Take time to smell the roses – but also manage them

I stepped out the door this afternoon and the air was thrumming. The sound was somewhat like a chorus toning. It took a few minutes of intense listening to determine that the entire prunus virginiana “Shubert” was covered with honey bees. Covered. They definitely added an aural dimension to my day.

I often refer to this tree as Shubert’s Red. The young leaves start out green and as they mature turn a deep plum. In spring the tree is covered with soft white clusters of blooms. Take a look around town and you’ll see variations of this tree in full flower right this very moment. Lovely.

Homer is a haven for the family of prunus trees. They are fast growers, which make them attractive to those of us with attention deficit disorder; attain a gorgeous shape; and fill the need for a lovely landscape tree.

Ornamental crab apples also are to be considered. These do not produce apples which I find a plus. I just want the color, fleeting though it may be.

I have been deep in a quandary about the roses that abound on this one-third acre lot. The patch of rosa rugosa “Hansa” that fills in the southeast corner has run amok. The truth is that I have allowed it to run amok. I thought the tangled mass somehow romantic.

Yes, it provided a haven for the hares when they hit their population peak a few years ago, which was certainly NOT a plus. Yes, they are encroaching on the sandbox for the “grands.” Yes, they provide cover for the birds. Yes, they have gorgeous magenta highly scented blooms. BUT — enough is enough.

Early this spring I cut them down to the very ground. It seemed shocking and I doubted myself. They are now at least a foot tall and looking hale and hardy. My intention is to keep them under control for the rest of my life. I promise. This will involve pruning them faithfully every spring to a reasonable height (I don’t know what that is yet …). Roses bloom on new wood and what I had was blooming just on the very tips of the canes. I’m looking forward to the show.

But that isn’t the end of it. No. The mass of roses at the entry of the house was in the same situation. I was given these and I think they are a Scotch rose “Heidi.” It is a lovely cluster rose, pale pink with a touch of yellow with a light citrus scent. I couldn’t face cutting down TWO patches of lovelies in the same season so I let them go. Until I decided to make my move.

Out I went with my coveralls, leather gloves and loppers ready to do business. John stopped me. Having borne witness to my assault on the other patch he made a bold suggestion: he would use the chainsaw. Chainsaw. Chainsaw? Chainsaw! He made quick work of a nasty situation, raked up the whole mess and that was that. Left me standing there with my loppers and a new found appreciation for a chainsaw.

I do feel like I have betrayed the birds. There was so much sparrow activity in that mess. In and out all day long: white crowned, golden crowned, and fox sparrows. They seemed to really love that environment. It will return, I’m just sure of it.

I’m not done with my rose theme. Bear with me. There are two trellises to the fence of the vegetable (note I said vegetable NOT veggie) garden. This fence is for definition only. At first the intention was to keep whatever canine companion my husband needed around out of the food area. This was quickly proven to be impossible so the whole thing is decorative and I really love it. Both are planted with a clematis alpina on one side and, ready? — a William Baffin climbing rose on the other. Doesn’t that sound like it should be ever so lovely?

Well, believe me, that was an ill conceived placement of a couple of roses. I have one of these on the street side of the house that behaves just as I imagined it would — reaching up a trellis and covered with blooms. Granted it needs to be directed and tied in place and the shrubby canes need to be pruned out but, hey, it’s really really worth it.

Did the two by the clematis do this? No. Not ever. Try as I might to make them behave they flat out refused. No long canes obediently tied up for them, no thank you, no siree. Nasty thorny shrubby canes galore. Yes, the blooms were gorgeous, but … Out they came. Enough is enough. Really, at this point in my life I want to simplify. I do NOT want to fight roses. They have been replaced with delphiniums and foxgloves. We’ll see what happens.

I’m pleased to report that the Theresa Bugnets are behaving just fine. They have such a lovely arching habit and are somewhat well behaved. There are three of these that hold down the west corner of the house along with a common lilac, a mess of Johnson’s Blue geranium, a Pacific giant delphinium, a few verbascum, and whatever else is tucked in there. Lovely.

All that said about roses I still firmly believe that we are ever so fortunate, here in the Far North, to have such great success with rugosa roses. They are hardy, bloomy and scented. Who could ask for more? We don’t need to fuss with them, well — keeping their exuberance in check, but they are not the high maintenance roses of the Lower 48.

It really is still early in the growing season. You can go ahead and plant trees, shrubs, roses and vegetables. Really. I have been filling in rows in the vegetable garden where this and that have not germinated. Just today I added more spinach, peas and carrots. You’ll notice your beets and chard send up multiple plants from one seed. Go ahead and separate these, making room here and there for more plants.

I have been approached now and again by those who are new to gardening and want me to let them know when I am going to do a particular chore so they can observe.

Well, I have yet to figure out how to do that. I step out the door with something vaguely in mind but one thing leads to another and before you know it I’m just not on task, at least not the somewhat intended task.

Gardening is a pleasure. It’s my way of spending the day outside. Give it try.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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