Unaware of and not yet stressed by the blistering heat that lies ahead, roses not only bloom their heads off in April; they give off an unreal air of perfection as well. Each leaf is green and lush, each flower without blemish.
Strolling through a nursery in April, you could easily get a false sense of security about roses and develop inflated expectations regarding the lushness of their leaves and the number and quality of their flowers.
Without constant application of pesticides and fertilizers, however, as well as continuous pruning, there are few roses that will recapitulate in coming months the freshness and the glow, in both flower and foliage, that they are exhibiting now.
After the year’s first bloom cycle, most roses lose their luster until the following spring – unless they are given chemical fixes on a weekly or biweekly basis. By the way: Valley roses do best when exposed to morning sun only.
There is one group of roses that will bloom longer and with less chemical intervention than the rest. These are the floribundas. Floribundas are the result of cross breeding between hybrid tea and polyantha roses. Hybrid teas are the classic, large-flowered, typically fragrant but highly disease-prone roses, while polyanthas are low-growing, small-flowered, disease-resistant and long-blooming.
Some people have attached to floribundas the sobriquet of “landscaping roses.” The reasons for this are clear. Floribundas can be deployed in sunny locations as alternatives to India hawthorn, euryops daisy and other medium-size flowering shrubs. Floribundas may be planted individually, in pots or in the garden, or allowed to grow into a hedge.
Floribundas come in all colors – white, pink, red, orange, yellow and lavender. I have had a hedge of “Livin’ Easy” orange floribundas for years. These slightly spicy roses are occasionally fertilized and pruned, but require no more maintenance than your average hedge. They have never shown the slightest sign of disease on flower or leaf.
Floribundas were first hybridized in Denmark. Their Scandinavian background is evident in their cold tolerance. Within the floribunda group, there is a rose that flowers longer and more prolifically than all the rest. It is “Iceberg,” a white-flowering garden workhorse that is never out of bloom. Introduced only about 10 years ago, “Iceberg” is far and away the best-selling rose in California, if not the entire world.
This spring, there is a new rose available that could soon compete with the white “Iceberg” in popularity. It is dubbed “Brilliant Pink Iceberg” and is described on its accompanying label as a “cerise pink and cream blend” with a “mild honey” fragrance. It is “a color mutation of the renowned (white) Iceberg” that was discovered in Tasmania, that large island located off the southeast coast of Australia.
< GARDEN WONDER.... You want to go hit a few at the batting cage but can't put off mowing the lawn any longer. A movie you've wanted to see for a long time appears on TV, but you need to hurry to the store for more fertilizer. Does it seem you're spending more and more of your weekends maintaining your lawn than just relaxing? Well, take heart: It could be worse. Liz Kusak of Winnetka not only has to water her lawn, but weed it, replant sections of it and watch the growing schedule throughout the year. And there isn't a blade of grass in her front or back yard. Rather, the lawn is a combination of ground cover, flowers, succulents and trees - hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower; sweet olive and lemon fragrances coming from the back yard near a small pond; trees ripening with figs, crab apples, lemons, pears and kumquats. She's maintained this continuously blooming garden for the past five years, ever since her husband died. She said if she didn't have the plants to watch and maintain, she'd ``go stir crazy.'' ``It's a yard that always has something coming or going - you're always saying hello to something or saying goodbye to something,'' she says. Right now, the front yard is full of South African iris, Mexican primrose, California poppy and aloe, while the back yard contains red Swiss chard, Asian apple pear and a succulent garden. As the season continues, the lawn will fill with daffodil, grape hyacinth, crocus, Dutch iris and two kinds of feverfew, among other plants. She acquired many of her plants through her years belonging to different gardening groups, including a native plant society, a herb society and a group for rare fruit growers (which is where she got her rare Asian apple pear and celeste fig trees). But more often than not, her plants have come from friends. ``It's 'give a piece, take a piece,' '' she says. ``I'll give them a piece of something from my garden for a piece of something from theirs. If it's something I like, I'll try it. If it doesn't bloom, I'll try something else.''