NEVER HAVE the dogwoods fruited so heavily. The scarlet fruits are so thick the trees could be mistaken for viburnums.
And while gardeners of course appreciate this unusual bonus, they know all too well it will be paid for next spring. As a casual examination of the dogwood twigs will show, extremely few flower buds have set, and we shall have an unusually poor display of flowers next April.
I was thinking of this while peering about the American Horticultural Society's headquarters, River Farm, down by Mount Vernon. It was amazing to see the progress made in the garden there by Steven Smith and a very small gardening staff in a mere three years.
Especially notable were some beds of roses, all in bloom, not a weed to be seen, and the plants about seven feet high. Most magnificent of all was 'Peace,' the ivory cabbage rose flushed with beet. I grudgingly confess that when it is at its best, which this rose admittedly often is, it is breathtaking in size, vigor, delicacy of coloring. My objection to it is its lack of scent -- I see no reason to introduce a rose nowadays that is scentless -- and its occasional air of grossness.
And yet I suppose it is absurd of me to complain a rose is too healthy and grows a tad too well, or that its flowers are too often too large. I have often wished the old tea rose, 'Marie Van Houtte,' which is the same color as 'Peace,' was a good bit larger than it is, and somewhat hardier. I have often wondered what a cross between these two roses would turn up.
But what I started to say was that sometimes people complain to me (a great many things are a garden writer's fault, as I have long since been made aware) that their plants of 'Peace' do not do nearly as well as they had been led to expect.
It commonly turns out that this is because an attempt is made to grow them in a patch of maple roots, often shaded for three-quarters of the day, rarely given any manure or water, etc., etc. And, of course, no rose will stand the frightful conditions that 'Peace' is sometimes subjected to.
When I say it grows all over itself and the flowers are too fat and the rest of my ill-natured complaints against this rose, I of course mean that this is true when it is treated right: given full sun, a deeply dug bed, a four-inch mulch, steady watering through the growing season, sprays against black spot, and reasonable doses of fertilizer.
I think I may have overdone my general comforts offered to gardeners, to the general effect that we must do as well as we can, despite the wretched maples we can do nothing about. And so on.
I never meant to imply that roses, not even 'Peace,' will settle for the thin fare of the sassafras, the mountain laurel or the dogwood.
Our modern roses are hardly shrubs. They may be thought of (at least I often think of them so) as little factories for the grinding out of perpetual bloom. And as such they need high culture and a good bit of attention.
I am blessedly aware that some of the very old roses, including the albas such as 'Maiden's Blush' and 'Celeste,' will fight for a living and will endure surprising persecutions in the way of drought, shade, and the threat of fungi, and will moreover bloom in May as if life had always been easy. But even the toughest nearly wild roses have their limits.
I lost Rosa rubrifolia, a large plant, to the gradual incursion of a wretched wild cherry on one side and the tough 'Mme. Alfred Carriere' on the other. We may not take even tough shrubs for granted or expect them to live against all possible odds.
I may say I was outraged when R. rubrifolia died, and while I know that umpteen dozen sorts of wild birds eat the wild cherry fruits, still I regard the tree as nearly as great a curse as the Norway maple or the hemlock in a garden.
But here is the point, lest I start wandering and obscure it: the wonderful native dogwood does indeed flourish like a weed in our happy climate, our happy acid soil, our happy dappled woodlands. But we do not expect it to bloom steadily for five months of the year, as we expect hybrid tea roses to. Sometimes, as this coming spring will show, it doesn't even bloom very heavily once a year. It is not one of those trees that performs only in alternate years (as so many crabs do) but it does have occasional years, especially following a year of uncommonly heavy bloom and fruit, in which it simply takes life easy or takes a bit of a rest.
The modern rose takes no such rest. It is expected to bloom its head off every year, and does so, from May to November.
I think the most critical factor for the production of fine roses is full sun. It is expecting too much to hope they will manage in the shade, and even more extravagant to hope they will flourish if their bed is full of tree roots.
Next, it is surprising how many gardeners expect them to grind out flowers forever without any supplemental watering. We may go weeks without rain in the summer, and while the oaks and dogwoods put up with it, the highly artificial rose will not, no more than a vegetable garden will.
Third, I think the hybrid tea really requires careful mulching to do its best in our climate, and regrettably the rose must be sprayed against blackspot.
There is one beauty of the wild dogwood, another beauty of the rose, just as there is one beauty of the wild wolf and quite another beauty, or at least interest, of the Lhasa Apso. Lap dogs are not wild beasts able to fend for themselves, and neither are garden roses. This is shamefully obvious, but perhaps we gardeners too often dodge the obvious.