The weather may still have a sting in its tail but September 1 is officially the first day of spring and I couldn't be happier.
Barbara Lea Taylor’s family of flowers
It’s the day my daughter was born many years ago, so I have a very good reason to remember it. After two boys, it was nice to welcome a girl and I called her Marigold which I thought was a perfectly beautiful name. She disagreed, and by the time she started school, she was Margo ever after– but here’s the odd thing: My maternal grandmother, whom I rarely met because she lived in another country, had four daughters and she called them all after flowers. In the fashion of the day, they were Ivy, Holly, Daphne, Myrtle – which they all promptly changed. Never for a moment did it occur to me that in giving my daughter a flower name, I was copying my grandmother. My own mother never mentioned it and it was only recently when going through some old photographs that the penny dropped. The family bonds that bind us are tighter than we know.
But enough of such flowery frivolity – we have work to do.
Our roses need their big spring feed right now.
Late pruning gardeners many have fed their plants immediately after pruning, but for many of us, it still needs to be done.
If the feed is aged, organic and smells foul, the roses will probably love it. Animal manures – not fresh – are good but are often full of weeds. The animals themselves are preferable. If possums need to be culled, bury them beside your rose. Once I had seven in quick succession and the roses were spectacular that year.
If you’re near a beach, there is nothing better than seaweed or seagrass, but spread it out, hose it down to get some of the salt out and leave it for a few days before you chop it up and put it on the rose beds.
Sheep manure is superb. If you don’t have a woolshed handy, buy bagged sheep pellets. Mushroom compost is good too. I organise a trailer load of it every second or third year.
It depends on what is easily available in your area. Good old blood and bone forked in around the dripline will make any rose happy but dogs love it too, so beware.
Homemade compost is always the star. In an ideal world we would all have our compost bins brimming over with beautiful friable stuff just when we needed it. But if it doesn’t happen all that often and we haven’t time to fuss, we can buy a big bag of fertiliser especially for roses, and if it says nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus somewhere on the outside, the roses will be happy.
If you still have the remains of a winter mulch of pea straw, push it away from the base of the roses so that you can fork in food around the dripline. However, this doesn’t apply to huge bushes where you need to use your discretion and make sure the food isn’t gobbled up by neighbouring plants.
Plant pretty spring and summer groundcovers in the rose beds and they will act as living mulch. The viola ‘Maggie Mott’ flowers forever and has the happy knack of forming clumps and spreading.
Scrunch early aphids or wash them off with a blast from the hose. Don’t give them time to multiply as they do it so well.
A nursery phoned to let me know they had ‘Madame Hardy’ which I had ordered last season.
I was a bit gobsmacked because I couldn’t remember ordering it, and I really didn’t want another white rose. But then I remembered it had been ordered as a present for a friend who has since left Akaroa for a land far away.
‘Madame Hardy’ is a Damask, a perfect-petalled, flat and quartered rose with a little ring of petals folding inwards around a jade green eye, and a heavenly Damask perfume. She was introduced in 1832 by Monsieur Hardy who was director of the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris. He named the rose for his wife, and it is said to be his loveliest creation. Good foliage and strong growth are promised. So who could resist? I will plant her near ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ and hope she inspires that over-rated rose to live up to the name she was given.
The Damask roses have been with us for a very long time. Dried garlands of Damask roses have been found in Egyptian tombs. Some say the name refers to the ancient Mediterranean city of Damascus where the rose was well known while others believe it refers to the fine texture of the petals. The rose is thought to have been taken to Europe by returning Crusaders.
My favourite Damask is ‘Ispahan’, big, frilly, pink and perfumed.
'Ispahan' is trouble free and exceptionally generous with its blooms.
Although it is once-flowering like most of the really ancient roses, you can expect the clusters of big blooms to begin in early summer and continue till autumn. ‘Ispahan‘ is one of those accommodating roses which grow rapidly to a big, tall and spreading bush, full of flowers, and free of diseases.
‘Leda’ is sometimes called the Painted Damask.
I grew it in another garden many years ago and it is truly a most interesting rose. From blunt, fat buds that look as if they have been chewed, there bursts a frilly white skirt of a flower, each layered petal brushed with carmine on the edge as if it had been touched with paintbrush.
My ‘Leda’ produced fragrant flowers in spring and again in autumn, and remained a compact bush.
There are more delicious Damasks available from specialist rose nurseries, and they are well worth growing.