Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rose Pruning is fun ... and necessary

Just look at the great group effort to prune the 125 hybrid teas, floribundas, and climbers at the Monterey Bay Rose Society's display garden at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds outside of Watsonville on Sunday.

The garden will be finished on Wednesday and ready for new top dressing. It's much easier to add soil amendments and mulch once the bushes have been reduced in size.

My home garden is about half done and I hope to return to it later today. But during the pruning, I was reminded again of the importance of opening up the center of bush, getting rid of all canes which cross over the center, and pruning to a healthy outside bud eye.

During my last time pruning, I found the following cane and thought you'd benefit from some advice. Occasionally you will find a damaged cane on one of your bushes which somehow got scaped during the summer.

It's best to prune off any canes that have been injured like this as they are only supplying the upper part of the cane with half the nutrition needed. As the growth below the damaged area was spindly, I cut even further down the cane as the photo indicates.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Brenda Wood, consulting rosarian, in the display garden

Pruning Clinic coming to Rose Society's Display Garden

Join members of the Monterey Bay Rose Society for an upclose and personal lesson on how to prune rose bushes. The event takes place Saturday and Sunday, January 13 and 14 at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. Enter through the Horse Show Gate across the street from Sierra Azul Nursery. Drive to the end and look to your left.

The program includes a step-by-step demonstration of how to prune, what to prune and how much to prune. It also covers a lesson on the appropriate equipment and how to keep your pruning shears sharp.

The advantage of this demonstration is that all participants are encouraged to put on their gloves and sharpen their blades and try it out under the supervision of an experienced consulting rosarian.

All are welcome.
Marjorie Callahan, consulting rosarian, pruning in the display garden

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

China Doll

A photograph in the crude colors of 1940-era garden books struck me right off. A happy little cottage surrounded by a white picket fence edged by multiple plantings of a new rose at that time called China Doll.

Its clusters of bright, medium pink flowers create one of the nicest landscape effects ever. It makes a wonderful low hedge. I bought 23 bare root ones in 1993 – every one I could find - and planted them as a border for my back garden rose bed.

After 25 years of marginal care and major abuse, only 8 have survived, most succumbing to being stepped on by me as I tried to get the hose over the hedge to tend the roses behind them or during various droughts when the shallow roots just didn’t get enough water.

It’s still the single most numerous rose, by far, in my yard. It’s never taller or wider than two feet. It needs just a little food and water to produce many, many blooms.

China Doll’s individual flowers are medium pink often with a white eye or white stripe near the center or along a petal edge. I have had clusters bearing up to forty different two-inch wide blooms at the end of a single stem. The flowers within a cluster open approximately at the same time so a cluster’s presentation never has too few open flowers and too numerous buds. The clusters are long-lived and attractive. It has a slight fragrance in full sun. It’s rarely out of bloom.

My China Dolls are grafted and therefore not invasive.

One spray has won the best polyantha ribbon in several Monterey Bay Rose Society shows. It contributes greatly to any garden which contains it and comes highly recommended by me.

China Doll was bred in 1946 in the United States by Dr. Walter Lammerts. A towering giant among American rose hybridizers, Dr. Lammerts of Livermore, California, developed the following long list of excellent roses: Bewitched, Charlotte Armstrong, Chrysler Imperial, Golden Showers, High Noon, Mirandy, Queen Elizabeth, and Sunny June. They were all created in the 40's and 50's and are still available widely which says so much about their quality.

Polyantha roses are descended from rosa multiflora and rosa roulettii. Early records are quite sketchy and dubious, but there was a market at the turn of the last century for roses which produced clusters of smaller flowers and repeated their bloom during the season.

Mrs. Dudley Fulton, a white or near white polyantha, is the seed parent of China Doll. She was bred from Perle d’Or — still one of the most popular polyantha roses, especially around California’s Central Coast where it is particularly well suited. Perle d’Or was bred in 1884 in France and is a peachy cream cousin of Mlle. Cécile Brunner. China Doll’s other grandparent on this side is a now rare orange pink polyantha bred in 1921 in England called Dorothy Howarth.

Tom Thumb, the famous 1936 miniature rose bred by De Vink in Holland where it is known as Peon was the pollen parent of China Doll. Tom Thumb’s parents are rosa roulettii and Gloria Mundi, a nearly forgotten, orange-red polyantha introduced in 1927 by De Ruiter again in Holland. It had been discovered as a sport of a dark red miniature of unknown parentage named Superb. It’s most famous offspring is a similarly colored rose named Pinkie which was developed by Swim in 1946. Pinkie’s elegant form is quite different.

China Doll is susceptible to powdery mildew especially evident on stem and peduncle during our foggiest summers, to black spot because of its compact growth, and to die back along a cut main stem.

I have wished that I could tend mine better. They are reachable enough but grow on a slight slope so watering and feeding them proved difficult - faulty garden design for California.

Also on the negative side, I’ve had beautiful cut specimens last only a matter of hours in a vase. China Doll does not rank at all as a suitable cut flower though it looks terrific combined with complimentary colored hybrid tea roses at least for a few hours.

I’m not sure how Dr. Lamnerts came upon the name China Doll, but its path of origin via France, Holland, England, and America ultimately puts one in China and as a rose, it is a doll!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Darkest Days in the Garden

Winter in the garden means less light, less growth, and fewer flowers but it shouldn’t mean less care. Watch your plants closely, especially during these gorgeous, mild sunny days. 

The ground can still dry out regardless of how little plants need at the moment. As the temperatures warm up, you still might find some hungry aphids who have refused to take a winter’s nap. Spray them with some dish detergent or a winter dormant oil. A weaker solution in both should do the trick


Although the need is far less than during those freaky hot spells we had a few months ago, plants need water throughout the winter. It usually falls from the sky but 2017 is ending up very dry.
If the top of the soil feels parched, by all means, give it some water. Use a hose and water. Walk away and do something else for a few minutes then return to the plants and water again. This way you’re certain the water has found its way down deep.
Plants in pots and those with roots near the surface are the most vulnerable. Pay attention as death can come quickly to them.
Trees are particularly vulnerable during long droughts and they are real trouble to replace. Water helps them keep their vigor and consequently fight off invading insects and diseases ready to push them on to death’s doorstep. So run a slow hose for at least 15 minutes at the base of each to make sure it gets to sink down to the main roots.


No point in giving plants anything powerful to eat at the moment. It would only spur growth that won’t be consequential and is likely to blow over as soon as the next wind storm arrives. If you do feel like fussing, however, a fistful of plain alfalfa pellets around the base is always a welcome tonic. Water it. Wait a day and water it again.


Now is a great time to look for dead branches and prune them all away.
Plants such as roses which bloom on new growth can be cut back at this time. Downsizing them will actually help them retain some water and sleep through these balmy days. You may also need to pull off last year’s leaves and discard them. That, too, will slow down growth and thusly conserve water.
Plants which bloom on last year’s wood such as flowering trees should not be pruned until after the petals have fallen in the spring. True, too, for one-time blooming roses.


If you can still find spring bulbs, take advantage of this easy-to-work-in weather and get them in the ground NOW. Always put bone meal beneath them and don’t stir it around. It decomposes too fast if you mix it in the soil.
I’m looking forward to planting a pomegranate tree in my front yard this weekend. I just need the time and energy to dig through the sod and get it done.

Winter is coming

Winter arrives on Thursday, Dec.21 and the coldest temperatures of the year are upon us. Let's pray to the Rain God and begin 2018 with long, gentle rain.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Alba Semi-plena

truskot, alba semi-plena
On a trip to my hometown in Ohio in May 2001, I saw a magnificent rose in full, fresh bloom. It was growing up the eastern side of an old farmhouse, a structure dating from the 1870s, perhaps a little later, but definitely a building that’s been around for more than 100 years.

The rose was Alba Semi-plena, an old garden rose first referred to in Gerard’s Herball of 1597 and probably the white rose that the House of York selected as its emblem during the Hundred Years War.

Rosa Alba Semi-plena may also be the same as Rosa x alba nivea and Rosa x alba suaveloens. Rose historians agree that all of the roses found in the Alba group are hybrids, whether naturally occurring or not. So the references which list their names as if they were species roses are not accurate.

Any rose known by several names is certain to be very old. Some references list Alba Semi-plena as a sport of Alba Maxima which is a fully double, often quartered version.

Other authors list it the other way around and noted English rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas even observed a five-petaled sport on an Alba Maxima.

The leaves of both are an attractive gray-green, sometimes appearing “bluish,” and very dentate on the edge of each leaflet. The calyx (sepals) extends well beyond the flower bud. Some even appear beyond the outer most petals in a fully open flower.
The road-facing front of the two-story farmhouse I visited was about sixteen feet wide and thirty feet from its hand-hewn sandstone foundation to its peak. This elegant rose covered most of the first floor and a considerable portion of the second. This is a serious plant.

It appeared that the tenants of the house hadn’t bothered much about tending the property other than mowing the lawn. This was fortunate for a rose bush which thrives on neglect. I enjoyed viewing its flower covered canes with the backdrop of dense gray-green foliage.

The outer edge of the white petals on an individual flower curve upward and slightly inward forming a saucer-like shape with a thicket of bright yellow anthers in the center.

On the day of my visit, it was raining and I was trespassing and I was supposed to be doing something needed by others at a place far from where I was. Such were my family visits. I vowed to return to get a cutting before leaving Ohio.

A few days later, my sister took me to Columbus, Ohio’s famous Park of Roses. Columbus, I learned, had been the seat of the American Rose Society before it moved its national headquarters to Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Park of Roses was being primped up for Columbus’ Annual Rose Festival and the local society’s Rose Show which was to take place in two days. We toured the beautifully laid out and well-tended garden. It was still early for the first full flush of hybrid teas as Ohio had had unseasonably cool weather for the past three weeks.

I was particularly pleased to see two beds of roses developed by Gerry Twomey in Watsonville in the early 1990s: Eternity and American Glory. There may have been more but my time was limited and my vacation schedule packed with other things to do.

When we got to the Heritage Rose Garden at the far end of the park, my eyes were drawn to a white semi-double old garden rose. This, too, turned out to be as the labeled indicated, Alba Semi-plena. It was unmistakably the same rose I had seen at the farmhouse. What simple beauty!

Its semi-double blossoms are about 3-3½ inches in diameter and sport one of the loveliest fragrances in rosedom. Alba Semi-plena is grown widely in Bulgaria’s Valley of the Roses where it has been used to make perfume.

In another reference, Graham Stuart Thomas notes that the Bulgarian growers seem to prefer the old damask rose, Kazanlik (1689), for perfume extraction, but Alba Semi-plena is used as a hedge around the growing fields.

The blooming period of Alba Semi-plena is perhaps about a month which is standard for many of the old garden roses. In our climate, I wouldn’t be too surprised if it produces an occasional bloom in the fall.

The hips of Alba Semi-plena, are a bright red, prickle-covered oval about ¾” long and garner renewed interest in the shrub later in the season. I look forward to seeing them every fall.

The entire Alba group of roses are very hardy, somewhat shade tolerant, fragrant, and limited to a narrow color range of white, blush, and pink.

Most are tough plants which thrive with little care and resist most diseases. They make great bushes for the back of garden beds. When they are in bloom they attract attention. When they are finished blooming they compliment the roses planted in front of them. They make a particularly good choice for a north facing fence or wall where most other roses just won’t prosper.

Upon my return from that trip, I sent off for starter plant and it’s been growing beside a bay laurel in the back corner of my garden ever since.

The Alba roses which I have grown include Great Maiden’s  Blush (1550) which has beautifully quartered,  light pink, three-inch blooms on a disease-free bush (Its name in French is Cuisse de Nymphe Emué, or Nymph’s Blushing Thigh!); Madame Legras de Saint-Germaine (1846) which has 1½ - 2½ inch pure-white flowers and only an occasional thorn; and Félicité Parmentier (1834) which has light pink inner petals and creamy white outer ones and is endowed with one of the strongest true roses fragrances in gardendom. 

Two Albas I hope to acquire soon are Königin von Dänemark (1826) which is a medium-pink color and quite healthy; and Cymbaefolia (1807), one of the many curiosities in rosedom. It is also known as the hemp-leafed Alba. Its leaves are long and distorted and resemble cannabis. Its flowers are smallish and ivory white.

A few of the authors I read regarding the Alba Semi-plena commented on the plant’s ability to root easily. They also noted that for a period of years it had been used as a rootstock which may account for its presence at the rural northern Ohio farmstead.

I never made it back to the house at the crossroads in 2001. Instead, I cut down and dug out two poorly performing fruit trees, removed the sod, and built a new rose garden for my mother who was celebrating her 80th birthday. She enjoyed the new garden bed until she passed away 2010.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Botrytis on a hybrid tea rose

Seasons Greetings from Botrytis cinerea

Fellow rosarian Paul McCollum sent this photo to me and asked: "What is causing this on this rose - I can only speculate."

It's a form of the very prevalent Botrytis cinerea. This fungal disease is airborne so the spores are everywhere. They germinate in small droplets of water which linger on the petals, aided by high humidity, poor air circulation, and warm temperatures.

The pink spots are most visible on lighter colored rose petals and usually the ones on the outside of the flower. The fungus is most attracted to the softer tissues of flowers and sometimes hips.

As the fungus matures, it feeds off the dead tissues and can produce brown rot if the moisture is sustained or gray mold - the fully developed fungus which issues spores.

With the pink water spots, usually, the petals drop before it develops the gray mold. But if the rotted outer petals dry somewhat and prevent the flower from opening, Botrytis will develop into what Victorian's called "Gray Ghost in the Garden."

There is no cure but you can control it by promptly removing rotting, unopened buds and disposing of them in your green waste container. The disease spreads rapidly, especially if your plants are too close together.

Botrytis cinerea affects many garden plants, fruits, and vegetables, especially in the late season. Pruning all of your rose bushes in January will also obviously put an end to it for the season.