Tuesday, May 1, 2007
While walking home yesterday . . .
. . . I snapped these pix in Madison Square Park. The polished aluminum trees, installed over the last couple of weeks, are obviously sculpture, but not having seen an identifying plaque or sign, I have no info on the artist. Still, they're beautiful, and offer a stark contrast to the increasingly green park. The tulips reminded me of my own gardening efforts. When I lived in Tennessee and engaged in serious gardening I always had several hundred tulips in myriad varieties, including the miniatures and the frilly "parrots."
Alas, my favorite garden residents haven't started blooming yet: roses. I once had over two dozen different roses in my Tennessee gardens. Most people just go to Home Depot, grab a "hybrid tea" variety like Double Delight or Queen Elizabeth as an afterthought while shopping for Impatiens or Begonias, and drop it in a flower bed in front of their ranch or split-level homes.
First, from an aesthetic standpoint, this just doesn't work. One should plant several roses that form an anchor for a flower bed. Then, planted around are various annuals and perennials that will bloom at different times between spring and autumn and complement the roses' colors. Second, do not purchase "hybrid tea" roses, unless you enjoy dealing with blackspot and aphids. Just as overbreeding in the canine world has caused serious health issues for many dog breeds, overbreeding in roses has yielded varieties that, yes, will produce large blooms, but will also be more susceptible to the various diseases which plague roses. My mother, who inherited a green thumb from my grandfather (who gardened with a passion), could kill roses faster than anyone. She's never understood that roses demand attention.
Spend the extra money (not at Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Costco) and buy some of the "old garden roses," many of which were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the hybridization craze, or as a compromise grab a "floribunda" variety, which is widely available. (The rose pictured above, an "Eglantine" or "Sweet Brier Rose," is an ancient variety, often called a "species rose" because it represents the oldest of rose stocks, not produced as a result of human intervention. Our modern hybrid roses all derive from these "species roses," in effect the numerous "Adam and Eve" plants of the rose world.) If you're looking for hearty roses that will stand up to harsh conditions, get some of the "rugosa" varieties. They're beautiful, produce voluminous displays of flowers, and will tolerate even the most neglectful gardeners. Left alone, they'll spread quickly and form an impenetrable hedge. If you don't have a really good garden retailer in your area, google "roses" and check out some of the catalogs devoted to the more historic or obscure roses available. The Antique Rose Emporium, for example, has a wide selection and good reputation.
For now, I'll just have to wait for the City's roses, which won't bloom until later in May or early June. Jefferson Market Garden near my home has a nice display . . . although it's littered with hybrid teas. The New York Botanical Garden has nice roses and the little Shakespeare Garden in Central Park actually has a nice group of rugosas. If you live in East Tennessee or western North Carolina (or if you're headed to Asheville soon), stop in at the Biltmore Estate for one of the best gardens in America . . . and their roses are fantastic.