I am continuously urged, nay, scolded, by my spouse to try roses, largely because he remembers the massive rose bushes of his New England childhood.
Well, there's difference between Washington and New England. It's the summer. Washington was built on a swamp and continues to have the summer weather of one. Attempts to grow massive rose bushes around here, I have found, are doomed.
This does not mean that I am inclined to stop trying. In fact, I have some rather lovely climbing roses about my garden. They are large, prolific, and anually get hideous diseases that turn the leaves into spider webs. But they do produce blooms.
There is, I am sure, the isolated gardener who painstakingly douses his roses with various concoctions and every year achieves spectacular blooms. There is undoubtedly also the gardener (I know of a least one) who sadly neglects his rose bushes and yet they continue to put everything else in the garden to shame. I am neither. And I find it particularly irritating when I confront the latter type of gardener, interrogate him on how he grows such lovely roses, and he merely shrugs and says, "Gee, I don't know. I never do anything to it."
Still, I make my annual pilgrimage to the nursery, select a hybrid tea rose I like, and plant it. If it survives the goats, who display a ravenous taste for roses of all kinds, it blooms well for a time, gets one or another of the diseases or pests that enjoy roses as much as the goats, and never reappears.
I have decided this year that I will not try the modern hybrids, but go for some of the hardy old roses from which the moderns were derived. These were grown sucessfully in Europe for many years, in climates not unlike that found around here. Many are resistant to diseases that plague hybrids. And, most important, they are not grafted -- a major reason for the failure of modern rsoes to survive in the hands of an amateur. I have thought about the old roses for quite a while, because of the success of wild roses in my garden, most of which I really don't like. But it was an article in Blair and Ketchum's Country Journal (April 1982) that really made up my mind for me. In addition to some marvelous information, the story includes a list of nurseries that sell elusive old roses. The address: Box 870, Manchester Center, Vermont 05255.
MAY MADNESS: Traditionally the busiest planting time of the year, May is more than just a time for desperation born of not having enough time to get everything in one wants. It is also, weatherwise, about the best time for a person to be in the garden, and plants and seedlings will agree. Plan on spending more time in the garden this month than any other. It will pay off in the next months in the form of more flowers and vegetables, healthier flora, and, most likely, and early tan.
Young weeds are easy to pull right now. If it hasn't rained in a few days, water the area you are planning on weeding. This will make it much easier to pull the little rascals. It will also help prepare the soil for seeds or plants.
With a trowel or garden fork, dig a shallow trench, depending upon whether you are putting in seeds (about two inches deep) or plants (four to six inches deep). Soak the trench well. Then sow your seeds or plant your seedlings. If it's plants you are putting in, bring the soil up and around the base of the stem and then push it firmly down around the plant, to avoid air pockets, which could foster pests or diseases and inhibits strong root development. If you are sowing seeds, cover them over with a good layer of soil, an inch or two at least (smaller seeds need less coverage, larger ones more), and tamp it down well, again, to avoid air pockets. Both seeds and plants like maximum contact with soil. If you have soaked the trench so well that it is muddy, wait a day to tamp it down. It will dry out overnight and be easier to work the next day.
DAZZLING DAHLIAS: For cut or blooming flowers, dahlias have few equals. They come in a vast variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and are incredibly easy to grow. The larger ones come in tubers; the dwarfs can be bought as seeds or in garden packs, already started.
Make sure you give larger varieties plenty of space for maximum blooms. They should planted no closer than two feet apart. Also give them some means of support, or they will droop and produce fewer blooms. Commercially available tomato cages, which really don't do much for tomatoes, are excellent for large dahlias. Dwarf varieties, which do very nicely in borders, can be planted closer together, and treated much like annual flowers, even though they are perennials.
BEAN BONANZA: If you are inclined to grow string beans, which are marvelous when picked very young and very fresh, try to get some in this weekend. The earlier you can get them started, the less likely the Mexican bean beetle is to devour the vines. Plant beans about four inches deep. To get them started earlier, soak the seeds for a few hours, or overnight (but no more) before you put them in the ground.
TOMATOES, PEPPERS, EGGPLANTS are now safe, more or less. There are a few more days ahead (four, to be exact) when frost may hit, but you can be confident about now in putting in these warm-weather plants. Collar the tomatoes with newspaper to avoid th damaging cutworm, and plant all of these annuals a good four to six inches into the ground, burrying the stem. New roots will grow from the stems, ensuring a hardy, stalwart plant.
CABBAGE CULTURE: All members of the cabbage (brassica) family can be side-dressed now with mulch, preferably manury straw or hay. Spread the mulch loosely, then bring it up around the seedling, leaving only the top leaves exposed. If necessary, water seedlings before doing this. You'll know if they need watering by how dry the soil is on the surface. Also, they may droop a little.
PLANT THIS WEEK: Corn, beans, squash, marigolds, zinnias, petunias, impatiens, dahlias, allysum (for borders), flowering shrubs, fruit trees, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, celery, cucumbers, herbs.