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Adolescent warm-climate OGR's

10 years ago

I think immature teas, noisettes and Chinas are exactly analogous to young human beings. Just as toddlers, pre-teens and teenagers do not remotely resemble the adults they will grow into, roses go through stages that do not at all indicate what the mature bush will be. Of course, we don't look at our boy toddler or 10-year-old and say, "Arghh! You don't look like a 175-lb man with bulging muscles, beard-whiskers and deep voice, so I'm throwing you out." That is a ridiculous thought, but we do it with roses because at least in the cases of us newbies we have no clue what a muscular, whisker-faced, deep-voiced tea rose bush looks like. We are really winging it, and typical of anyone who is fairly new at something our insecurities drive us into blaming our poor gardening skills or a "bad clone" for the unexpected, unforeseen condition of the rose.

Early on I had a Duchesse de Brabant that grew all to one side for two and a half years like a leaning Statue of Liberty in a scorching hot spot in the garden. It looked awful, and the gardener was embarrassed. Adding to the awkwardness was the lack of foliage so that she looked invisible to the camera, making it impossible to show off my baby. Along about the middle of the third year she was suddenly round and 5'x5' - how did that happen? - but still sparsely leafed. Unfortunately, by then my mind was set to not liking her, and in October I gave her away. Of course, she immediately became beautiful in the new garden. Before I dug her up I took two cuttings, both took, and I potted them up and set them in the cooler pot ghetto. When they bloomed, they looked gorgeously different than the bush had looked in the ground, so I decided to plant one on the east side of the garden (and gave away the other). This baby is in her second season probably in a little too much shade. In the first year her few thin, squiggly canes were practically on the ground, but I ignored her, knowing not to get antsy about her. This year there hasn't been much change until the last month. She now has one new thicker vertical cane ending in a blooming candelabra of typically beautiful DdB flowers with fragrance. It's about three and a half feet tall, so she has a long way to go, but it was an enlightening moment.

The first couple of years of the garden I was out with a magnifying glass and Sherlock Holmes cap examining every nuance of the bushes, and then I stopped doing that, thinking myself a more mature gardener no longer hyper-ventilating over the details. However, I feel like I have missed some of the adolescent aspects of the roses, so again I'm reacting in my old knee-jerk fashion, thinking this and that rose HAVE to go. I forget or never knew that seasonal conditions are not static. In addition to normal growing pains there are the after-effects of harsh weather conditions like the 20-degree nights at the end of a very warm winter and roses filled with lush new growth. Perhaps dead canes weren't the end of it. Perhaps the plants suffered in ways that were not visible and are still recovering.

All this is to bring us to my point. Unless the bush is dead or dying, is three or four years of growth something to be shoveled out of the ground? Or is this a time for the exercise of REAL gardening patience? Is this where the rubber meets the road and we get down to the nitty gritty of allowing nature to just BE? Am I looking at a defective rose plant or merely the suddenly big teenage nose and pimples of my adolescent bushes? Have I prematurely judged the ugly-duckling stage of an immature rose as a loser before it has had time to become the over-21 adult? And how different will the young adult be when he's a solid late-twenties guy?

The bottom line is that this idiot-gardener has the power of life and death in her hands without the wisdom needed to wield it judiciously. And she should STOP wielding it until she's gotten wiser. Perfect and beautiful teenage swans are the exceptions, and they aren't teas, Chinas and Noisettes. In my garden they're the polys like Clotilde Soupert and the early HT's like Mme Abel Chatenay. The teas are a totally different story. At three and four years old they have much more maturing to do. They are like the 13-year-old boy standing next to his 20-year-old cousin, and how many 30-year-olds don't in the least resemble their yearbook picture? Tea roses are deceptive, and this gardener has been too gullible.

Yes, I WISH there was a way to make these roses put out more basal growth faster. This business of 2 or 3 canes - or less - per year makes for very slow progress and the real likelihood of prejudging these plants long before they become what is in their nature to be. I WISH those canes would put out lateral growth sooner, but here's the kicker. I wouldn't have even known to wish that if I hadn't just seen Maman Cochet, doubling the number of her canes this spring and adding shoots off of them in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly her structure is beginning to bulk up - three and half years later. She can even be seen in a photo now without massive zoom. It is a thing to behold as it happens before my very eyes. They said it would happen. I hoped it would happen. I kept the faith with her, and it is paying off.

This tea rose gardening thing is not like plopping an azalea in the ground. They do not shoot out a bunch of canes early on and simply get taller and fatter with time. They put all of their energy of a season into one or two canes, and then it takes all of the energy of those canes to do it again the next year and the next and the next. And please don't cut them, they don't like it. Leave them be. And hold onto your hat and your impulses to intervene and/or give up. Sometimes it will be two steps forward and one step back. It will look like no progress is being made except in the wrong direction. Raising teas is a lifetime commitment - like kids. But unlike kids we didn't know that going in. Our minds had not accepted the fact that this was going to be a progression of years and not weeks or even months. If you're growing young tea roses, chill with me. These kids are gonna take a while.


P.S. Apologies to those of you whose experience has been different, and I wish I had your garden. To all of you others - hang in there.

Here is a link that might be useful: If only sweat were irrigation...

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