Chesterton Tribune

June is time of lovehate relationship with roses

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June is for .... our love/hate relationship with roses.

Some rosarians will tell you these most beautiful of summer beauties are not really that much work and there is no secret art to pruning them.

Bunk, I say.

But that hasn’t stopped me from growing roses. No rose fanatic I, mine are probably not the largest blooms I could grow, the healthiest plants I could raise or the best pruned, but they fill my senses with joy each time I admire the opening buds.

As of June 4, no roses have unfurled although several are poised to do so. I better have lovely blooms this year because by July, I probably won’t have any leaves. Most of my roses, even the disease-resistant ones, are riddled with black spot.

Never have I ever had black spot, a fungus that eventually causes leaves to yellow and drop off, this bad this early in the season.

It’s not just me. Others in the area have reported black spot also. It’s probably another thing we can blame on the unusually strange spring. Thinking it was too cool for black spot despite the gray, damp days, I didn’t spray with fungicide as I should have and now I’m paying for it.

I recently spent more than a day hand-picking each diseased leaf off the roses and pruning them hard in the recommended vase shape so the center is open to promote air circulation. I sprayed with fungicide -- the canes, the leaves both top and bottom, and the ground below the plants -- and laid a new mulch of crushed leaves at their feet.

And when the vibrant coral/red hybrid tea ‘Dolly Parton’ opens and I get a whif of her heady perfume, I won’t remember a minute of the work it took to get there. Roses have a way of doing that to people.

June 15 at 10 a.m. Four Seasons Landscaping Nursery is having a representative from Jackson & Perkins, a well-known supplier of quality roses, share his growing tips. No doubt he will be asked about black spot.

Speaking of Four Seasons, they erected an attractive new arbor area for roses and vegetables. Walking through the perennial section, two plants caught my eye: the shrub clematis ‘New Love’ and a ‘Shogun’ Japanese aster.

‘New Love,’ which has clusters of fragrant bi-color dark violet flowers in midsummer, gets 30 inches tall and about 27 inches wide preferring more sun than shade. It’s a clematis (pronounced clem’ uh tis) heracleifolia and the grower DeVroomen of Holland raves it’s “superb” and “spectacular.”

There are several types of clematis with varying pruning requirements because some bloom on old growth and others on new growth. Most are vining and appreciate support, however, some gardeners leave them to ramble as groundcovers and or to sprawl through deciduous shrubs.

The Japanese aster or kalimeris grows 15 inches tall and wide, preferably in sun, and is said to provide a long season of pale lavendar blooms if grown in moist, even boggy, conditions.

The aster leaves were an attractive green and white. The recently arrived Wayside Gardens fall 2002 catalog has several common shade plants with new leaf color or variegated forms, among them a pink-flowered, gold leaf bleeding heart or dicentra spectabilis dubbed ‘Gold Heart’. Also eye-catching is the wavy-edged tiarella (foamflower) ‘Crow Feather,’ so wild with pink and red splashes in the fall it looks like a coleus.

The trend continues with toad lilies. Tricyrtis macrantha ‘Tricolor’ shows green leaves with pink and white stripes in the summer. Tricyrtis ‘Lightning Strike’ boasts up to 300 blooms per plant, Wayside claims, with gold/green leaf streaking. ‘Tricolor’ blooms yellow and ‘Lightning Strike’ white. For anyone who hasn’t tried tricyrtis, I highly recommend it as a fine fall-blooming perennial with small but no less beautiful flowers.

Recently I picked up a plant order I placed last fall at Trillium Woods Nursery, a gem just east of Chesterton. Knowledgeable owner Dan Coffman conducts two spring open houses each year although the nursery is open by appointment at 926-7990 the rest of the growing season. Watch for a possible fall sale.

Dan has more than 350 hostas as well as an interesting selection of shade companion plants, especially ferns. I’m trying my third attempt to grow ‘Hart’s Tongue’ fern (phyllitis scolopendrium). Although the name sounds like some kind of skin rash, the 16-inch long leaves are wide and wavy, not the delicate serrated fronds of other ferns. Perhaps I previously planted the crown too deeply.

In addition to the black spot, the awful spring weather left another legacy -- many stunted or damaged hostas, a few only half their normal height, and sickly brown streaked leaves on some daylilies. This likely is a result of the late May frost; fortunately, neither case is fatal. As more daylily leaves grow, the disfigured ones can be clipped off. You could do the same for the hosta, but there’s always next year.

I and other members of local garden clubs had the pleasure in May to tour the well-known Bill Brincka/Basil Cross garden in Furnessville. More than four acres is planted in a dizzying display of both rare and native specimens, many of them unusual trees and conifers that Bill, who passed away last year, either went to great lengths to secure or cajoled out of someone, whether an amateur hybridizer or famous botanist.

Basil said if he found Bill chain smoking, gazing out the window at the garden, he knew it was time to get out the shovel. One year Bill moved about 70 hostas to plant two new ones. “I hated to admit it but they did look better when he was done,” said Basil. And the planting holes? “When Bill dug a hole, it was cave time. You could build a walk-in basement.”

Basil stressed that as a garden ages and grows, it changes. “Be sure you find out what someone else’s definition of ‘dwarf’ is,” he cautioned.

In describing their treasures, from the many showy magnolias and rhododendrons to the odd columnar sugar maple Bill found grafted in a field by Mr. Linderman at his U.S. 6 nursery years ago, Basil conveys an affection for each plant and its history. If only we all someday can have such special things in our own gardens.

In closing, I’d belatedly like to thank a special person in my life even though I didn’t know her name until now.

Mildred Wirt Benson of Toledo, Ohio, who died recently at age 96, in many ways helped shape who I am today. In addition to my parents, she taught me confidence, determination, poise under pressure, resourcefulness, proper grammar and a flair for words.

A newspaper columnist, Mildred’s pen name was Carolyn Keene and in 1930 she began writing 23 of 30 original Nancy Drew books. Nancy was my hero. Fortunately, Mrs. Edman and her daughter Betty Carlene, who lived across the alley from our Morgan Park home, had most of the Nancy Drew books and would loan them to me. Reading needs a quiet place, so sometimes I would climb a tree and read there.

Whether restrained in a room, trapped in a trunk or stuck in a stairwell, Nancy never gave up. She didn’t just walk; she springed lightly. Merely gazing wasn’t enough for our little trooper. Her eyes danced with excitement. And why would a girl settle for being happy when she can be highly elated?

When danger presented itself, Nancy would become defiant instead of fearful and knew just what to do, yet she was only 16. Whether fixing flat tires on her own roadster or thumping thugs, Nancy was perfectly coifed and dressed down to her hairpin, handkerchief and heels.

Nancy’s words found on page 135 of “The Secret of the Old Clock” have served me well throughout my life. Even though she comes close to tears after initially panicking when robbers leave her to starve in a locked closet, Nancy vows to break free.

When all else fails, she tells herself, keep your head and think your way out of a bad situation.

Whether dealing with a family crisis or a gardening disaster, it works. And yes, I still get the urge to climb a tree.


Posted June 10, 2002