I HAVE NEVER had the courage to plant nasturtium seeds outdoors in the full moon of February, but I once knew somebody who did in our climatic zone, and the fool things bloomed with the roses in May.
So if you have a few extra seeds, you might try it and see what happens.
Somewhat recklessly I have got 19 pots indoors planted with sweet pea seeds. Few gardeners are worse at indoor pots of seeds than I am, so it is really absurd for me to be trying this, but a friend gave me the seed and I know perfectly well that unless I get them going indoors and planted out in March I shall never get any flowers from them.
Such projects are both a great pleasure and a pain in the neck, since the little pots have to be watered often, not having much margin for error in so small a volume of soil. The great problem is sun, of course, and I had to move a number of cymbidiums to the floor in order to get space at the window for the sweet peas.
The thing is, if you don't push yourself every year to try something new to you, you get stale and complacent.
In this bleak weather I have been thinking of rugosa roses. I know that many gardeners have no use for them, since they are worthless for cutting, and the buds open quickly and only last a couple of days in spring heat.
It is true, lest anybody think the rugosas are too good to be true, that they are quite capable of getting black spot, and one of the worst things about them is that, as a group, they have pretty terrible thorns and far more of them than most other roses.
They are all either variations of, or descendants from, a wild rose of Japan, Rosa rugosa, which has wrinkled foliage and five-petaled flowers of white or else madder crimson. The flowers (of the wild sorts) are followed by fat fruits the size of a cherry in the late summer, and in the fall the leaves turn a tawny yellow before falling.
There are two reasons that some gardeners are fond of rugosas: They make handsomer bushes (five to eight or 10 feet tall, depending on variety) than the common garden roses. They have better looking foliage. And despite a bit of black spot here and there, they are in general healthy and most gardeners never think of spraying them.
The national rose society, whose membership votes on roses, assigning them ratings from one to 10 (10 would be a flawless rose) assigns the rugosa variety 'Sarah Van Fleet' a score of 6.5. In general, a good garden rose should have a rating of 7.5 or higher. In this case, the society's membership does not agree with me (it frequently does not, nor I with them) about old Sarah, who came out in the 1920s.
The flowers are medium pink, double, strongly scented, in small clusters, and the eight-foot bushes are covered with them in May, and off and on through the rest of the summer till October.
The reason it has such a poor rating, I suppose, is that it is no good for exhibition or for cutting for the house. On the other hand, the society rates highly a great many roses I would not grow if somebody planted them for me, since they are worthless for garden decoration.
I do not like roses jammed into beds, and I have no intention whatever of spraying the damned things throughout the year, merely because breeders have not exerted themselves properly to turn out roses immune to black spot. Those who like such roses as 'Peace,' 'Charlotte Armstrong' and so forth (to mention two of the most esteemed varieties of this century) are quite welcome to them.
There is no reason we all have to like the same things. I would never give any rose a rating above five if it was scentless, as both 'Peace' and 'Charlotte Armstrong' are. I also disapprove of roses that die to the ground in cold winters, as I have so often seen 'Charlotte Armstrong' do. But mainly, I think what is the point of a rose that is not highly perfumed?
It depends what you value a rose for. And it is just as well to point out that a great many gardeners who know a great deal about roses would rank 'Sarah Van Fleet' very high among garden roses. I myself would score her at 8.5. It certainly is not the rose's fault if her judges are not very good judges.
Both the wild rugosas, especially the white one, are very fine garden ornaments. So is the one called 'Scabrosa,' a name suggestive of dismal dermal ailments, perhaps, which has particularly large fruit and floppy deep maddery flowers five inches across (if you straighten them out).
There is a yellow rugosa, 'Agnes,' that has been called tiger-colored, though I cannot offhand recall butter-yellow tigers with an amber cast. Its leaves are deep bright wrinkled parsley green, and this rose does not often bloom after its spring show. Moreover, it blooms all at once and calls it quits for the year. If, however, you happen to see the bush on one of the five days it is at its best, you will not forget it. It has a nice perfume with an underlay of bitterness, as if there were a bit of rue in it. I love the smell, which derives from the somewhat fetid Persian Yellow rose of Asia Minor.
'Hansa' makes a fine fat tall bush with even more thorns than average for this excessively prickly tribe. It is rather a nightmare to prune, so it is well not to prune it, beyond a light trimming in March, not getting back into the heavy old wood. Its flat somewhat shapeless blooms are, not to split hairs, purple and intensely scented of clove. It blooms through the season.
Somewhat similar and somewhat better in all directions is the (for some reason) quite rarely offered 'Roseraie de l'Hay.' When rose fanatics argue about the most deliciously scented rose of the world, this one is usually in the debate. It is flat, double, crimson touched with purple, and blooms through the season. I do not know a source for it in America, but doubtless it will eventually be sold once the word gets around. It was introduced about 1901. It is a very great rose.
'Mrs. Anthony Waterer,' is of deep magenta persuasion, and has the flaw of not blooming much after its first great flush. It, too, is heavily perfumed, and in full sun it fades (many rugosas do) giving a glorious (or you may think terrifying) range of purplish reds.
Sometimes gardeners make the mistake (I have, occasionally) of supposing that since the rugosas are so splendidly tough, they may be stuck in all sorts of unfavorable sites. They glare back at you, reminding you that they are, after all, among the most superb roses in cultivation, and they have no intention of growing in boggy clay rammed up against a fence that cuts all the sun off their bosoms. 'Belle Poitevine' has been particularly rough with me since I planted her in the gloom. (She is light pink with a magenta cast, but still quite pink, and admirably scented and blooms faithfully and fruits too, and as she has often pointed out through her sulking, she deserves the same good treatment any other rose does).
Apart from the wild white rugosa there is 'Blanc Double de Coubert,' which is double and does not fruit; 'Snow Dwarf,' which reaches only four or five feet in height and which many gardeners swear by; 'Sir Thomas Lipton,' which can reach 10 feet (more often eight) and blooms steadily, though only its spring flowers are fine. In May, or even in late April, they come by the hundreds, nicely scented though not powerfully so, and if the weather suits (as it often does in the spring) they are as perfectly formed as double white camellias. I always felt Sir Thomas was not well-groomed in summer, with patches of black spot and scrawny white blooms in the heat, but neither 100 degrees nor 10 below ever bothered him much, nor the black spot either, and he never showed any awareness he was a bit sloppy. In spring, of course, I have never seen more beautiful white roses, and only 'Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria' and 'Snowbird' and 'Madame Alfred Carriere' were in the same league.
And maybe 'Ivory Fashion' and 'White Maman Cochet.' But I suppose nobody grows any of them any more, and of that batch only Madame Alfred is trouble-free, spray-wise. Though, come to think of it, I never sprayed 'Snowbird' or White Maman or the Kaiserin either. Glorious roses, all of them, though not rugosas, of course.
The gardener is liable to make two errors with roses, in my view: First, he is almost certain to plant too many blatant ones like 'Tropicana' and second, he is liable to pay utter attention to the individual blooms rather than to the general show the bush makes in the garden.
Nothing wrong in that. Wrong for me, of course, but then I have been peering at roses with some care for half a century or so, and I both expect less and demand more of them than some gardeners. And without the least offense intended to florist-type roses, I may say I don't like them much, and I commend some of the rugosas to you. I didn't used to think I liked them, and cannot think why I ever planted my first one, decades ago; but to my surprise, I got fond of the whole batch of them. You might, too.