OH, WE ARE in very good shape now. I am glad to see the red tips showing on the peony "Red Charm," which I moved last fall and have been uneasy about.
Curiously, this year we missed those wonderful days in January and Febuary in which the gardener feels like spring. This has brought grievous anxiety to many, I know. Here, for example, I did a bit of exacavation in September and October and made a great mound of earth over some old daffodils.
As I said at the time, it would be simple enough to move the earth off the top of those resting bulbs during the winter. I was coming on several mild days in January. Well. there is still 18 inches of raw dirt over the normal soil level.
The first good mild spell I shall, theoretically, get the earth off the daffodiils, which must be thinking about sprouting. But of course I worry about it, knowing that in a couple of weeks a batch of rose plants will arrive in the mail and require planting, and something really must be done about the maple that keeps getting sawed but that keeps sprouting from the big branch 20 feet above the ground.
(The wild Rosa souliena is going up the trunk, and it will be outraged if the maple is allowed to shade it out,)
Then there is the matter of various clematis. I planted a batch of them in December, which is two months >later than I like, hoping for a mild winter. Instead, one of the worst since Adam.
I mounded the clematis up a bit with dirt and gave them a mulch of strawy manure. Of course it must come off now, but the ground there is still hard as a rock. It would be extremely bad to lose "Sir Trevour Lawrence," a relatively rare clematis, after all the commotion I went through to get it from abroad.
The blueberries need a four-inch mulch of sawdust - they should have had it all through the winter - and of course that means getting the sawdust to begin with. When will there be time?
Also it is urgent to make sure the ground ivy, that rather pretty but invasive Glechoma with lavender mint-type flowers in spring, is all pulled up during the cold weather. It grows like lightning in April. It is not as bad as chickweed, which I have temporarily vanquished, but once it works its way in and out of the clumps of peonies and so on, it makes itself a little citadel and raids forth like Danes for the rest of the year.
A really terrible pest is the bindweed, which looks like a morning glory on a starvation diet, except that nothing in all the world (except possibly nut grass) exceeds it in marching about. Country people call it in "devils guts" which is very good. Many a young gardener finds vigorous thriving white roots in APril, while scratching about, and thinks here is something doing quite well.
A few weeks later he discovers that what is doing so well is bindweed. It roots from any fragment. It is not quite as bad as ground elder, but almost.
Anyway, as soon as the earth mellows enough to work, I like to search for bindweed roots and get them out. It is not conquerable, once it gets established, but it can be discouraged or at least inconvenienced. How marvelously it adapts to the hostile gardener. If you dig up a bushel of its roots, it comes up later than usual and at first its fragile and you think how wonderful there are only a few expiring strands this year.
You must instantly dig it up - instantly all summer - or it will unobtrusively (and thin as a hairpin) creep over to a bush and then explode into steams thick as a clothesline with foliage to rival 'a Brazilian forest.
like many other terrors of the gardener, it loves to entrench itself between two boundary fences where it is impregnable.
Poison ivy is equally clever, building up enough strength under ground to make little forays out, even after several years of seeming slaughter.
I have been thinking of odd behaviour among fragant flowers. A friend to whom I gave a rooted cutting of the greenhouse Jasminum polyanthum now has it in bloom and at first I did not smell it. Then it was so strong I could not believe it. Now everybody knows that violets (the few that are strongly perfumed) have a sweetness that comes and goes. The ionone paralyzes the nerves, as it were, so the scent seems to come and go.
Many other scents are equally inconstant. I remember once planting a whole border of night-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis) simply for its clove-vanilla fragrance, and being angry that some nights it did not perfume the air. You could never count on it.
The night jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), on the other hand, is infallible late in the summer.
But I had not noticed, until recently, that roses on rare occasions behave in a strange way. I do not mean merely that they are variously scented at different times of day, land I do not mean merely that some gardeners have better noses than others, and I do not mean simply that some of us are wired-in, so to speak, especially for tea scent or damask scent, in roses, detecting it strongly while other gardeners do not.
No, what I am talking about is roses that are quite scentless in some places and strongly perfumed in others. An English gardener told me last week that in their household they did not like 'Zephyrine Drouhin' because it has no fragrance. But that is a main reason I grow it.
This rose lis a raw pink, the color of dime-store candy, if you can remember what that was, but it is a good rose near a gate or a walk since it is thornless, and also there is the strong and beautiful perfume.
And yet that gardener has found it scentless.
Another example: I have grown the five-petaled Rosa chinensis mutabilis for years, and never found any scent at all in it.
Others say it is sweetly scented.
One final - and incredible - example: The eminent authority on roses, Graham Stuart Thomas (and a rose is not a rose unless or until he pronounces on it) more than once has commented on the total lack of scent in the old hybrid perpetual 'Paul Neyron.'
And yet everyone, I should think, who has ever grown that rose knows how deliciously and intensely fragrant it is, an attar scent that races right up the nose like ether. Virtually all catalogues note either that it is fragrant or else intensely fragrant. It has been grown in American gardens since the 1860s, and one reson is its fine scent. (It is a gawky bush and the flowers, seven inches in diameter, are not very freely produced in the summer and only a few in the fall, for it is chiefly spring-blooming. And yet it is rarely chopped down because the gardener remembers its fine smell.)
There is no way Thomas can be mistaken about the identity of 'Paul Neyron,' since in size it is virtually unique. And he has one of the best noses in the western world.
My guess is that some individual plant of that rose sported a branch with scentless flowers, and that somehow Mr. Thomas' plants were propagated from such a branch. I cannot think of any other explanation.
I also believe the rose 'Peace' may vary from plant to plant in fragrance. To me it is totally scentless. It is like smelling glass.
But on a number of occasions gardeners have told me 'Peace' is nicely, if not powerfully, scented. I do feel that scent is the main (almost the only) reason for liking roses, and high on my list of Nature's dumbest blunders is her folly in not endowing the China roses (Rose chinensis) with any perfume to speak of. No other roses are so constant in the production of bloom, and the lack of fragrance is a shortcoming of some seriousness.
How true it is that everything falls short of perfection one way or another except, I suppose, irises.
This summer I expect to settle my views about the general health of such roses as 'Agnes,' 'Lawrence Johnston' and 'Goldbusch,' all yellows derived from R. lutea or (as it is now called) R. feetida. It does not stink enough to deserve the name, actually. Anyway, the closer a rose is, genetically, to R. lutea, the more suspicious I am of it. All three of these roses should be severly afflicted by blackspot, yet I keep hearing they are healthy. I shall see for myself.
Yellow roses that derive their yellow from the tea rose are also afflicted by blackspot but not to the same extent. 'Mrs. Pierre S. DuPont,' an old hybrid tea not much grown any more, tends to drop leaves from blackspot and look sad from July onward (without spraying) but persists for years even so, giving fine crops. It is important to me for roses to endure reasonably well without spraying, because I am flat not going to spray them.
Growers like to lsay it is simple enough to spray, and in a sense they are right. Every few years I decide to spray the roses, and am rewarded by clean foliage, but I know perfectly well I will wind up with only those roses that manage without this ridiculous attention.
Spring in Washington comes 2 1/2 weeks later than I think it should. On the other hand, blackspot comes later up here top. Things even out.