10. Balcony Roses: We Go to Ben’s Garden! (July)

  by Carolyn Thomas   ♥   @HeartSisters

Yesterday was a milestone day in our family’s newfound love affair with roses: my favourite son Ben and I spent four wonderful hours together – not out on my balcony, but in the back garden of the new home he shares with his lovely wife Paula and our adorable one-year old Baby Zack.

The July day dawned bright and beautiful as I joined Ben in his family’s home for breakfast about six blocks from my place. As soon as Baby Zack headed off for his long nap, Ben and I donned our garden gloves and headed out back. This seemed like such a Big Day to each of us because we’d been planning it for MONTHS. But due to poor weather, work obligations, Baby Zack time and then a lost month when all three of them tested positive for COVID (!), our planned garden working bee just never happened – until yesterday.

But the most exciting part of yesterday was that we finally planted three of the four new bare-root rosebushes that Ben had pre-ordered from Russell Nursery last summer! He had ordered four different roses:

1. a climber called Don Juan (4″ wide velvety red strongly scented blooms that are easy-care repeat bloomers, 10-12 feet high)

2. a climber called Arborose® Tangerine Skies (orange 4″ wide orange blooms, strongly scented with dark green and glossy foliage, 8 feet high)

3. a groundcover rose called Flower Carpet Red (red blossoms with butter yellow centres, easy-care, disease resistant repeat bloomers, about three feet high x three feet wide)

4. a rose standard called Violet’s Pride (a standard rose grafted onto a 36″ tree trunk with dense foliage, good disease resilience, and a grapefruit-like fragrance – named in 2017 after Lady Violet Crawley of Downtown Abbey fame)

The beautiful rose standard Violet’s Pride (turned out to be named after the Lady Violet character from Downton Abbey)

We were able to plant the last three roses yesterday, but ran out of time to plant Don Juan (which we carefully returned to its “heeling-in” position in one of Ben’s raised beds to keep its bare roots covered with mulch and nicely protected until it can finally be placed into its new home).

In between those three roses, we worked pretty well non-stop (not even a lunch break, now that I think about it!) while we moved big clumps of lavender, shasta daisies and delphiniums around the garden. We hauled soil and heavy ceramic pots, we weeded, we edged unruly grass creeping into the newly planned rose bed.

Like many gardeners, Ben and I share a tendency while gardening together to get distracted by a fascinating new job that needs doing a few plants over. (At several points, we had to remind each other: “Focus!”)

At the end of our four hours working together, we felt sore, exhausted, filthy, sweaty – and SO HAPPY!

We’d accomplished so many gardening tasks on our To Do list, and were pretty pleased with how almost everything had seemed to settle in as planned.

Did you catch that . . . ALMOST everything?

We were left with two areas of concern in Ben’s garden:
1.  our still-homeless Don Juan climber, of course
2.  the tree rose Violet’s Pride. We had decided to plant Violet in a big beautiful ceramic pot because a standard rose seems to be one that deserves a showpiece place in the garden. But the pot seemed to be draining slower than we would have liked when we gave the rose its final watering (the soil we used was potting soil/compost with rose food and bone meal as directed on the rose tag, and then mixed in 2:1 with Ben’s existing garden soil which has a moderate clay content.

Clay itself is not actually the issue (most rose resources we consulted tell us that clay soil – although famously hard to dig! – is very fertile and actually contains more calcium, potassium and magnesium then other soil types, all of which are important nutrients for growing healthy, strong roses that are resistant to disease and pest damage.

But heavy clay MUST be amended with some organic material like compost to improve drainage and avoid a soggy heavy soil that could cause root rot. Stay tuned as we monitor Violet’s Pride for good drainage in the next few days; if it looks wonky, we’re ready to pull it out and find a healthier new home for that little rose tree.

‘Speaking of yucky things like root rot or poor drainage, I’ve also spotted two culprits that might become problematic: an aphid was found munching on a lovely new rose bud on my Coral Drift®, AND it seems that our unseasonably cloudy and cool spring weather has affected the canes of all four of my new Drift® groundcover roses (apricot, pink, coral and red) which are looking decidedly frail – how can droopy canes hold up the many emerging buds just waiting to pop open!? 

But all is not lost – this week, a thrilling sight: all four of my new Drift® roses are finally blooming – and all at the same time!  Here’s a sneak preview for you (clockwise from upper left: apricot, pink, coral and red):


Read the next essay in this series on balcony roses:

11.  Balcony roses: what causes weak stems? (July)


Return to my HEART SISTERS  site, or find out more about my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“.  You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

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