Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden


My business partner is encouraging me to compile a book of those things that survived, those that thrived and those that invaded during my three-year battle with cancer.  Interestingly, my roses are among the survived and thrived category.

The Neglected Garden:  Roses

I own a chemical-free cut flower business.  Roses are an important part of my business.  What happened to them when they were neglected for three years?  When I say neglected, I mean they were never sprayed or dusted with anything.  About once a year, they got a couple forks-full of litter from the duck yard tossed on them. Pruning occurred while I harvested the flowers.  I am exaggerating.  Not all of them got the duck manure.

My best secret for growing beautiful roses is to have the perfect conditions for roses.  My soil is neutral, sand and gravel with humus.  My roses seem to like this soil along with their once or twice a year side dressing with duck litter.  I have some English roses that grow near the exhaust from our gas fireplace.  They seemed to like the extra heat and carbon dioxide.

My English roses including Abraham Darby, Golden Celebration, Tradescant, English Sachet and Victorian spice thrived beautifully.  They continued to pump out dozens of beautiful flowers week after week all summer and into the winter. 

When my friend and I first thought about this article, I expressed my disappointment over the refusal of New Dawn from Heirloom to grow into the huge climber I thought I'd purchased.  I confess.  I falsely maligned this beautiful rose.  Shame on me.  On February 12 of this year, I found six beautiful roses on New Dawn.  They were absolutely perfect to fill out a couple Valentines bouquets.  Yes, we did have a freeze this winter.  We had about ten inches of snow followed by an ice-storm.  I cannot condemn a rose that gives me six roses for Valentine’s Day even if it didn’t climb.

I had one shrub rose that out-performed everything, Citrus Splash.  The poor thing was planted with enough sun ten years ago, but the trees have grown up around it.  It barely gets four hours of full sun.  Well…I live in the Puget Sound basin, full sun really means exposure to grey skies.  This rose is close to the duck yard.  Occasionally the ducks' dirty drinking water was emptied on it.  It is also planted over the septic drain field. (Don’t worry we don’t use chemicals inside either.)  While I was sick, we had orders for a number of weddings in red and yellow.  My dear rose would faithfully give us three to four dozen stems of large bright roses a week.

I had some tea roses.  Most of them have dwindled to one-stem wonders.  My floribundas had trouble holding their own against the weeds.  I find Tropicana and Spice Twice only when they send up their bright blooms every few weeks.  I can hardly condemn those who couldn’t stand up to the weeds.  I had some very invasive weeds coupled with some hemlocks and douglas firs that took the opportunity when my back was turned to hog all the sun when it did come out.  The invaders are another story.

Why did my roses continue to perform without care for three years?  Part of the reason may have been our unusually harsh winters that killed off some of the usual bugs.  Another reason may have been my use of bone meal and greensand when I planted them seven to ten years ago.  My roses probably don’t like heavy soil.  I try to select disease resistant varieties, but really I select first for heavy scent.  They are spread out all over my acre of gardens rather than grouped in a disease-spreading rose garden.  I can tell you why they didn’t get aphids.

One of my joys while I was sick, was my bird feeders.  I have one right outside my living room window, next to the English roses.  The antics of the birds as they came to the feeder entertained me for hours.  They would wait in the shrubs for a chance to get to the feeder.  One afternoon, I watched as the birds landed on the roses.  Some aphids had hatched.  The birds seemed to consider the aphids an appetizer.  They’d eat a few aphids then move on to the feeder.  The aphid supply did not last long.  As I watched the roses farther from the house, I discovered they were a regular feeding-stop for all my blessed birds. 

What does the future hold for my roses?  This year, I hope to actually prune out the dead wood.  I’ve managed to weed around two, so far.  I plan to put lime on some that were mulched with wood chips.  I think I will try to cover the naked roots of Happy Child, an Heirloom own-root rose.  If the poor roses are very lucky, I will side dress them with bone meal and greensand again.  I worry that our constant rain will leach all the nutrients out of the soil.  I am promising myself that they will get fed duck yard litter at least twice.  I may hire help to rescue Tropicana and Spice Twice from the briar patch.

(Am I going to share my secrets for getting English roses to hold up for a week in a vase?  I think not.)


  1. Amazing,
    I willl follow you please follow me as well.

  2. I think I agree with you about the nature of the article... Thanks for sharing, digging deep and posting.