I’m honored and pleased to be able to share with you the writing of my favorite garden humorist, Dr Leda Horticulture.
Regan Nursery, the finest place to buy bare root roses online, and a gorgeous full-service garden center serving the San Francisco Bay Area, has given us permission to reprint Dr Leda’s articles from their rose nursery newsletter. If you have never read her writing, you are in for a treat!
Dr Leda Horticulture’s Ten Rosy Resolutions for the New Year
1. My internal clock tends to run fast (which explains why I’m writing New Year’s Resolutions in November). Every winter, I grow restless and try to jump-start spring. Inevitably, I develop a violent and irresistible urge to prune roses on New Year’s Day, but the recommended date here in Louisiana isn’t until mid-February (and the recommended pruning date wherever you live is whenever your forsythia comes into bloom). Last year I jumped the gun, and a disastrous late freeze turned all my tender new growth into slimy black mush. The protective foliar cuticles ruptured, leaving even resistant roses vulnerable to disease. This year I will be patient and NOT prune too early. Better a tardy spring flush than sick whiny roses.
2. One day towards the end of pruning season last year, I was browsing in a book store when I noticed a stranger staring at me intently. He was holding a book titled Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain. The skin on my arms was crisscrossed with the jagged scratches and slashes that only a vicious ‘Mermaid’ can deliver. “Oh, ha-ha!” I said cheerily. “It’s not what you think.” The man just shook his head morbidly and turned away. This year I am actually going to wear my gloves when I prune. Sturdy opera length gloves, with thick leather palms and canvas gauntlets. Maybe even a welding mask.
3. When I teach pruning classes, I always tell my students that the First Commandment of Rose Pruning is, “Thou shalt not prune wearing an expensive hand-knit sweater.” And yet my neighbors recently received an entertaining real- life demonstration of the consequences of ignoring this mandate, as the prunee du jour snagged my favorite Aran Islands souvenir and unraveled it dramatically before their horrified eyes. This year I will finally take my own advice and wear a heavy denim jacket.
4. Any rose that fails to make my heart tap dance like Fred Astair must go, to make room for roses that do. Those jolly green giants that grow huge but rarely bloom: must go. The leprous dogs that drop leaves like confetti: must go. The maladroit losers that bore me to tears, or clash with companions, or blow their petals in five minutes: all must go. Call me Madame Defarge, but this year I will don my black hood and shovel- prune without mercy. (“Many of you feel bad for this ugly rose. That is because you are crazy. It has no feelings.”)
5. There’s an old dictum that the harder a hole is to dig, the deeper you ought to dig it. Those of us with bad backs and heavy clay soil have come to loathe this dictum. As a decrepit old pro, I sometimes feel entitled to take shortcuts—like “snapping” the spent flowers with my bare hands when I deadhead, instead of meticulously cutting each stem at a perfect 45 degree angle above the next node with five leaflets. I’ve even been known to prune with a chainsaw. But no more shortcuts when it comes to holes! This year I am going to dig my planting holes 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Henceforth, decadent pampered roots will luxuriate in a lavish underground Club Med of impeccable drainage and organic abundance.
6. All my life, I’ve had the typical nurseryman’s garden: one of everything, and the more bizarre the merrier. This makes for a fun playground, but my eyeballs have grown weary of the crazy-quilt commotion. I yearn for restful expanses of color, laid out in bold sweeping swaths. This year I’m going to plant my roses in groups of three. Repetition, rhythm, and continuity are the new buzz words down at Cafe Chez Dr. Leda.
7. “Wouldn’t a brilliant blue Morning Glory look stunning on the fence beside my climbing pink ‘Dream Weaver’,” I once remarked with alarming naivete. Two months later I couldn’t locate the house, much less the fence or the rose or the patio furniture or the dog. The rapacious creeper had devoured everything, like a blanket of thick green snow. Twenty years from now I’ll still be fending off volunteer Morning Glories. This year I will refrain from planting lovely but invasive and self-sowing vines within 50 miles of my roses.
8. I have an embarrassing confession: I don’t own a single orange rose. This year I’m going to expand my color horizons. I’m going to redo the entire south side of my driveway, creatively and adventurously working in warm peachy oranges, sophisticated smoky oranges, pastel sherbet oranges, festive coral oranges, and tropical sunset oranges. Maybe I’ll even include a flaming hot tangerine orange. Er, better make that three.
9. It’s probably due to egotistical vanity rather than selfless generosity that I’ve been inclined to leave the roses out in the yard, where they can be admired by a vast array of total strangers, rather than bring them into the house for the enjoyment of a drastically smaller number of dearly beloveds. This year, I’m going to cut more roses for the house and to give away to friends. The strangers on the sidewalk will have to be content with admiring foliage, while a certain rather attractive gentleman of my acquaintance will be obliged to look up from his morning paper at regular intervals to exclaim over the contents of a vase.
10. In his 80s, Sir Winston Churchill delivered a commencement address at Harrow, the boarding school he attended as a boy. Legend has it he stood up at the podium, glared over his glasses, and gave the pithiest of speeches: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up!” he roared. Then he sat down to thunderous applause.
The story may be apocryphal, but the message is timely. From now on, I will not be plunged into deep dark paralyzing despair by unexpected freezes, lengthy droughts, infernal summer heat, plagues of blackspot and thrips, hurricanes, tornadoes, Biblical deluges, or any other fast balls Mother Nature decides to pitch my way. This year, I’m just going to roll with the punches and enjoy the heck out of my roses. I hope you all do the same.
Special thanks to Regan Nursery for allowing us to reprint Dr Leda’s wonderful garden writing. Regan Nursery is definitely the place to go if you are looking for quality bare root roses. They carry over 1000 varieties of grade #1 roses each year (grade #1 roses have at least three strong canes of 5/16” diameter, and they produce healthy, strong, productive shoots), which you can have shipped to your home. They are my recommended supplier and I already have a shopping list started for next year’s bare root ordering season!
Be sure to stop by their nursery in person if you’ll be visiting the San Francisco Bay Area – they have a great selection of Camellias, Hydrangeas, Japanese Maples, as well as their legendary selection of roses and a full array of nursery plants.
If you enjoyed this post, check out these other excellent Dr Leda articles.