Monday, June 27, 2011

The Winning Fragrance of Zephirine Drouhin

This weekend, we participated in our first ever Rose Show. Sponsored by the New England Rose Society. The annual event was held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.

We have been growing roses for several years and our gardens now boast a grand total approaching 200 roses of every rose class, color, and size. But growing roses doesn't make one prepared to show them any more than adopting a pound puppy makes one a winner at dog shows.

We were novices out of the gate and we had another significant disadvantage: the vagaries of New England weather. The week prior to the show we had it all. Gale force winds with tree limbs sailing through the rose beds, torrential rains with spotty flooding, and temperatures ranging from the 50's to the 90's.

After a particularly nasty lightening, wind, and rain storm Saturday night, we didn't expect to find much worth showing Sunday at the rose show and we weren't pleasantly surprised. We were up and out in the garden by 6:00 AM to cut roses to bring to the show.  We went from bed to bed and managed to fill two buckets with blooms that were not anything close to the beauty of the blooms we had hoped to bring.

Armed with a tote bag of tools to prepare our roses for showing (some foam for wedging, tiny scissors, rose clippers, Q-tips, and such), we set up vases and rose bowls with blooms. Fourteen of our roses joined the blooms of other New England regional rose growers on the exhibition tables.

Convinced that we had no chance of winning, we headed off for a relaxing lunch at the Twigs Cafe and some quiet time spent reading and relaxing on the lovely grounds of the Botanical Center. Imagine our pleasure when we returned to the exhibition area to discover 11 of our roses sporting red and blue ribbons and a gift of crystal rosebud candlesticks in recognition of our winnings.

But the best surprise of all was yet to come. The one rose class yet to be decided was the fragrance competition which is determined by votes cast by rose show attendees. When the votes were tallied, we were absolutely thunderstruck to be named winners of the fragrance competition and presented with a gorgeous Waterford vase by conference chairwoman Barbara LeDuc.

We will certainly enter competitions in the future and hope to win other awards, but none will likely ever be as sweet as our first "Best". The winning rose, cut from one of our three Zephirine Drouhins, has perfumed our gardens and yard for the past three weeks and today a fresh flush of blooms opened around both our trellis bench and the mailbox, I'm convinced in honor of the prize.

To showcase some of the roses we entered into the competition and the presentation of the award, I created my very first photograph mosaic for the Mosaic Monday blog roll hosted by Mary Carroll at Little Red House.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Controlling Blackspot Without Toxic Chemical Sprays

The very name of it evokes feelings of gloom and doom born from a sense of frustration and helplessness.  It's the nemesis of every rose gardener I've ever met. 

A week before a garden tour or rose show, the presence of even a half dozen classically spotted leaves on a top performer can spark panic in the heart of  the most stalwart rose gardener.  Once you see the telltale signs on one rosebush, you need to act quickly or the unsightly infection can rapidly spread throughout your entire rosebed.

For newcomers to rose gardening, blackspot is a fairly ubiquitous fungus that presents as round to irregular black spots on the leaves and canes of roses. 

The spots can be so numerous, they can coalesce into irregular black patches and they are eventually followed by yellowing and death of the leaf.  Left to its own devices, the fungus can defoliate a rose shrub in a matter of days to weeks, depending on the weather and severity of the infection.

Blackspot is not usually lethal in and of itself, but it can severely weaken a rose to the point where it won't survive unfavorable weather (protracted drought conditions, for example) or a very harsh winter.  Since it affects the leaves, plants that struggle to produce adequate food can't produce the same number of buds and those it does produce are often smaller and not the best form. The telltale affected leaves are an unsightly blight in the garden and the infection can spread from roses to other garden plants as well.

Caused by the fungus Diplocarpon rosae, blackspot strikes when there has been an extended period of rainy, damp, or very humid weather, especially when temperatures hover between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit -  typical New England weather in the spring and early summer.  

Once summer temperatures hit the mid-80's with low humidity and little or no precipitation, blackspot will not be as much of a  problem unless you help it along by watering your rosebed at  dusk, when the leaves may remain moist for several hours and evening temperatures fall as the sun sets.

Because the spores can travel from a neighboring garden and linger in the environment, unless preventive measures have been taken, a few days of ideal weather conditions will bring a new wave of infection to your rosebeds. It takes a mere seven hours in a favorable environment for the spores to germinate.  More than one gardener has set his sprinklers to run after dinner and found the beginnings of blackspot in time for breakfast.

Prolonged periods of rainy or very humid weather can quickly turn a gorgeous, infection-free rosebed into a spotted, defoliating nightmare even in the best of circumstances.  For this reason, many rose growers routinely treat with fungicides to prevent infections when the weather turns favorable for the fungus to thrive.

In both of my former rose gardens, I  used rose dust and sprays and enjoyed the pest-free benefits of both topical and systemic chemical applications. But as anyone who has a water feature with live fish knows, fish are exceedingly sensitive to chemicals and chemical spraying is simply not an option around a koi pond.

Many experienced rosarians will tell you that spraying with chemical fungicides on a strict schedule is as essential as water to maintain healthy roses. Statements like that distress me and if I had let myself be swayed by that myth, we would never have even tried to grow roses.

In addition to our koi pond and water garden, our property abuts a conservation area consisting of over 55 acres of open land, much of which is considered wetlands.

We take our responsibility to the environment very seriously. Toxic sprays would harm not just our fish but would be a hazard to that ecosystem and to the bees who visit us daily from another neighbor's apiary as well. 

For those naysayers who have said to us, "Sure you can spray that around fish. Just don't do it on a windy day. And don't spray in the direction of the water." I say, try it in your yard, but we are staying away from chemicals here. (We actually had one person suggest that we just cover the pond with a tarp while we spray.)

Despite what you may have read, I'm here to tell you that while blackspot is definitely a scourge, there are safe and effective alternatives to toxic chemical sprays. We are successfully raising more than 180 roses representing over 75 different varieties without chemicals. If you have young children,  pets, or a water garden with fish, don't let the specter of toxic sprays deter you from the joy of growing and enjoying roses!

Here are the key elements we utilize for a chemical-free, healthy rose garden.

1. Good gardening practices and grooming of roses and rosebeds.

Healthy roses are better able to fight off the effects of pests and diseases and recover from infections when they occur.

You can minimize the incidence of infection in your gardens if you keep your roses in optimal health by regularly feeding, watering, and pruning them.  Following our initial spring pruning, feeding, and weeding, we spread a layer of compost and manure and then top off the beds with compostable black mulch for weed suppression and moisture retention.

Cleaning up any damaged or infected leaf litter goes a long way toward helping keep fungal infections like blackspot from spreading through a garden.

Choosing varieties of roses that are known to be naturally resistant to blackspot can also help, but resistant does not mean immune and even the highly resistant Knock-outs can develop blackspot in the "right" (or wrong) circumstances.

2. Apply cracked corn to beds prior to mulching in the spring and fall.

Cracked corn is an inexpensive source of the beneficial fungus Trichoderma which research  has shown to be an effective fungal biopesticide.  We can attest to its efficacy. We have been treating our rosebeds with cracked corn since 2005 and have noticed a dramatic decrease in the incidence of blackspot when we put it down in early spring compared with those years when we either didn't use it at all or put it down much later in the season.

To apply, sprinkle liberally over the rose bed and cover with 3-4  inches of compost and/or mulch. An occasional kernal may sprout if the mulch is applied too thinly.  We repeat the process when applying mulch in the fall.

Although this somewhat duplicates Step 3 (below) as it is a method of applying Trichoderma, a two-pronged approach also maintains a reservoir in the soil to fight the fungus both in the environment and on the rose.  We have also heard anecdotally from others who use this that over time, it can also help with weed control, although this benefit reportedly takes 3-4 years to manifest.

3. Spray with a biological fungicide  for added protection by Trichoderma.

We began spraying with Rootshield, a patented formulation of Trichoderma in a wettable powder in the late summer of 2009. We used it last year for the entire growing season without the concomitant use of cracked corn. The results were dramatic and more effective than what we previously saw with cracked corn alone.

This year we began the season by applying cracked corn, intending to combine both sources of this fungal biopesticide to maximize the benefit of both soil and foliar applications. 

Our usual practice is to spray with Rootshield WP, a product manufactured by BioWorks, Inc.  We spray a solution of 1 Tablespoon in one  gallon of water in early May and again in September,  and a solution of 1/2 Tablespoon in a gallon solution in midsummer (July).

4. Regular spraying with a solution of soap, oil, bicarbonate, garlic oil, and mint and citrus teas.

Spraying regularly with our home made solution of peppermint or spearmint tea, canola oil, homemade garlic oil, clear soap, and other all-natural insecticidal agents helps to control not only blackspot but powdery mildew and insect pests as well. (You can see our entire protocol HERE.

Because of our koi, we can't use pyrethrums in our garden either. For us, weekly spraying with either a garlic oil or mint based solution that includes baking soda adequately treats such pests as thrips, aphids, and spider mites and keeps a lid on powdery mildew as well. 

 5. Treat signs of blackspot promptly.

Preventing blackspot is much easier than treating it. We do our best to stay ahead of it, a daunting task when you have as rainy a spring as we have had this year.

This became even more of a nightmare for us recently when we bought several new roses from two local nurseries only to find them full of blackspot just a few days after planting them.  Even more troubling was finding that two of the worst offenders were 'Gemini' and a 'Double Knock-out' which are known to be some of the most blackspot resistant roses available.

The hygiene and care these roses received at the nursery was clearly substandard but we should have examined the plants more carefully before bringing them home and setting them into the rose beds.

Once you discover blackspot, your best recourse is to act quickly to remove all infected foliage and follow with another application of a general garden spray (I include both garlic oil and peppermint) with baking soda and Rootshield.

If you catch the infection early, you can simply prune off the affected leaves or branches but a severe infection may require pruning all the way back to the lower portions of the main canes. The canes on the right show signs of infection and we'll watch those carefully and likely prune them off as well, as the rose begins to recover.

After clipping and pruning away infected foliage and canes, every bit of leaf litter must be collected and disposed of, but not into your compost pile, where it can travel back into your rose garden on a windy day or remain dormant and ready to reinfect when you spread compost on your beds. 

We dispose of any infected plant matter with our non-compostable, non-recyclable trash. As an added precaution, after pruning and attending to infected roses, I clean my gloves and tools with a dilute solution of household bleach.

The capacity for roses to recover is remarkable if care is taken to catch and treat infection with blackspot early on and to treat the rose supportively as it is recovering and refoliating.  But an aggressive spraying routine with non-toxic, environment-friendly sprays can effectively prevent blackspot from developing even when extremes of weather make a fungal epidemic a foregone conclusion.

Author's Note:  BioWorks can provide you with a list of distributors of their products in your area. Contact them via the on-line form on their website. If you live in New England, Rootshield WP is available at Grriffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies in Tewksbury, MA   

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: June 15, 2011

Hi, Everyone, and Happy June! This is our very first "Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day" post. Last month I read Bloom Day posts at Hayefield and Carolyn's Shade Garden and enjoyed them immensely. Then, Carolyn visited our blog and suggested we join Bloom Day so here we are! 

With 31 separate garden beds, we always have something in bloom. June is the month when most of the late spring, early summer flowers are peaking and for our inaugural post they are doing me proud. In fact, deciding which beds to feature and what pictures to include has been an intimidating job.

So brew a cup of tea, sit back, and join me for a virtual tour of the gardens. I only wish I could share the fragrance with you as well. It's absolutely heaven here, with Zephirine Drouhin, my favorite damask rose in full bloom here on the trellis bench, getting ready to climb over our mailbox, and climbing up a trellis gate into the flowering tree and shrub grove.

We are bursting with color - clematis, lupines, peonies, and roses, roses, roses, to name just a few!   
Peony "Sarah Bernhardt" with purple sage and penstemon "Husker Red"
You aren't seeing double. Unidentified pale pink peonies and purple spikes of catmint.
Peony "Singing in the Rain"
Peony "Karl Rosenfield" forms a dark red backdrop for the fountain. In the back are peony "Dawn Pink" and rhododendron "Nova Zembla". The pink miniature roses surrounding the base of the fountain are "Cupcake".

Peony "Edulis Superba"
Our tree peonies are blooming  for the first time ever!
Tree peony "Koukamon" with lupines in one of our full sun perennial beds.
We have numerous clematis that bloom throughout the summer. The earliest of them opened just this week. We are struggling to identify many of them after the tags for virtually every plant in the garden were inadvertently pulled and discarded during preparations for a garden tour a few years ago. These are all currently blooming.

Clematis Henryii and climbing grandiflora rose "Queen Elizabeth" embrace on a lamp post.
Lovely blue-purple bell-shaped clematis, probably "Betty Corning"

Our deck garden is one of the newest beds. We started it last year, and turned a very drab, unappealing deck into a garden oasis filled with tubs and raised beds of trees, shrubs, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Our Meyer lemon tree loves the location as does a tree hydrangea, fig tree, and some late blooming lilacs. These are not as fragrant as our other lilacs but we do enjoy having blooms well into June. Annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs make this a true kitchen garden just steps away from the stove.

Stocks and pansies provide color until the cosmos and hollyhocks mature and bloom.
Lettuce, cilantro and sweet yellow peppers share space with dahlias and summer squash.

Late blooming lilacs are not as fragrant but just as pretty.
The snap peas are off to a great start, as are the yellow peppers and some cucumbers.
We added pansies, violas, and calibrachoa to the pots that hold the trees and shrubs.
Pansies and zinnias provide color while the cosmos and hollyhocks are bringing up the rear.

With more than 185 roses comprised of at least 75 different varieties, all of our beds are awash with color. The  shrub, hybrid tea, antique, and climbing roses are scattered through four rose beds, two perennial beds, several cottage beds, and the herb garden.

One of our dedicated rose beds, edged with Munstead lavender.
Peony "Karl Rosenfield", rose, "Abraham Darby", and "Fragrant Cloud".
Rosa rugosa, the Beach Rose
"Blushing Knock-Our Rose"; an occasional petal is streaked with red.

Bella Roma
Double Pink Knock-out with Nova Zembla Rhododendron, growing up behind the waterfall and koi pond.
"Sea Foam"
"Social Climber"
"Passionate Kisses"
"Queen Elizabeth" grandiflora

In the herb garden, chives are in bloom and the herbs are thriving. We love to cook with fresh herbs and we're experimenting with some different varieties of thyme, sage, and basil this year. Besides sharing with friends, we make herbal teas to spray the yard and I also dry a fair amount for winter use. Next to the herb garden we have a smaller bed where strawberries share space with Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina). We have to ride herd on the spearmint, peppermint, and lemon balm on a daily basis.

Chives, oregano and germander are ready for harvesting.
Several varieties of thyme and sage are clustered next to the mint.

German thyme
Silver leaf thyme
Lemon balm (rear) and spearmint and peppermint take up one corner of the herb garden. An old mailbox is a handy place to stash garden tools and gloves so they're handy for those quick garden chores.
Stachys and strawberries... sweet and soft.

The formal garden has four rose beds and two large perennial beds. In the perennial beds, the peonies are in full bloom along with the lupines, daisies, clematis, and cranesbill.

Lupines and sage take center stage, with clematis on a pillar (left), ligularia wondering whatever it's doing in a sunny bed (it loves it there), and astilbe getting ready to bloom.
Yarrow and cranesbill make wonderfull "ground covers" in a perennial bed. The expand to fill holes quite effectively.
Japanese windflowers, cranesbill, lupines, and peonies frame the Italian fountain that is the hub of the garden.
Cranesbill and Veronica
Shasta daisies, spikes of lupines, Japanese windflowers (Alba anemone), and peonies (Sarah Bernhardt) in one of the sun perennial beds.
Roses bloom along the back of one of the perennial beds. On the other side of the stepping stones are yellow straw flowers. Yellow peonies, "Singing in the Rain" is farther along the path.
The yellow centers of the shasta daisies pop next to a yellow lupine.
The Munstead lavender (Lavendula augustifolia) has started to bloom and within a week, the hedges surrounding the rose and perennial beds will be a mass of fragrant purple blossoms.

The woodland and shade gardens feature mountain laurel, variegated foliage, and shaded walking paths and a quiet place to read.

Aquilegia is still blooming and this light blue double bloom is particularly lovely.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia) and penstemon "Husker Red"
The flowers of the mountain laurel in the woodland garden are exquisite.
Mountain laurel flanks the walking path into the back side of the woodland garden.
The last of the azaleas are blooming in the pathway along our dry river bed.

The Kouza dogwood next to the water garden has pink tinted bracts.
This tuliptree sprouted in the midst of our perennial bed two years ago. These trees are not native to this area and there are none in our immediate vicinity. We are working with tree experts to determine how it came to be growing here.
A second tuliptree sprouted this spring, also in a perennial bed. You can clearly see the unusual leaf. We believe they sprouted from dormant seeds contained in the soil that perennials were grown in.

A spring flowering trifecta - white kouza dogwood (rear), Bridal Veil (center), and pink wiegela (right). I love the interplay with the variegated caryoptis "Blue Mist" and hostas. The burgundy contrast on the left is courtesy of barberry and Betty Prior roses (in front of the barberry)
Honeysuckle climbs the fence next to the gate into the main garden
The blossom of the honeysuckle.
The American wisteria is in full bloom.
The Chinese wisteria finished blooming last week and we were fascinated to see seed pods on a spent blossom from one of the mauve and rose colored flower spikes. I'm hoping to dry and save them so I can try sprouting them (just for fun!)
Rhododendron "Nova Zembla" and mock orange bloom across the front of the house.

Blooms in our water garden are a little behind schedule. A cold wet spring has delayed things considerably. The yellow Siberian iris are finally blooming but the water lilies haven't even budded yet. The koi are a bright splash of color, literally and figuratively!

A kouza dogwood and cat tail reeds provide a backdrop for yellow iris and water mint growing at the edge of the pond on a shelf that is 2 feet below the surface of the water. Yellow flowering sedum trails over the rocks on the berm.

Our main garden area is a starburst comprised of two huge perennial beds and four rose beds. Perrenials were chosen for height and bloom time so that we would have a succession of blooms throughout the gardening season. We'll see you next month!

The Garden Bloggers; Bloom Day roll is hosted by fellow Blotanist Carol of Indiana. You can find links to visit all of the gardens that participate in this monthly bloomfest on her blog at May Dreams Gardens.