Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stop and Smell the Roses

This past Saturday, Steve and I "worked" at The Friends of Vintage Roses booth at Sebastopol's "Apple Blossom Festival. There, we encouraged people passing by our booth to come in and "stop and smell the roses." 
In our little corner of the festival they could experience a wide range of heady, intense perfumes, the likes of which you seldom see in a modern rose garden, roses whose fragrance ranged from the traditional tea rose, to spice, to one rose that smells for all the world like grapefruit.

One of the main goals of the day was to entice people who love roses to join us as volunteers on our "Dirt Days", the twice monthly work days when dedicated volunteers get together to nurture, feed, weed, and tend one of the most important and extensive collections of old garden roses in the world. Our other focus was simply to re-introduce people to these wonderful roses, to share our enthusiasm for growing them, and to inspire others to do the same.
People looked at us quizzically, sometimes skeptically, certain we were "selling something".  We weren't. Well, not really.  Mostly, we were introducing people to the collection of old garden roses by letting them experience the fragrance of over fifty of the many thousands of different heirloom roses maintained by The Friends. Once we were enable to get them to come into our booth, we enjoyed their reaction.  The fragrance of the beautiful roses seemed to visibly lift spirits, infuse energy, and spark reminiscing of the gardens of their youth.  
Some of our volunteers had taken the time to create fact filled posters about the collection and the history of old garden roses.  We had copies of our newsletter to share, and during the time that I was there, several enthusiastic visitors voiced the intention of joining us for Dirt Days.  I sincerely hope they do.  The opportunity to work with such historically important specimens and alongside some of the most experienced and knowledgeable rosarians in the world is a rare gift in and of itself.  
I tended to be rather brash at times as I stood at the entrance to the booth and called like a carnival barker, urging people passing by to "come and smell the roses."  One man, a stoutly built, muscular gent sporting more ink on his body than I have in my art studio at first rebuffed my invitation.  
Undaunted, I stood in front of him with my walker and oxygen tank and told him that anyone who had that many tattoos of roses on his body simply had to stop and smell the roses.  
Amazingly, he followed me into our booth and then, as he sniffed every single one of the display roses, he told me that many of his tattoos were in honor of his grandmother who had raised him.  He told me, "She had roses in her yard that smelled just like this!"  He got a little choked up and I confess, I shed a tear or two watching this biker type with a studded dog collar wrist band gingerly lifting the bud vases to smell the roses.
Another of my favorite visitors to the booth were two young boys who were perhaps middle school aged.  They came together and told us somewhat shyly that they heard that "it smelled really good" in our booth.  
They lingered over many of the roses, fascinated by the variety of fragrances and asking thoughtful questions about the roses.   One of the boys commented that some of the roses smelled like soap and he asked how the rose fragrance got into the soap. 
I explained about French milled soaps scented by actual rose petals and one of the other volunteers explained how the rose petals were crushed to release the essential oils and then the oils were put into the soap.

Our tour of duty was a short three hours but I totally enjoyed myself and it was over all too soon. Even those visitors who were less enthusiastic about stopping in all left with a smile. How can anyone be unhappy around such beautiful flowers?
If you missed this event, there is another opportunity coming up in May.  The Friends will be providing a generous sampling of blooms for a similar display sponsored by the Heritage Rose Society at A Celebration of Old Garden Roses  which will be held May 15th from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM at the El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane, El Cerrito, CA 94530. 

And if you'd like to join us for "Dirt Days", you can find information about volunteer opportunities and membership The Friends on our website.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


A brown garden snail on one of our rose shrubs.
Snails have become my nemesis. As cute as they are on cards and tchotchkes, they are not so cute when they are eating our roses and the flowers in our window boxes.

Much as I love gardening in the Mediterranean climate of the Napa Valley, I have traded the slugs and aphids of New England for snails and... more aphids.  

Everything might be bigger in Texas but I think California must hold some kind of record for the biggest and most plentiful aphids. But I digress.

Cornu aspersa (formerly Helix aspersa), is a major pest.  Since each snail has the capacity to reproduce and can produce as many as 500 eggs over the course of a single breeding year, it doesn't take much for the snail population to explode if no one is watching.
The flower petals were apparently much tastier than the leaves.
Land snails, or to be more exact, terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs, can denude the gorgeous blossoms of a beautiful primrose overnight.  Here in California, the brown garden snail is the most commonly seen snail and a major problem for nurseries and gardeners alike. 

I was excited to plant this primrose in one f our window boxes.  I had seen it in full bloom at the nursery and it was a beautiful blend of yellow, apricot, and rose.

When we first moved here, the problem in our complex was so severe, the landscape company sprayed the grounds for snails and fleas (another major insect pest in this climate).  The spraying was quite successful in that the flea problem was controlled and the snails were reined in to a manageable number. 

Unfortunately, the spray they used contained permethrins, ordinarily a relatively safe insecticide, but one known to cause health problems for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Yep, ours all became ill -- they apparently absorbed the chemical through their paws when they walked on the grass. Nearly three months of persistent diarrhea and occasional vomiting ensued. We got to know our wonderful vets really, really well.

Garden snail moving along the sidewalk near our apartment in the rain.
Snails come out when it rains. They need the moisture to move and to be able to search for food. When it's dry, they camp out in their shells; when it's damp out -- when the dew is thick after an overnight fog, or during and just after a rain -- they come out in force.

They litter the sidewalks and the entry to the grotto that our apartment opens into. They climb the walls, the shrubs, and the trees.

They get onto our patio and climb up the pots and into the plants. Our wonderful garden is the snail equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Snail climbing the stucco wall in search of food.
Our best methods of snail control include dusting the area with diatomaceous earth which kills them mechanically by slicing their soft undersides to microscopic ribbons as they crawl over it, and manually picking them off the plants and pots and drowning them in a jar of soapy water.

Fortunately, Steve doesn't mind picking them off because I hate touching the slimy little creatures. I dust both the plants (since DE is also helpful in controlling aphids) and the ground around our patio and when I see a lot of them in the shrubbery, near our apartment, I give the shrubs a dusting as well.

Winter and now spring, with all of the rain, has been very snail friendly.  I am looking forward to the dry season when the snails will be less active. 

For now, every rain, no matter how minimal brings these molluscs out in droves and they do the two things that snails do best:  eat, and then breed and make more snails.

The dense fog we get overnight provides just enough moisture to entice them out to feed, so we need to check carefully on those cool, damp mornings. But once the sun comes out, they tend to withdraw into their shells and hide out until it's wet out again. We check the pots carefully and and collect them into a trash bag and dispose of them with the garbage.

Snails on the walkway approaching our apartment during a light rain this evening.
Snails moving along the walkway and grotto into our building, and climbing the stuccoed walls of the apartment.
Snails on the wet walkways in search of food.
A brown garden snail moving from the grassy area across the sidewalk.

Snails gathering in the grass outside of our apartment.