This is rose envy time. Big-time envy time.
Okay, we do grow roses. A lot of roses, and some even fabulous, great rambling beauties that have grown into giants over 35 years, like the albertine on the front fence, the vast white and yellow banksias and the parson's monthly that invades the vegetable garden every year.
But we don't have long-stemmed roses, hybrid tea type roses, the ones that are ugly, prickly stumps all winter, but in spring they leap into growth. Soon after every bush is massed with flowers, long-stemmed roses that stand up straight in vases, flush after flush till autumn. Our roses only really work as posies, tucked into cream jugs or bud vases or the narrow tops of old bottles, but unless you are an expert flower arranger (I am more of a bung it into the container type) you can't get them to stand straight in big, wide vases.
This, of course, is the kind of vase that a garden writer keeps being given. I've averaged two gift vases a year for the past forty years, which adds up to … actually far more vases than we have in the larder, even given that I have broken a few but, even so, it is a lot of vases. Empty vases, mostly, apart from the brown one that is perfect to fill with yellow daffs or cream earlicheer jonquils in late winter and early spring, and then hydrangeas fresh through summer, with a short break for the red Christmas gladioli, and dried parchment coloured hydrangeas over winter.
I would love to have some hybrid tea roses. There are three problems.
The first is the wallabies, which are a problem you probably don't have. Swamp wallabies love roses. They can't reach our tall ramblers, but hybrid teas? Just an entrée.
Problem two: we are in a deep, shady valley. Hybrid teas need sun to produce flush after flush of roses. I have managed to coax a few hybrid teas to grow here over the years but all have been blighted with black spot, even the supposedly black spot resistant ones. This is an excellent spot for growing many things, but not hybrid tea roses.
And the third is time. Hybrid teas need pruning, at least by two thirds each winter, plus summer pruning, cutting each branch back every time you pick the flowers and or 'dead head' them (snip off the faded blooms). Many need spraying for black spot in winter or for aphids in spring, or mites in summer.
Hybrid teas also need regular feeding (try weakly weekly) to give that repeated flush spring, summer and autumn blooms. If you find your cut roses don't last as long as those from the florist, yours probably need feeding, plus a few of the chemicals found in the sachets you add to the water in their vase. I don't do spraying. Our plants live or die (mostly the former) without much help from me. Hybrid teas don't fit our regime.
This is possibly my greatest gardening regret, as some of my most treasured flowers are hybrid teas, like old-fashioned Peace, the deep cream-yellow one, just tinged with pink, not the more lurid modern cultivar that has too much pink and far too bright a yellow.
My most beloved flower of all is a papa meilland rose, an almost black red with a scent that for me defines rose perfume. We do have a climbing Papa Meilland over the woodshed and bryan manages to reach a rose or two for me each year, but mostly that are way above our head, glorying in the extra heat and light reflected from the roof.
Those are only the two I fell in love with half a century ago. I have tried very hard not to look too closely at the variety of hybrid tea roses I've adored since, knowing I can't grow them and not wanting to be tempted again. Every year more wonderful ones are released, including ones that tolerate some shade, that I haven't tried as they still need the pruning and feeding, which I could do for a couple of pet bushed, if I wasn't sure they'd also be a tasty snack for wallabies.
But if you have a spot with sun, low humidity and time to give the care they need, please grow some roses. Any sour-puss smiles when you give them roses, the shaggy scented ones you only get in home gardens, thrust into a not quite tidy bunch, the stems wrapped in damp paper and then alfoil.
Perfect. Simply perfect. And I envy you.
This week I am:
- Finally picking the first hydrangeas of the season, the best vase fillers possible, apart from long-stemmed roses that we do not have (see above).
- Eating mulberries, picking mulberries, making mulberry crush, frozen mulberries off the stem whizzed in the blender.
- Watching the apples and plum swell and hoping the early ones will be ready for Christmas;
- Counting the cherries and reminding myself the birds will get most of them before I do.
- Envying a friend who has her first tomato of the season – ours have yet to set fruit (it's a good week for envy).
- Munching the first summer lettuces.