Marvelous May

At the halfway point of May, which is today, the marvelous weather has taken a turn for the worst and it’s currently persisting down. Those poor folks in Canterbury would be so jealous, it seems to have forgotten how to rain there. Actually, despite lots of gorgeous fine weather in the last 4 weeks, we really don’t need it. A small shower would have sufficed, this deluge entirely childish on the perpetrator’s part.

Hydrangea "Aubergine" lives up to its name, both flowers and leaves have turned dark purple this season
Hydrangea “Aubergine” lives up to its name, both flowers and leaves have turned dark purple this season

Whilst still  Autumn, we had 3 beauty frosts this last week. Despite a well timed gradual drop in night time temperature leading up to the trio, it still surprised quite a lot of plants which are now looking extremely unattractive! It’s always interesting to observe which of the Salvias are fully frost hardy, (well hardy to the gentle frosts we experience in the upper Waikato). In one group of 3 in my big border, the Leucanthe is hit particularly hard (have now hacked it back to ground level a bit earlier than usual) also Iodantha which has just started it’s epic Winter flowering is looking a bit unhappy. Waverly in the middle is completely unphased. Likewise the giant Confertiflora and Madrensis, which always look almost tropical like with their big fleshy leaves, Looks belie…

The big talking point this Autumn is the deciduous colour. Not only have the trees been magnificent in their hues, but also many perennials and shrubs which I had no idea had it in them. The Gooseneck Lysimachia down amongst the Pimpinellifolias in the Species Garden  is mixing beautifully with the turning roses. Usually it is just the odd few roses that have remarkable Autumn colour here, most especially Nitida, but this year all the “pimps” and indeed the gallicas and other old fashioneds are putting on a colourful show.

Then there was that other Autumn colour on a beautiful crisp starlit night…the magical Aurora Australis captured by Alice on her deck.

I’ve been hard out making cuttings whilst the time seems right. Not that you ever know the “right ” time to make a cutting that might strike…it seems to be entirely up to the plant and allows no kudos to the cutter.

I keep the 10 page document labelled  “Roses we grow” at the shed and try to be meticulous about putting a tick by each name as I make it. I set off from the shed with my cutters with a plan in mind for a number of roses which I store in my head, to collect wood. Invariably I see one that’s not in my head and think I’ll get that while I’m in the district, so to speak. Back to the shed with an armful, or possibly a trolley full of specimens. Then I tick them off…uh oh, I already have a tick by that extra…all good, they all sell by the end of the season! Luckily I almost always am doing this alone, as it’s important to memorise the stems as I go. I spend quite a bit of time deciding which branch (or twig in some cases) to cut from each bush, so can remember when I get back to the shed which came from who. I must be extra careful if I’m harvesting say Teas from the Tea Bank, as their leaves and growth habit can be very similar. Ditto if I’m down the front collecting Wichuriana ramblers. If I’m at all concerned I keep some wrap around labels in my pocket which I can attach as I cut. Having ticked the roses on The List, I write the labels with name and date, then sit down and work my way through the prickly stems putting them in pots of cutting mix. It is a very very prickly job, and somedays I certainly tire of being pricked. The Rugosas are particularly daunting and I have to force myself to do a few every now and then. I then arrange the pots in their types under a shade cloth area and hope for the best. They always seem so viable at the time of making, butalas a very high proportion just go ahead and die en masse.

Over the years I have become very familiar with the families that do or don’t. Having spent many years breeding families of horses, I am a strong believer in genetics…it never ceased to amaze me how many traits were shared with certain families. The same goes for roses. My nemesis are the Noisettes and Bourbons. Certainly 2 of my favourite families, but 2 of the least likely to strike. For me anyway. There are exceptions of course, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar if I knew all their DNA I would find answers for the exceptions!

The David Austins, (and no doubt other modern roses, but I don’t have many of them) are a very interesting lot in this discussion as they are derived from many different old families. Unsurprisingly the ones with Noisette and Bourbon in their heritage are massively less likely to strike than others. Graham Thomas is one of these. I recently dug up a giant plant of him to make way for the new arbour, and moved him to the back fence. I made 3 huge pots of perfect cutting wood from strong growing arms. A mere few weeks later and they’re already all dead! Disheartening but in no way unexpected.

Up until the late 90’s , all the breeding of the new releases was “advertised” in the David Austin books. I found it quite captivating to see how the genetics had come together to produce this wonderful new plant. Sadly this is no longer the case, now it’s all a secret.

Between cutting days I’ve been trying to get some of my gardens in order before our last Open Day on June 23rd. At least now it’s almost winter, the work one does remains looking ok for a time as the march of the eternal weeds slows down. Unfortunately my arthritic hands do not enjoy pulling weeds these days. A few hours weeding and amending equals a few days of extreme pain, so I have to control my urges and do little and often and hope a stronger specimen of person shows up to do some extreme gardening!