Roses forum: A Rose Odyssey in Three Parts

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Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
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Mike
Sep 16, 2010 8:08 PM CST
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PART 1

This past June, while working in the rose garden, I was called inside the house for a Sunday afternoon phone call from my 78 year old mother. We greeted one another with our usual banter, and she casually asked what I was up to that weekend. I explained that the roses had just gone into their first full bloom of the season, and I described the colorful scene for her. She responded by saying how much she wished I lived close enough to help her start a rose garden of her own. She and my father live in North Carolina where I was born and raised, but now I live in New York. She has always loved roses, especially yellow varieties, and although she maintains countless azaleas, camellias, gardenias, hydrangeas, and other shrubs and perennials, she has never grown the “queen of flowers.”

Even though she was just musing aloud, I said that if she really wanted to commit to growing them, I could write out instructions for selecting and planting roses, and talk her through the process if and when needed. The more she considered the idea, the more she liked it, so over the next couple of weeks we exchanged emails about it. The more we discussed plans for her new rose venture, the more I wished I could help her in person. So the next time we talked by phone I offered to take a few days off from work the following month, fly down to Winston-Salem, and help her get started with a bed of roses. Although July wasn't the optimal time to plant them, I told her it that since we would be planting roses from pots instead of bare roots, it would be all right, provided she could find plants in good enough condition at that stage in the season.

She was happy to take me up on the offer, and we agreed that to make the best use of the limited time I would have for my visit, she would ask her landscaper to pre-dig the especially deep holes that would be needed in which to plant roses, given the thick red clay that constitutes the soil in that part of the state. By having this done before I got there, I wouldn't have to spend all my time digging in the 95 degree heat, and instead could spend time visiting nurseries with her, showing her what to look for when selecting roses, what to avoid, and then bringing them home and planting them with her. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t have any manual work to do. I would still need to mix a giant batch of nutrient-rich loam using a combination of commercial garden soil, peat moss, composted manure, and Rose-Tone, to refill the holes dug out of the heavy red clay.

We also agreed that prior to my visit, she would spend some time visiting local nurseries and websites to get an idea of what types of roses she liked. She proved to be a very good student as she learned the characteristics of hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, Austins, and other shrub roses. We spent some time on the phone and exchanging emails discussing the attributes of various cultivars whose names she wrote down and asked me about. I told her which ones I thought were good choices (quick to repeat, and relatively disease resistant), and which ones didn't live up to their billing (roses that shatter if you look at them cross-eyed, or resemble a Dalmatian due to blackspot). Of course, such characteristics vary among zones, microclimates, soil conditions, and even rootstocks, so all I could do was speak from my own experience, and look up their American Rose Society ratings. She came to understand that rose selection wasn’t just about choosing one’s favorite colors; it also involved considerations of bloom shape, petal count and substance, growth habit, and how a particular rose performs in different conditions.

She ended up with a "short list" (which wasn't all that short!) of roses she was interested in. I was familiar with many of them, either because I grow them myself or had seen them in local nurseries. However, I wasn't familiar with the ones that aren’t hardy enough to be sold in my zone, which is 600 miles north of my parents’ home. But since she’s good with surfing the web, I told her about HelpMeFind.com, where she could look them up, read descriptions, and see “real” photos of the roses on her list as opposed to a catalog’s “idealized” pictures that may or may not show a rose as it typically appears.

Since my mother became concerned that the local nurseries’ inventories might become picked over by the time I visited her in mid July, she decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and start purchasing some of the roses that we agreed would be good choices, from a favorite local nursery. Although I had originally looked forward to helping her select her roses in person, I agreed it made sense to go ahead and get them a few weeks before I arrived, provided she watered them every day and kept them in appropriate light.

I gave her some talking points to discuss with the individual who manages the rose section at the nursery she prefers, and advised her how to get assistance in selecting good plants. But I also tried to provide her with as much advice as I could think of so that she could select good plants on her own. It was an interesting exercise for me, because I had to articulate so many things that I just automatically take into consideration (or take for granted) when I select a rose, but had never articulated for someone else.

For example, I explained how to look for roses that don’t just appear bushy or floriferous when looking down at the top of the plant, but to look for roses that have as many canes as possible growing from the bud union at the bottom of the plant (which means picking them up, turning them around, and keeping track of the count and thickness of the canes when comparing two or more plants). I explained that all roses inevitably lose canes, and she wouldn’t want to purchase a plant that at first glance appeared to be well proportioned, but in fact had leaves and flowers stemming from only one or two good canes. I tried to describe what a heat-stressed plant looked like, the color and texture of a healthy cane, the condition of a good bud union, the difference between the white residue left on leaves from pesticides versus powdery mildew – things like that.

So off she went to the nursery, armed with the best advice I could think of. As it turned out, when she got there she discovered that some of the “first choices” on her list of preferred roses were no longer available, but some of the others were, and there were also some acceptable substitutes, so she returned home with six roses, including:
• Bishop's Castle
• Windmere
• Ingrid Bergman
• Octoberfest
• Peace
• Sterling Silver

She called me that night, very excited about her first purchase of roses, and I had the feeling she was getting “bitten by the bug” since she began talking about other roses she’d like to have. So I told her about Witherspoon Rose Culture in Durham, N.C., a nursery about 80 miles away from her. Although I had never visited there myself, it’s one of the better known rose nurseries in the state – indeed, in that part of the country. I sent her their web address, and a few days later she made the trip and returned home with four more roses, including:
• Midas Touch
• Dream Come True
• Chihuly
• Mister Lincoln

As the time drew nearer for my visit, I suggested that she and my father purchase in advance bags of garden soil and manure, a bale of peat moss, and a large bag of Rose-Tone for me to make the loam soil we would use to plant the roses with. I also suggested that when the landscaper came over to dig the planting holes, that they be dug 18 inches wide and at least 18 inches deep, but that a depth of 24 inches would be even better since the native clay soil would be very slow to drain. The landscaper agreed to the task, so they scheduled a date for him to dig the holes in a former flower bed that got ample sunlight. They also discussed the need for my parents to “call before you dig” to make sure no utility lines went through the area designated for the new rose bed.

When the utility inspector subsequently came out to examine the area, they discovered that the phone lines were buried directly beneath the intended rose bed – good thing they called! So he inserted some little flags and spray painted some lines on the ground to indicate where holes should not exceed 12 inches in depth. Fortunately the landscaper was able to work around these parameters, and dug 10 enormous holes a week before I arrived.

Our plan was coming together nicely – my mother had her roses, she had the soil amendments ready, and best of all, she had the enthusiasm and commitment needed to see it through.
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
Seed Starter Container Gardener Roses Bulbs I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Peonies
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Mike
Sep 16, 2010 8:10 PM CST
PART 2

When I finally made it down to North Carolina in mid July, my mother picked me up at the airport. Instead of driving home we drove to a restaurant where she and my father go every Friday afternoon to have lunch with four other couples who have been friends of our family for the better part of 50 years. My father had already gone over there in his car, so when we arrived I gave him a big hug, along with all their friends seated around their group’s “regular” table. It was nice to see them all again, and little did I know that one of them (a spry ol’ gal by the name of Mrs. West, who was my Sunday school teacher 40 years ago) would play a surprisingly significant role in my “Rose Odyssey” that weekend. But that will have to wait until Part 3 of this story; I don’t want to get ahead of myself. For now, suffice it to say she took a particular interest when our rose project came up in conversation, and told me she had something she’d like to give to me, and would come by the house that weekend to pay a visit.

In the meantime, we all had a nice lunch together, and afterwards my father prepared to drive home in his car, and my mother asked if I wanted to go home, too, or if I would be interested in driving over to Witherspoon Rose Culture in Durham with her in her car. Witherspoon has a magnificent formal rose garden that displays the roses that they sell, and I said I’d love to see it if she didn’t mind making a repeat trip so soon after her initial visit. She was more than willing (another sign she had gotten bitten by the bug), so we hopped on the interstate and arrived less than an hour and a half later.

The day was very hot, hazy and humid, but when we pulled into the parking lot, I looked over at the enormous formal rose garden and knew we would probably spend the rest of the afternoon there. And that’s just what we did. We picked up a map of the garden and slowly wound our way along the symmetrical paths, from one end to the other, stopping along the way to admire each section and grouping of cultivars. I had fun trying to predict the names of different varieties before looking at their “dog tags,” as I like to call their metal identification labels, although there were quite a few varieties that were unfamiliar to me since they aren’t common in my zone back in New York. It was also fun to finally see certain roses that I had often seen in catalogs, but never seen in person – like Vavoom, which really is the color of orange juice!

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We took many photographs of the garden from different perspectives, including these.

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When Witherspoon closed at 5:00 PM, we made the drive back to Winston-Salem and talked about all the roses we had seen, which ones we liked the most, and which ones to add to my mother’s growing wish list. It was a wonderful way to kick off the weekend’s project.

When we pulled into my parents’ driveway an hour and a half later, I saw the 10 enormous holes dug in the new rose bed, and a giant mound of red clay piled high in a corner. The holes were almost perfectly uniform in their dimensions, and my mother told me that she and the landscaper measured each one with a yard stick to ensure it met the minimum dimensions I suggested. What attention to detail – I was seriously impressed! Although I was glad the holes had been dug in advance, I knew I still had a big job ahead of me mixing the loam to fill them back up again.

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After admiring the preparations that had been made, we walked around the corner to see the roses Mom had purchased and lined up in a row, waiting to be planted. Several were blooming prettily, and though I was tempted to examine each one closely, both my mother and I were a bit tired and thirsty, so instead we went on inside so that each of us could relax with our respective beverages of choice before dinner: Mom made herself a martini, Dad had a Manhattan, and I had a beer. Then we sat down to a delicious dinner of North Carolina style barbecue that Mom prepared for the three of us.

By the time we finished dinner it was growing dark outside, so we decided not to do any work on the rose bed that evening, but agreed to get started bright and early the next day. So the following morning, after breakfast and a second cup of coffee, my mother and I headed outside. She donned her new gauntlet gloves and began moving the roses from the front of the house over to the side bed where they would be planted. Meanwhile I went around back, got the wheel barrow, and loaded it up with the first of many bags of garden soil, compost, and peat moss that would be used that day.

By the time I brought the first load of soil amendments up in the wheelbarrow, Mom had just finished organizing the roses, so I knelt down to get my first good look at them. I started by examining each of the roses she had purchased at Witherspoon a few weeks earlier, and they were just as beautiful and in as good a condition as the ones I had seen there for sale the day before. The staff had done a nice job helping her select good specimens whose leaves and canes were healthy and strong.

Then I turned my attention to the roses that had been purchased at a nearby nursery that while not nationally known like Witherspoon, was still known as a good local sources of roses. Naturally I was eager to inspect the quality of their plants, but was concerned with what I saw: cane borers had visibly burrowed into the piths where many of the canes had been pruned. Some of the canes had begun yellowing beneath the entry hole, where the borers had chewed their way down the pith.

Of course, I had no way of knowing if the roses had been sold to my mother like that several weeks earlier, or if the cane borers had set to work after she purchased them, but in any event they needed some “first aid” before they could be planted. So I began pruning many infested canes, nipping off a half inch at a time until I reached healthy pith, and sealed off the pruning cuts with wood glue. Some of the “shrapnel” that resulted from these gradual cuts were plainly infested with live borers of different kinds, wriggling around inside the tunnels they had burrowed. Although this was frustrating to my mother, it was also a good learning experience in what to look out for, how to seal pruning cuts, and how to deal with infested canes if she should encounter them again.

All but one of the roses looked fine after pruning them, but 'Octoberfest' was reduced to a single viable cane, so we decided we would return it the next day and ask for an exchange. But in the meantime, we had some serious planting to do. So I set to work showing Mom how to mix the loam, and fill each hole about 8 inches from the top. Then we lifted the roses out of their pots, gently loosened the exterior soil of the root ball to help the roots spread out, and placed each rose with the bud union an inch above ground (appropriate for her Southern zone).

We managed to get several roses in the ground before we ran out of soil ingredients, so we took a break, ate some lunch, and drove over to one of the national home improvement centers to get more soil. But I was surprised by what I found there - or rather, couldn’t find there. Rather than the bags of black garden soil or top soil I was accustomed to, their bags of “soil” consisted largely of the type of hard crumbled red clay I was looking to replace. Also, their bags of manure were substantially supplemented with peat moss, which I prefer to add as a separate amendment and still had plenty of back at the house. So we left that store and went to another, where I finally found some bags of good black soil and pure manure, so we loaded up the car and went back home where I continued mixing the loam.

This type of work always takes more time than you think it will, especially when it’s 95 degrees and the sun is bearing down on you, so after getting two-thirds of the roses planted, we decided to wait to plant the remaining roses until the next day. In the meantime, we needed to get cleaned up before relatives arrived to visit. But before we could stop what we were doing, my niece Cate arrived earlier than expected but unnoticed since she parked her car out front on the street instead of the driveway. I’m not sure which one of us was more startled by the other when she came around the side of the house and found me kneeling on my knees inside one of the planting holes, looking like some gleeful gnome rising out of the earth itself.

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That evening I enjoyed the company of my extended family, all of whom took an interest in the project my mother and I had embarked on. We talked about roses, gardening, and all manner of topics until it came time for each relative to return to their respective homes. Then my parents and I turned in for the night, ready to get up the next day and resume our work.

The next morning my mother and I decided that before resuming our plantings, we would return the rose that had been so decimated by cane borers to the nursery, and ask if they would permit us to exchange it. So we drove over there, and I chatted up some of the very friendly staff while my mother took an interest in some patio furniture on sale before we mentioned the rose we wanted to return. They were more than happy to permit us to exchange it for any other rose in the nursery, earning an A+ for customer service in my book. Moreover, they told us to keep the one we had brought to return, in case we could restore it to good health. So we entered the rose area to peruse the available stock. Not surprisingly, much of it was a little “picked over” given that it was already July, but my mother spotted a 'Dream Come True' that she liked, and I took a close look at it and agreed it was in good shape. Then I looked over and spotted a group of Austin’s ‘Janet’ that were some of the healthiest roses I had seen in a long time, with numerous canes sprouting from the bud unions. I called my mother over and said, “I know these aren’t the right size for the rose we need to replace, but I think these ‘Janets’ are some of best formed rose plants in the nursery. If I were here looking for roses to add to my own garden, I’d take one of these home with me. So keep it in mind for the future, in case you can find the space.”

With that in mind, we returned home with just the 'Dream Come True', along with a patio table and chairs in the back of the car, and resumed our rose planting after lunch. A little while later, the phone rang and my mother went indoors to take the call. When she returned she said that Mrs. West phoned to say she’d like to pay us a visit that evening, but we still had time to finish our work. So we resumed our plantings, and by the end of the afternoon we had gotten all of the roses into the ground, with the exception of the 'Octoberfest' that the local nursery told us to keep. We simply didn’t have the space (or time) to dig a hole for it, so we placed it in a temporary pot, and completed the rose bed by spreading some mulch over it to give it a “finished look,” and to help the soil retain moisture and suppress weeds.

As my mother and I finished up our work, we took a deep breath, smiled, and stood back to admire the fruits of our labor. As the sun began to lower in the sky, the rose bed looked lovely in the waning light, and we knew that all of our planning, timing, and hard work had paid off. We had done it - and best of all it was a collaborative effort. So we took a few photographs to commemorate our accomplishments, and went inside to get cleaned up.

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Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
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Mike
Sep 16, 2010 8:13 PM CST
PART 3

Later that evening, the doorbell rang. Mrs. West had come to visit, and entered the house in good humor with a touch of flourish, carrying a box with mysterious papers, books, and photographs. We settled in the family room to see what she had brought. As she unpacked the materials, she explained that she was the great niece of the internationally renowned rosarian of the 1920s and 30s, Dr. Jean Henri Nicolas (pronounced Nee·coh·lah). And as fortune would have it, some of her uncle's and family’s rose-related materials had been passed down to her. She appreciated their significance, but had never been sure quite what to do with them beyond safe-keeping. But knowing of my passion for roses, and my second passion for antiquarian books, she thought perhaps I might like to have the materials.

This was a remarkable gift, and I was deeply touched. To understand the significance of the materials she brought is to understand who Jean Henri Nicolas was. He was born in 1875 in Roubaix, France, permanently moved to the U.S. after meeting his wife here (and promising her father he would not take her back to France), and died in New York in 1937. Although his love affair with roses started as a hobby, he became a world-recognized expert and gave up a business career to make his living in rose horticulture.

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In addition to writing three books on roses, his accomplishments included serving as the first Director of Research for Jackson & Perkins Company (when it was among the largest rose growers in the world), and before that served as a researcher for Conrad-Pyle / Star Roses. He was a Trustee of the American Rose Society, Vice President of the National Rose Society of England, and was frequently honored by the Rose Society of France and the German Rose Society. He held a doctorate in natural science for his accomplishments in creative horticulture, was a Knight of the Merite Agricole, Officer of the Academy of France, and Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. And to top it all off, he was also a gourmet. As the French rosarian Francis Meilland once said of him, “He was everything all at once, a man of fine letters, a fine speaker, a good writer, a wonderful diplomat and a surprising geneticist."

As a rose hybridizer, Nicolas was a pioneer who enjoyed considerable success. As Director of Research for Jackson & Perkins from 1929 to 1937, his crosses led to 31 roses, including the yellow hybrid tea ‘Eclipse’ (which won gold medals in Rome and Bagatelle), ‘Empire State’, ‘Kismet’, the hybrid tea blend ‘Gloaming’, the hardy yellow climber ‘King Midas’, the hybrid nutkana ‘Leonard Barron’, the original floribunda ‘Rochester’, as well as ‘Mary Margaret McBride’, ‘Miss America’, ‘Starlight’, ‘Yosemite’, ‘Flambeau’, and ‘June Morn’, among others.

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Yet for all his grand accomplishments, he eschewed the pretentious names given to so many roses. As noted in the 2010 book, A Rose by Any Name, by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello (Algonquin Books), Nicolas poked irreverent fun at long-winded names like ‘Baronesse A. van Hovell tot Westerflier’, whereas he named one of his own cultivars, quite simply, ‘Smiles’. His hybridizations were not limited to crossing roses with other roses; he also crossed roses with other members of the Roaceae family, such as apples, in an effort to bring novelty and improved hardiness to his cultivars. Even after his death in 1937, his hybrids continued to be introduced to the market, including the climber posthumously named for him, the everblooming ‘Dr. J. H. Nicolas’.

In addition to his hybridizations, Nicolas was an accomplished author, as evidenced by his three books, The Rose Manual: An Encyclopedia for the American Amateur (1930, 335 pp.), A Year in the Rose Garden (1936, 105 pp.), and A Rose Odyssey (1937, 238 pp.) all published by Doubleday, Doran & Co. The collection of materials Mrs. West brought with her that evening included two signed copies of A Rose Odyssey, one that Jean Henri inscribed to his beloved wife, and the other to his daughter, Lucy. The dust jackets of both showed extreme wear – these books had been read many times over! But the books and their bindings were still in very good condition and have held up well through the years.

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Also included in the collection of Mrs. West’s materials was a thick envelope filled with several years’ worth of the monthly bulletin entitled “The Rose”. Its publisher, the Philadelphia Rose Society, had serially printed Nicolas’ previously unpublished manuscript, The Rose Breeder’s Manual, beginning with their January 1952 issue of the bulletin.

Also included in the box were three portraits of Nicolas, including two of him working with roses in the test fields (shown above). There were also photographs of American Rose Society ceremonies, and a close-up photograph of the Nicolas cultivar named for 'Mary Margaret McBride', which was put into production in 1942 five years after his death.

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But perhaps the most interesting item in the collection of materials was a typewritten manuscript that his daughter Lucy helped prepare in 1966, that posthumously updated and combined the original texts of her father’s first and third books (The Rose Manual and A Rose Odyssey) with The Rose Breeder’s Manual, which she hoped to have published as The Nicolas Anthology. Along with the manuscript were various letters Lucy had written to propose the project to publishers like Dodd, Mead & Co., Dover Publications, and M. Barrows and Co., along with their cordial and sincerely interested replies. But as far as I know, the proposed anthology was not ultimately published, and the 403-page hand-typed manuscript, while mostly comprised of the same content found in his original works, is somewhat unique.

I told Mrs. West that not only would I take good care of these materials and properly conserve them, but that I would surely enjoy reading them to learn more about the man who contributed so much to rose culture. In fact, I wasted no time doing so. The next day, after saying farewell to my parents until our next planned get-together in September, I began reading A Rose Odyssey on the plane trip home to New York. I found it very readable, and just as timely now as it was in 1937. The book records Nicolas’ annual excursions around the globe to visit his friends and contemporaries in the field of rose cultivation. These included such well-known names as Pedro Dot, Samuel McGredy, Wilhelm Kordes, Joseph Pernet-Ducher, Marc Guillot, A. Meilland, the Poulsens, and many others.

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Nicolas' journeys are recounted in the style of a travelogue, sprinkled with insight and humor. Although he was certainly part of what we might call the rose “establishment”, he made some interesting observations that challenged conventional wisdom. For example, his perspectives on the vagaries of optimal soil conditions and pH levels not only challenged prevailing opinions then, but would still do so today.

I so enjoyed reading A Rose Odyssey that I have ordered Nicolas’ other two books. Although they are long out of print, copies can still be obtained from antiquarian book sellers. I also plan to read the Rose Breeder’s Manual contained in the Anthology manuscript I was given. Although hybridization’s state of the art has surely advanced since the manuscript was originally written, I hope it might serve as a useful primer should I ever decide to tinker with hybridizing myself – something that, given the odds of genetic crossings, isn’t likely to lead to any great creations, but might be fun in the trying.

Regardless of which one of Nicolas’ books I may find to be the most interesting, I suspect I will always appreciate A Rose Odyssey best of all, for its title aptly describes both the literal and figurative journey I embarked on this summer with my mother as "traveling companion." It involved equal parts of fun, hard work, and learning as we planned and carried out our endeavors. Best of all, it culminated in a successfully installed bed of roses that my mother is already expanding with the acquisition of 16 more plants! It would seem that just like other travelers who have succumbed to entomological dangers while traversing through flora and fauna, she, too, has been “bitten by the bug”, and that means her own rose odyssey is just beginning.
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mollymistsmith
Sep 16, 2010 9:30 PM CST
Bravo Mike!!! Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. Smiling Hurray!
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Name: Toni
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Skiekitty
Sep 17, 2010 11:29 AM CST
Wow, that's totally awesome! Your mom is so lucky to have such a wonderful son!!!

And, of course, if your family is amicable to the plans, have her take a weekend trip to Roses Unlimited, which looks like is only like 3.5 hours south of Winston, NC.

:) Smiling :)
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Name: Zuzu
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zuzu
Sep 17, 2010 11:55 AM CST

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Oh, Mike, what a wonderful account of your adventure, capped off by such a splendid gift from Mrs. West! Your mother's going to love her roses all the more because of the knowledge you shared with her and because it was such a loving collaborative project.

I really appreciate the information about J.H. Nicolas you're sharing with us. I read something else about him on his HMF page that was interesting: He's the doctor for whom "The Doctor" was named. It's too bad that all but one or two of Nicolas' roses have virtually disappeared from commerce, but Frederick Howard's "The Doctor" is available from many nurseries and is famous in some circles for having the biggest blooms ever seen on a rose -- up to 7" or 8" in diameter, according to some sources.

I really enjoyed seeing the pictures, especially the ones of Pedro Dot, the brilliant hybridizer whose roses are so stunning, and of all of the McGredys, including the sweet picture of Samuel McGredy IV, the mind behind all of the hand-painted roses I love and so many other roses in my garden.
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Calif_Sue
Sep 17, 2010 2:05 PM CST

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Wow Mike, what a wonderfully written story of the adventures in creating your mother's new rose garden and the fascinating history of Mr. Nicolas! The photos added so much to the story too. You went in such great detail that I felt like I was there. Love the picture of you 'standing' in that hole too. Hilarious!
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Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
Seed Starter Container Gardener Roses Bulbs I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Peonies
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Mike
Sep 17, 2010 5:28 PM CST
Thanks for the nice feedback Molly.

Zuzu, I knew you'd like the information on Pedro Dot and the McGredys; in fact, I thought of you when I got to those sections of the book. Nicolas is also discussed in the book I gave you this past February, "A Rose by Any Name". I see that Pickering carries "Dr. J. H. Nicolas" - maybe I should start growing it.

Toni, I already mentioned RU to my mother, because believe it or not, their soil "recipe" calls for red clay - but with lots of amendments.

I'm glad you felt like you were there Sue. The more the merrier!
Name: Zuzu
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zuzu
Sep 17, 2010 5:50 PM CST

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He is quoted profusely in the book you gave me. I just checked in the index. In fact, he told the story I enjoyed about Queen Alexandra picking out a substandard McGredy rose to bear her name.

I often wonder how Lady Bird Johnson felt about the J&P rose named in her honor. The blooms are beautiful, but the rose bush itself is a disgrace!

Pickering does indeed carry Dr. J.H. Nicolas, and so does Roses Unlimited. RU, in fact, carries three of his roses: that one, Eclipse, and Mary Margaret McBride. Vintage carries Smiles. I think you should grow some of his roses and The Doctor, which is available from Vintage or RU.
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
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Mike
Sep 17, 2010 6:05 PM CST
Isn't that interesting that RU caries Mary Margaret McBride. Some of the photographs Mrs. West gave me are of the ARS ceremony which released the rose to the public, along with a radio broadcast from Ms. McBride herself, which was attended by Nicolas' wife (in the big hat) and other dignitaries, as shown here.

Thumb of 2010-09-18/Mike/06d977 Thumb of 2010-09-18/Mike/1b473a
Name: Zuzu
Northern California (Zone 9a)
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zuzu
Sep 17, 2010 10:41 PM CST

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Wonderful!

I wish women still wore hats. I love them.
Name: Toni
Denver Metro (Zone 5a)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
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Skiekitty
Sep 20, 2010 9:37 AM CST
Zuzu - some of us can't wear hats.. hair gets in the way.

Mike - A rose recipe that calls for clay? Huh.. guess I never looked at their recipe then. I have found that the roses I plant in more of a sand base do better than the clay base. But my clay here is evil.. completely and utterly evil. Your parents are so lucky and those holes are perfect for trees! LOL!! :)

And it's so sad that we don't have dignified ceremonies like this any more.. that we have to have rock stars singing (WTH w/the performances of Beyonce, who I like, and Bruce Springstein?? Garth Brooks? Is this an MTV performance, or the election of the most "powerful man on the planet"?) and tickets going for as much as $250,000 for a company.

Roses are one of my passions! Just opened, my Etsy shop (to fund my rose hobby)! http://www.etsy.com/shop/TweetsnTreats
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
Seed Starter Container Gardener Roses Bulbs I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Peonies
Clematis Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Dog Lover Cat Lover Birds Region: New York
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Mike
Sep 20, 2010 10:20 AM CST
The soil mixture RU recommends per planting hole is as follows:

1. 1 (one) cup of 46% superphosphate
2. 1 (one) cup of dolomitic lime
3. 1 (one) cup of Mills' Magic Rose Mix
4. 1 (one) cup of gypsum
5. 1/4 part compost (approximately 2 gallons)
6. 1/4 part peat moss (approximately 2 gallons)
7. 1/4 part good top soil (approximately 2 gallons)
8. 1/4 part red clay if available...substitute with good grade of commercial potting soil

I'd be intrigued to understand why RU recommends potting soil as a substitute for red clay, since I think of red clay as dense and sticky (when moist) and potting soil is light and airy. Maybe it's because the perlite in potting soil retains moisture and clay also retains moisture? We'll have to ask Pat.

I presume the lime is added to counter the acidity of the superphosphate. Also, as noted on dolomiticlime.com, soil acidity in the U.S. generally tends to increase as one travels from the northwest to the southeast. As rainfall increases, bases like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium are leached out of the soil and replaced by hydrogen, so lime applications provide the following benefits:

- Provides an inexpensive source of calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg)
- Improves microbial activity (which produces organics)
- Improves nitrogen availability of phosphorous (P) and Mg
- Lime aids in the use of P which promotes root growth
- Liming increases soil structure and increases rates of air and water infiltration

Bringing this back to Nicolas, I was intrigued to read in A Rose Odyssey that some of the nurseries and growing fields he visited around the globe produced extraordinarily well developed roses despite the heavy, greasy clay and higher alkalinity found in the local soil.

I pay a lot of attention to soil components and acidity because I have to completely replace the contents of the holes I dig in my own gardens with a loam soil that I mix myself, just like I did for my mother, but for a very different reason. My home is built on a steep slope overlooking a small valley, so the lot on which my house sits was built up using two terraced retaining walls. The man-made cavities created by these retaining walls were filled in with course gravel and topped off with six inches of top soil. So when I dig 18-inch deep holes in which to plant roses I have to remove at least a foot's depth of gravel and replace it with the soil I mix myself. So unlike the holes dug in my mother's garden which are essentially encapsulated by clay walls, the "walls" surrounding the holes I dig in my own garden are extremely permeable. As a result, the drainage is almost "too good," which means that I have to water more frequently during dry spells. Recently I've begun lining the bottoms of the holes I dig with the empty plastic bags that the top soil and manure came in. This helps the moisture to drain/evaporate out of the holes more slowly (i.e., only through the top and sides of the holes), which has really helped some cultivars I grow that need more moisture than others.

Name: Toni
Denver Metro (Zone 5a)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Charter ATP Member Irises Salvias Xeriscape Birds I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Colorado Enjoys or suffers cold winters Cat Lover
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Skiekitty
Sep 20, 2010 12:12 PM CST
huh, that's a great idea w/the plastic bags. Unfortunately, that's not a problem I have. LOL! Smiling And my clay here isn't the sticky icky kind, it's the kind that turns into a solid fricking rock when it dries out and it's MISERABLE. A few weeks ago, I was planting some bluebeards (Caryopteris x clandonensis) and all of the holes were easily dug except one. So, I put the hose in the scratch-mark I was able to hack out with my pickax and filled it with water to let it soak and soften. Left it alone for about an hour. Came back, the water hadn't moved an iota!! So I used the pick part of my pickax (telache') to scratch and try to dig down.. used a hardened steel garden fork to scratch at it.. took about half an hour to break through 8" of soil. Once I got through the clay, I hit sand and things went MUCH more smoothly then. Didn't use the clay to backfill, but rather to use the "moat" I put around all my shrubs to maintain water.

Never happy am I. LOL LOL LOL!!!!!!!!! :)
Roses are one of my passions! Just opened, my Etsy shop (to fund my rose hobby)! http://www.etsy.com/shop/TweetsnTreats
Name: Suzanne
Sebastopol, CA (Zone 9a)
Sunset Zone 15
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Calif_Sue
Sep 20, 2010 7:03 PM CST

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Try mixing in gypsum to help break up the clay.
http://www.basic-info-4-organic-fertilizers.com/gypsum.html
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Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
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porkpal
Sep 20, 2010 10:10 PM CST
We used to have really nasty clay at a previous property and the mixing itself is a problem. If it's dry the clay is like rock if it's wet it is like bubblegum - not highly cooperative.
Porkpal
Name: Suzanne
Sebastopol, CA (Zone 9a)
Sunset Zone 15
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Calif_Sue
Sep 20, 2010 10:29 PM CST

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The lasagna gardening would eventually work, no initial mixing required!
My ATP Blog!
Hand sewn wares and vintage finds in my Etsy store. Summer Song Cottage
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, NY (Zone 6b)
Seed Starter Container Gardener Roses Bulbs I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Peonies
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Mike
Sep 21, 2010 7:30 AM CST
Raised beds are also an option, if you have the resources to build them and fill them with good soil.
Name: Toni
Denver Metro (Zone 5a)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Charter ATP Member Irises Salvias Xeriscape Birds I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Procrastinator The WITWIT Badge Region: Colorado Enjoys or suffers cold winters Cat Lover
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Skiekitty
Sep 21, 2010 9:15 AM CST
Mike - That's what I had to do with 3 beds, make them myself. Painful work. LOL! Actually, now that I think about it, I have the corner (6' square), the "L" bed (15' long x 4' wide, then it bends in an "L" which is 6' long by 3' wide), the petunia bed (approx. 8' wide by 6' deep), the pond area (23' long, 13' wide, 4' deep.. took about 13 tons of fill dirt one shovel at a time), then the west side, which is .. crap, I don't know, but big.. like 35' long by .. ? 15? wide. Bighorn Sand & Rock know me by my vehicles.. first I was doing bucket by bucket in my 06 Scion xB, then bucket by bucket in my 98 Nissan Altima, then I could do bucket by bucket in my Sienna. The 13 tons I had delivered and hired a bobcat to move it to the back yard, but I had to pile, smooth, & put it in the right way, plus line the bricks.

Transplanted 2 of my roses last night.. they were in a rock bed in the front and they were just 100% NOT happy. I hadn't seen either one bloom at ALL this year. They'll be happier in the back I believe away from the rocks. I'm striving to move my other 3 tonight.. already have the holes dug. And since I'm already starting to move mulch in the back, they should be in a happier way than in a rock bed. Guess it's too hot w/the rocks. I'll put some agastache in their place in the front.. I love that stuff. Smells wonderful & the hummers LOVE 'em!
Roses are one of my passions! Just opened, my Etsy shop (to fund my rose hobby)! http://www.etsy.com/shop/TweetsnTreats
Name: aka GardenQuilts
Pocono Mountains, PA
Andi
Sep 24, 2010 12:32 AM CST
What a wonderful story.

I have rocks held together with clay...with tree roots. Compost with coffee grounds and egg shells helps. Earthworms have made a huge difference in the soil. I tried small localized lasagna gardening when I extended my garden. (I put newspapers down and put dirt on top as I dug each hole). It seemed to help. I would need a backhoe to get holes as large as those dug. Lasagna gardening is much easier than removing grass.

I wear hats. I don't care if other people do.

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