Our first rose this year was an accidental one. A climbing rose planted beside the lemon tree died in the 2003 drought but its rootstock, an old and vigorous rose known as Parson's Monthly, flourished. The Parson has now wound itself all through the lemon tree.
It's a natural early bloomer, helped by the lemon tree's position in a hot, sunny sheltered spot with extra shelter from the tree itself. The soil may be cold, but it's warmer two metres up the lemon tree.
A lot of our roses clamber up trees. The doubling up has many virtues. First of all it's a toofer – a two for one. You get both lemons/apples/apricots/plums and roses in the same two square metres or so. The scent of lemon in particular seems to deter aphids and rose pests; the tangle of rose and fruit branches deters possums and bower birds.
A further advantage at our place is that a two-metre high canopy of roses is out of the reach of wallabies who pull down the branches to eat flowers, leaves and new shoots, and may tear the main stem in half in the process, though a few wallabies are more decorous, and just help themselves delicately to the flowers. Growing roses up fruit trees is a win-win unless, of course, you happen to be a possum, wallaby or bower bird.
You do need vigorous climbing roses for this to work, like Albertine, Wedding Day, Mermaid, Dorothy Perkins or one of the banksia roses. You also need a tree with a fairly open canopy like a lemon or apple tree, with deep rather than wide roots so there is soil, plant food and moisture for the rose. You also need extra feeding and watering for the first few years till the rose gets a decent root structure going and can hold its own with the tree roots.
Be prepared for much slower growth for the first three years than it might make on a sunny, root-free fence but once it gets up to the first branch it should whoosh away, heading for the sunlight above the canopy. Make sure you twine the rose branches around the fruit tree branches or you'll end up with a display only visible from above, for trespassing drones or the odd passing helicopter.
Our second rose of spring was one that spot blooms through winter too – one of my favourites, Rosa mutabilis, a single rose that changes colour from pink through to red, orange, yellow and parchment, which sounds hideous but works, as they are all changing shades of each other. It stops blooming in late winter to gather strength for its first flush of flowers, 100 coloured butterflies that reappear in more flushes through summer. It's one of those roses that don't need pruning, weeding and even tolerates a lack of water and feeding, though the better it's tended the better display you'll get.
The white banksia flowered next, and the yellow banksia is just beginning, all six trees high of it – it's climbed over the wood shed onto the junipers and from there galloped up the hill through a pittosporum. It's conquered that too. Be patient with your banksia rose – it's taken a quarter of a century for ours to climb that high – wow, it's stunning.
And as I write this I've suddenly realised that our usual stalwart for early flowers, Climbing Iceberg, hasn't bloomed at all yet, possibly because the possum guard has dropped off the pergola and the possums have chomped the Iceberg. Memo to self: replace possum guard and hope the possums don't work out how to pull it off now it has a taste of succulent Iceberg roses.
And in another month or so "rose season" truly begins, with 101 roses all flowering at once, or however many I have planted and that have survived – I haven't counted them for about 20 years. But the advantage of growing mostly ramblers means that each rose that's still going is BIG. And that display of roses – for us, possums and wallabies, as well as the birds that love to nest in their tangles – will be gloriously vast as well.
+ planting tomatoes, apple cucumbers, parsley and pumpkins with fingers crossed that it will either rain or I'll have time to bucket water from the shower for them and, also, that we won't have a major frost before next winter … all of which are definitely gambles
+ trying to remember to water the strawberries and asparagus
+ eating asparagus and the first rhubarb tart of the season
+ remembering I haven't harvested last summer's Jerusalem artichokes and if I don't do so in the next few days they will be sprouting
+ reminding myself that lawns can brown and acanthus wither but they'll come back when it rains
+ watching the loquats, strawberries and mulberries ripen, and dreaming of the first fruits of spring
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