Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rose Night at the Cranford Rose Garden

Sarah Owens, Curator
Presided over by curator Sarah Owens, the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn (NY) Botanic Garden is our idea of heaven.  With 5,000 roses comprised of over 1,700 varieties, if you are addicted to roses the way we are, it's a place where you can immerse yourself in roses as far as the eye can see. The only reason to come up for air is to inhale the magnificent fragrance.

But a garden this size presents plus-sized challenges, especially when the garden is going to be front and center for the Brooklyn Botanic's annual celebration of the roses in bloom.

One of the largest and most extensive rose collections in the country, we are totally amazed that Sarah manages virtually all of the upkeep with the aid of occasional interns and volunteers and one or two members of the horticultural staff who get assigned to the garden to help prepare for special events.

As members of the BBG, Steve and I schedule our early summer vacation week to coincide with the celebration of the blooming of the roses, an evening gala known as Rose Night. This year, we did more than just enjoy a picnic, rose-tinis and dancing in the garden at Rose Night. Steve and I volunteered to spend a good part of our vacation in the rose garden, helping Sarah to deadhead the roses and rake out the beds -- clean-up chores that make the garden ready for guests.

Roses in the main garden beds; past peak but still plenty of color!
Pruning, dead-heading, and raking out beds are not chores that we are unfamiliar with.

We have over 200 roses of our own and while that is a drop in the ocean by comparison, we at least had had a lot of practice pruning and deadheading the various types of roses before we headed out to trim roses at the Cranford.

So off to New York we trekked, our car loaded down with our garden totes and gardening gear.  After a miserable drive in torrential rain, we spent the better part of the three days leading up to Rose Night assisting Sarah, her interns, and some members of the horticultural staff to bring order to the roses. 

Armed with pruners, gauntlets, and hand rakes, decked out in hats, our New England Rose Society shirts, and sunblock, we arrived for our first day of work feeling excited yet daunted.  Just looking at the work ahead of us, the expanse of the beds, was intimidating.

Mother Nature cooperated (sort of).  The first day was cool and rainy and we were glad we had brought our rain gear.   The sun peaked through clouds on the second and third days, but still, the air temperature was at least 10-15 degrees cooler than usual for this time of year, and a gentle breeze made it easier for us to work hard, work fast, and work a full day.

Sarah had a plan though, and asked us to focus on the edges of the long beds - anything we could reach from the edge without actually standing inside the bed.   Then she had an intern attack the middle of the bed using a board to stand on so as to more evenly distribute her weight and not pack down the mulch around the roses.

We filled large trash buckets with clippings and the petals and leaves that we raked from as far in as we could reach.  These were dumped into the bed of Sarah's electricity powered "Electruck" and hauled to the compost area.  After twenty barrels, I gave up counting.

By the third day, Sarah's cadre of staff had dwindled down to an intern, a horticultural staff person, and us.  The other interns and staff had been reassigned to other areas of the botanic garden and so we worked as quickly as we could to finish up the last of the main beds.  We started at the edges and then armed with one foot by four foot long boards, worked our way into the middle of the bed.  The interns had made it look easy!  Balancing on a board while trying to rake under the sprawling roses was no easy task.

Sarah, Steve and Cathy as we wrapped up our volunteer effort.
When we quit for the day on our final day of work, it was amazing to stand back and look at all we had accomplished.  Even as we packed up our gear, we were still clipping the odd spent bloom here, pulling a weed there, but the beds looked gorgeous.

Despite having arrived at the Cranford with decades of experience, there is always something new to learn.  Sarah explained the use of the boards to us, something we had never considered.  In fact, we walk through our rose beds pruning, clipping, and weeding regularly.  We'll be much more circumspect in the future, employing stepping stones or boards to avoid compacting the mulch and soil, as roots need to breathe.

She also taught us the need to sanitize our tools at regular intervals, especially when moving from bed to bed, something else we never have done.  She provided spritz bottles of ammonia and encouraged us to use it frequently on our cutters.  When we returned home, we sanitized all of our tools and implements in a solution of household bleach, and we'll be more attentive to sanitizing our tools than we've ever been in the past.Ironically, we do sanitize our beds in spring with an ammonia spray, but we'd never given any thought to sanitizing our tools.

With construction going on around the main gardens, we never even got to see the pool or the arches and Sarah said that the roses had actually peaked a few weeks earlier.  While we missed most of the old garden roses, still, there was glorious bloom everywhere we looked.

On our final day of gardening, we traded in aprons and hats for vintage themed evening wear to attend Rose Night.

Sarah had asked us to wear the outfits we had worn to an 1860's era ball earlier in the spring, and we arrived decked out in period attire, minus the horse and carriage.

Rose Night is a wonderful event that harkens back to an earlier day when children played and families picnicked on the esplanade around the garden.

This was our second year attending, and it was wonderful to see so many more people wearing fancy hats and some even wearing vintage or vintage styled outfits.

Steve and Cathy, with Sarah in the rose garden at Rose Night.
We shared a table with a wonderful local family.  Lola dressed all in pink for the event.

Featured were pink tablecloths and rose martinis with rose petals floating in them.
A "members only" event, Rose Night at the Cranford has become one of our favorite spring events, made even more special for us by knowing that in some small way, our efforts helped make the garden just a little more beautiful for the members who came to enjoy it.

If you would like to join us for a picnic at Rose Night, you can find membership information for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden HERE.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The "Best" and "Worst" of May, 2012

Once again we are joining Angela, who blogs at Bumble Lush, for her new monthly meme where she posts the "best" and "worst" things in her garden during the previous month.

The strange weather has continued. May, usually sunny, warm, and filled with lilacs and tulips, magnolias and other spring blossoms, has been cool and rainy.

Aphids cover the blossoms of the honeysuckle.
The rain has made it hard to spray and as a result, the aphids have descended on the roses and honeysuckle, earning the award for "worst" for May. ( Click on the photograph for a close-up view of these tiny vultures.)

We hit them hard with blasts of water (forceful spray from the hose) and that cleared them away for a couple of days.  But unfortunately, they came back all too quickly.

Finally, this past week we had a couple of days without precipitation and I was able to spray with our sure fire aphid formula - water with canola and soap.  That helped enormously, so hopefully,  now we are on the right path.

This month's best has to be the fragrant roses, the Rosa rugosa rubra, as well as Zephirine Drouhin and Scentimental, which have perfumed our yard from several vantage points.   

Zephirine Drouhin is a Bourbon climber introduced in 1868 that has a most exquisite perfume.

Scentimental is a modern floribunda bred by Tom Carruth and introduced in 1997.  The blossoms feature cream and burgundy swirled stripes and a strong damask perfume that has similar notes to the fragrance of Zephirine Drouhin, which is probably why we enjoy it so much.

The rugosa roses, the omnipresent "Beach Roses" here on the seacoast, are old garden roses that grow wild along the seashore and salt marshes.

The deep pink open blossoms have a remarkably strong and beautiful perfume that mixes with the scent of the salty ocean area to produce a fragrance that is uniquely New England.

The intense perfume of all of the roses has attracted a bevy of bees, butterflies and birds to the garden, always a pleasure to watch.

You can see what prompted Angela to post about this and add your blog to her list at Bumble Lush