It’s a Shame Gardeners Can Only Live Once

‘Rosette DeLizy’ tea rose, courtesy of

It’s really a shame that gardeners, like everyone else, have just one life to live.  For focusing on bringing more beauty into the world, you would think that gardeners deserve two or three lives at least.

Moreover, a gardener could easily spend a lifetime focused on a single plant or, more precisely, a single plant type or genus and never get the chance to know other types except to occasionally gaze upon them in someone else’s garden.  I knew a gardener who was obsessed with flowering maples (Abutilon genus), for example, and went to great lengths to obtain exotic cultivars of these airy shrubs with blooms that resemble variously colored lampshades.  They are called flowering maples because their leaves have the shape of maple leaves.
The same goes for plumerias, those slow-growing, intricately and symetrically-branched, perfumed, and pinwheel-flowered arborescent succulents with a watering requirement that parallels that of cactuses.  I have met several local plumeria aficionados whose enthusiasm for these plants is gradually catching on among the wider population of Los Angeles gardeners.  Then there was the gardener who planted nothing but tomatoes — from beefsteak to cherry, from red to burgundy to striped to yellow — which were maintained with nothing but a heavy mulch of aged cow manure and a single weekly watering.  Or the collector of every kind of citrus tree, from a blood orange to a citron known as Buddha’s hand due to its fingerlike extrusions, who swore by their drought tolerance and would give them no more than one good soaking every three weeks during the summer. I also knew someone who grew nothing but ferns and another who would plant only bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, and corms in order to have dazzling cut flowers all year long.
Thoughts of horticultural obsessions came to mind upon receiving an email from Paula Larkin Hutton, a correspondent who gardens in Silicon Valley.  She extolled the virtues of heirloom  tea, as opposed to the far more common hybrid tea, roses.  Now I really have no reason to think that this writer is obsessed with heirloom tea roses, often referred to as just plain tea roses, but I could easily see how someone could be.  Imagine strongly fragrant roses that bloom heavily and virtually all year long with a bare bones water requirement.  I was always under the impression that the outstanding feature of hybrid tea roses was a uniquely prolonged bloom period that stretched from spring deep into fall but the length of heirloom tea rose bloom is even longer.
“The heirloom tea roses from which the modern hybrid teas were developed,” Paula Larkin Hutton began,  “are far less thirsty and much healthier than hybrid teas.  They do wonderfully well with a weekly deep watering when young and every other wee once well established.  That approaches the drought tolerance of many California natives.  Of course you must mulch them, but you should do that no matter what you grow.  Just as a sampling,  I recommend  ‘Rosette Delizy’ (cherry pink and yellow), Madame Lombard (pink), Monsieur Tillier (copper pink), Etoile de Lyon (pale yellow) and General Gallieni (red blend).  These and dozens more have survived conditions of neglect in abandoned California properties all over the state.  Most are quite disease resistant, too.  You only need one or two to make a dramatic statement, as they tend to grow large, about the size of a lilac bush.  They do not like hard pruning, so they are less work, too.”
Another significant bonus of (heirloom) tea roses is that they are easy to propagate from cuttings.  Tea roses, in fact, unlike most commercially grown roses, actually grow better on their own roots than when grafted onto rootstock varieties.  And please take note of Ms. Hutton’s caveat regarding heavy pruning.  Reports of heirloom teas that weakened and died as a result of overly zealous pruning.are all too common.
Hybrid teas replaced heirloom teas as the roses of choice due to the significantly greater cold tolerance of the former as well as the strength of hybrid tea roses in standing upright, whereas heirloom tea flowers are more floppily held on their stems.  In Southern California, heirloom teas will do just fine anywhere south of the Antelope Valley.
Heirloom tea roses are famous for their presence in cemeteries, where some specimens are well over a hundred years old..  ‘Madame Lombard’ has even been called “the cemetery rose” for its particularly widespread presence in eternal resting spots.
“Do rose bushes get old and die back or am I doing something wrong?  I have 12 bushes along a fence, southern exposure.  Some are big and bushy with lots of blooms and others have only a few flowers and look pathetic.  I’ve planted two new roses where others completely died and have my fingers crossed.  All were going strong when I got the house in 2010.
Also, I usually have great success with tomatoes but last year was a bust.  Other people had the same problem.  Could this be because of the hot June weather?”
Celia Barnett, Reseda
Unlike heirloom tea roses, hybrid tea roses are not known for their longevity.  Although plants may persist for twenty years or more, their productive lifespan averages only seven years.  Occasionally nematodes, which are microscopic roundworms, will parasitize rose roots and make it difficult to grow roses in a particular area.  If the new roses you planted begin to weaken, you might have a nematode problem in which case you would want to gradually replace your roses with nematode resistant plants.  Lists of such plants are easily located through an Internet search.
Tip of the Week:  Celia Barnett’s hunch about hot weather having a negative effect on tomato production is accurate.  Tomatoes do not do well in a heat wave.  The way to mitigate the effect of hot weather is with a four inch layer of mulch.  This will minimize root stress do to soil water loss.  Under such circumstances, you might also want to pollinate by hand to give your plants the best chance for yielding a crop.  Take a small paint brush and after touching some pollen, transfer it to stigma, which are the female flower parts.  When flowers fade following this procedure, it is a sign that pollination has been successful.  Pollination of tomatoes is achieved mostly by the wind and secondarily by bees.  If there is no breeze in the air around your plants, you can imitate the wind by taking your vibrating tootbrush and poisitioning it behind your tomato flowers.  Incidentally, tomato roots can also be attacked by nematodes.  Here, however, there is an easy solution to the problem.  There are tomato varieties that have been bred for resistance to verticillium and fusarium soil fungus as well as to nematodes.  Seeds with this multiple resistance have VFN emblazoned on the packet.  Lastly, you might also want to consider planting something in a different family of plant this coming year since monoculture of a single vegetable year after year can cause buildup of pathogenic organisms in the soil.  Tomato is in the same botanical group as eggplant, chili and bell pepper, and potato, so you might want to consider planting corn, cucumbers, squash, or melons instead.

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