talked to people from all over the world, and what we have in common is black spot.”
There are more mundane problems, too.
“Did she tell you about the schmuck?” Achenbach asks.
That’s the almost-annual occurrence when heavy July rains slap the blooming roses to the ground. Dobson and volunteers shake the blossoms dry and help the plants recover.
“It will come down all at once, 10 minutes or so, and flatten them.”
Dobson is keen to point out that much of the care is a group effort, especially the deadheading, removing the dying rose blossoms.
But she’s the one at the garden at six a.m.
Chances are, Dobson will be back worrying the roses into their July festival performance — unless one particular thing happens.
“We don’t have Japanese beetle,” Dobson says.
She seems to shudder, even in the July warmth. A rose garden scourge, introduced Japanese beetles have been found in Nova Scotia, but they haven’t found their hungry way to Annapolis Royal yet.
“When it comes here, I retire.”
I start breathing again in September. It’s a non-stop thing.
La Noblesse Centifolia, a rose dating back to 1856.