Hello rose lovers. . .

My name is Carolyn Thomas.


I write about hearts and flowers, and sometimes about my darling grandbabies. But here, I'm focusing on becoming a balcony rose grower on Canada's balmy west coast - learning how to choose them, plant them, move them, maybe even take cuttings so we can have even more roses - but most of all to slow down and just enjoy them. 

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  • Balcony roses: they're finally in bloom!

    My row of four Drift roses (clockwise: apricot, pink, coral and red) that I planted out on the balcony in March (over three months ago) are blooming - and all at the same time! As I wrote here, this has been a weird spring/summer so far for all gardens here on the west coast. Only seven (7!) days of sun in the entire month of May, for example. Damp cool weather is NOT a friend of roses - especially new roses growing in balcony pots! This new balcony rose experiment has been a mix of EXHILARATION (my bare root roses are sprouting beautiful shiny leaves!) and DESPAIR (What? Black spot? Powdery mildew?) - which has affected all four roses (a surprise given that I'd specifically chosen the Drift family of groundcover rosebushes because of their excellent disease-resistant reputation). Read more on how I made that decision at "Balcony Roses: Who Do You Love?" The culprits and heroes among my Drifts so far include the following: APRICOT DRIFT 1. Apricot Drift is so far the most beautifully formed of all the double blossoms, with the most exquisite apricot colour, gradually fading to pinkish-apricot petals (apparently up to 35 of them!) as it unfolds. I'd plant a whole border of of this astonishing colour if I had a big garden. It attracts pollinators and apparently makes a good cut flower for indoors as well - - although right now it seems too early to cut any of the three stems blooming so far. SWEET DRIFT (pink) 2. Sweet Drift is my only true pink rose, the slowest of its three sisters to open buds which are a deep almost-red, opening to showy clusters of fragrant pink flowers with gold eyes at the ends of the branches. Apparently they also make good cut flowers for indoors. Maybe later on in the summer - as all Drift roses promise to be repeat bloomers right up until frost. CORAL DRIFT 3. Coral Drift was the first of my four drifts to sport the dreaded pest known as aphids, chomping happily on its shiny dark leaves! Aphids are easy enough in a small garden like my balcony pots to flick off with a fingernail. In larger gardens I've had over the years, I just knocked them off with a short burst of water from a hose with a firm thumb held over the nozzle. Oddly enough, the other three (Sweet pink, Apricot and Red) have had no visiting aphids yet. Coral blooms have been described as "the most vibrant flowers that catch your eye and really wow!" This one was the first to show shocking signs of powdery mildew, every rose gardener's worst enemy. Despite that curse (which I'm trying to fight off with an early morning spritz of water/baking soda), it's blooming its head off - each long branch like a complete little bouquet of beautiful small roses. RED DRIFT 4. Red Drift is my reminder that I should not panic when I see something weird going on with my roses. Remember my post called "Balcony Roses: What Causes Weak Stems?" in which I was whining about what seemed to be freakishly frail weak stems (rosarians call these "canes") that could not possibly ever be strong enough to hold up a rose? That was my Red Drift - and just look at her now! Does she seem like she's having any trouble at all holding up all those lovely deep red blossoms - described as "petite, red flowers proven to be an elegant addition to any garden"? Red was unfortunately hardest hit with powdery mildew (see CORAL above to read how I'm tackling that curse). As mentioned, I've been dismayed to see aphids, Black Spot AND powdery mildew on all four drifts (and possibly on my fifth rarely-mentioned rose - the famous Scarlet Flower Carpet groundcover rosebush that's tucked in near the neat row of Drifts along my balcony railing. Absolutely no sign of colour from the very few buds so far on that Scarlet. I'm trying to contain my dismay, however, having read more about WHY roses are so often stricken with annoying diseases like powdery mildew and Black Spot (and chewed on by aphids). Rose diseases flourish in the right environmental conditions (e.g. cool, damp, cloudy days). That's exactly what we've had out on my little balcony for weeks (but feels more like months!?) Last weekend, the hot sun came out in full force and stayed for a few days, just long enough to remind us that it IS summertime. It's back to a grey cool day today - but we live in hope, right? Meanwhile, I'll try to stay calm when I pop out to the balcony every morning to "survey the estate". I'll try to rejoice at each new gently opening bud. I'll even try to cut the odd stem or two to put in one of my vintage vases on the kitchen table. And I'll try not to scowl at the Scarlet Flower Carpet for just sitting there like a flower-free lump. And I'll try to remember to always s-l-o-w down and smell my new little roses. . .

  • Balcony roses: new buds AND Black Spot?!

    At last! The first blush of colour on my Coral Drift rosebuds! But what's this? Looks like the dreaded Black Spot fungus on the same rose! It was a 'good news/bad news' morning out on the balcony today. When I strolled out to survey the estate as I do each day, I was both thrilled and horrified at almost the same moment. After an unseasonably cool and damp spring (only seven days of sun in the entire month of May here on Canada's west coast, for example), I've had lots of buds on my row of four Drifts, but not one of them in any hurry to actually start opening up. We know that June is peak rose season, yet here it is - almost the end of June! - and still no explosion of red or coral or apricot or pink blooms from my Drift roses along the balcony railing. The good news was that today I saw the first unmistakably lovely blush of colour on my Coral Drift rosebuds - so far the first of its sister plants to act like a rosebush should by late June. But as I was admiring those tiny previews of the full coral rose blossoms yet to come, I saw something else that is the bane of rose growers everywhere: the dreaded Black Spot. As I wrote more about here, for example, rose guru Brad Jalbert from Select Roses, a farm-style home-based rose nursery in Langley, BC (just east of Vancouver), claims that"many favourite roses of the past are just too disease-prone to be sold today. Iceberg roses, for instance, once hugely popular floribunda rose bushes, are now so prone to black spot, they should NOT even be sold here." According to the U.K.'s Royal Horticultural Society, Black Spot is indeed "the most serious disease of roses. It is caused by a fungus, 'Diplocarpon rosae', which infects the leaves and greatly reduces plant vigour. Expect to see leaf markings from spring, which will persist as long as the leaves remain on the plant. The fungus is genetically very diverse and new strains arise rapidly. Unfortunately, this means that the resistance bred into new cultivars usually fails to last because new strains of the fungus arise to overcome it." That last sentence was particularly troubling - since one of the key reasons that I'd chosen the Drift family of roses was their much-longed-for disease resistance! But as the RHS adds: "The fungus produces spores in the Black Spot lesions on the upper leaf or stem surface and these spread in water to initiate new infections. Wet conditions are required for the disease to build up. The fungus spends the winter on fallen leaves and also in dormant infections on young stems and buds, producing spores in the spring to infect young foliage." We've had very wet conditions for months here. And did I mention only seven days of sunshine in the entire month of May? Sounds like ideal environmental conditions if you're trying to encourage Black Spot. . . AAARRRRRGH! So what should I be doing now that the first brazen signs of Black Spot are inarguably present on my Coral Drift? The RHS has more bad news: "Badly affected plants can shed almost all their leaves and their vigour is greatly reduced. The symptoms are so severe that, anecdotally, the disease has been blamed for a decline in the popularity of roses in U.K. gardens in recent decades." That's some kind of powerful fungus! Single-handedly responsible for destroying the reputation of garden roses throughout an entire nation! Is there anything I can do about Black Spot? The RHS does have something to say about this: "Collect and destroy fallen leaves in the autumn, or bury under a layer of mulch. Prune out all stem lesions in spring before leaves appear. These actions will help delay the onset of the disease, but are of limited value because spores are bound to blow in on wind-blown rain from elsewhere. "Avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner." What kind of "chemical controls" are they talking about? They tell us that chemical fungicide treatments are "labelled for the control of rose Black Spot." There are others labelled as a combination of both fungicide and insecticide (for example, the pesky aphids that love to chomp on roses). But the RHS warns that if insects are NOT a problem for your roses, avoid these combination products if what you need is to treat only your Black Spot. Speaking of the horrid aphid, I wrote about my traumatic run-in with my first rose aphid here. I've spoken to longtime rose growers, however, who see Black Spot as simply an unavoidable reality that can be managed (sort of!) by picking off the affected leaves. Garden columnist Dan Gill is one of these optimistic types. He adds: "If you have landscape roses, such as Knock Out roses, Drift roses and others, there is no need to spray. These roses will get Black Spot when conditions are especially favourable (rainy weather), but they get over it on their own and will be fine without treatment. Be sure to rake up the spotted yellow leaves as they fall and dispose of them. If allowed to remain on the ground under the rose bushes, the Black Spot fungus in the leaves will continue to grow and produce spores, increasing the chances of future problems." Staying tidy seems to be a good and environmentally friendly option so far. So while I'm recovering from today's shocking news about my Coral Drift, I'll be carefully picking up and discarding those fallen spotted leaves. UPDATE, July 4, 2022: All four of my new Drift roses are now blooming - at the same time! For more on this thrilling news, read this! Meanwhile, remember to always slow down to smell your own roses. . .

  • Balcony roses: what causes weak stems?

    Just look at those gorgeous rosebuds ready to open! But here's what I'm worried about... We've had weeks of unseasonably cool damp weather here in Lotus Land. Where is the glorious sunshine that will help my four Drift roses planted in March flourish in their new home? When will it warm up? Although the little rose pictured above may look good (it's Coral Drift, one of four Drift groundcover roses planted in a row along my balcony railing along with its three sisters Red, Apricot and Pink Drift), I noticed something odd while out surveying the estate one morning this week. Look at those straight stems poking above the purple/orange winter pansies edging the pots beneath. The leaves look healthy and shiny, and you can almost measure the daily growth inch by inch! But the stems (called canes in rosebushes) look almost too frail and thin to bear the weight of the blossoms that are soon to come. Won't they just flop over under this weight? And shouldn't healthy rose canes look sturdy and capable of holding up those fully-open blooms? I did some homework and here's what I learned: I'm not the only rose grower asking those questions. Some rose experts blame over-watering for drooping canes. Others blame under-watering. But one common culprit mentioned by many experts is this: NOT ENOUGH SUNSHINE. This may well be true in our case. Because we've had day after day, week after week of grey drizzly days, our typically sunny warm spring has instead been damp and relatively dark. In May, for example (normally when all Victoria gardeners don their work aprons and joyfully head outdoors) we had just seven days of sunshine. SEVEN! Every other day that month was either cloudy or rainy. But roses love full sun (recommendations range from five eight hours of consistent sun). I can do something about over-watering. I can do something about under-watering. But what I cannot do is control our weather! P.S. I learned something scary recently: another thing I may not be able to control is the dreaded Black Spot (scary story here!) I feel mildly relieved, however - despite those flimsy canes. I know that one day in the very near future, the skies WILL begin to clear and soon we'll all be complaining about too much sun and too much heat (like we did last summer during our record-breaking "heat dome" here on Canada's west coast). That was a catastrophic summer for many local gardens. My son Ben, for example, lost a number of large rhododendrons in his yard due to that heat. I'll keep a sharp eye on these too-delicate-looking rosebush stems of mine, willing them to buck up once the sun comes back. Speaking of sharp eyes, I spotted an unwelcome visitor to my balcony roses this past week: the dreaded APHID. Aphids are a common pest around all roses - yes, apparently even the carefree Drift roses. They're easy enough to flick off with a finger when they're only one or two at a time, or a short burst from the garden hose will knock off a bunch of them - very satisfying! The best earth-friendly aphid spray is soap. Soap dissolves the protective outer layer of aphids and other soft-bodied insects. It doesn't harm birds or hard-bodied beneficial insects like lacewings, ladybugs or pollinating bees. You can buy ready-to-use insecticidal soap sprays at your local garden nursery. I like to use Safer's Soap for this, but you can also make up your own insect spray (a one-quart spray bottle filled with water and a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap). Then just spray or wipe the solution onto the leaves, stems and buds. Don't spray during the hottest part of the day - early mornings are best since roses do NOT like getting wet in the evenings (which can lead to yucky things like Black Spot). Meanwhile, practice smelling the roses that will one day emerge from your charming little buds. . . . UPDATE July 4, 2022: All four of my new Drift roses are now blooming this week - all at the same time! For the thrilling details, read this! Meanwhile, they are perfect reminders to slow down and smell those gorgeous roses. . .

  • Balcony roses: we go to Ben's garden!

    Yesterday was a milestone day in our family's newfound love affair with roses: my favourite son Ben and I spent four wonderful hours together - not out on my balcony, but in the back garden of the new home he shares with his lovely wife Paula and the adorable one-year old Baby Zack. The day dawned bright and beautiful as I joined Ben in his family's home for breakfast about six blocks from my own home. As soon as Baby Zack headed off for his long morning nap, Ben and I donned our garden gloves and headed out back. This seemed like such a Big Day to each of us because we'd been planning it for MONTHS. But due to poor weather, work obligations, Baby Zack time and then a lost month when all three of them tested positive for COVID (!), our planned garden working bee just never happened - until yesterday. But the most exciting part of yesterday was that we finally planted three of the four new bare-root rosebushes that Ben had pre-ordered from Russell Nursery last summer! He had ordered four different roses: 1. a climber called Don Juan (4" wide velvety red strongly scented blooms that are easy-care repeat bloomers, 10-12 feet high) 2. a climber called Arborose® Tangerine Skies (orange 4" wide orange blooms, strongly scented with dark green and glossy foliage, 8 feet high) 3. a groundcover rose called Flower Carpet Red (red blossoms with butter yellow centres, easy-care, disease resistant repeat bloomers, about three feet high x three feet wide) 4. a rose standard called Violet's Pride (a standard rose grafted onto a 36″ tree trunk with dense foliage, good disease resilience, and a grapefruit-like fragrance - named in 2017 after Lady Violet Crawley of Downtown Abbey fame) The beautiful rose standard Violet's Pride We were able to plant the last three roses yesterday, but ran out of time to plant Don Juan (which we carefully returned to its "heeling-in" position in one of Ben's raised beds to keep its bare roots covered and nicely protected until it can finally be placed into its new home). In between those three roses, we worked pretty well non-stop (not even a lunch break, now that I think about it!) while we moved big clumps of lavender, shasta daisies and delphiniums around the garden. We hauled soil and heavy ceramic pots, we weeded, we edged unruly grass creeping into the newly planned rose bed. Like many gardeners, Ben and I share a tendency to get distracted while starting one gardening job by a fascinating new job nearby that needs doing a few plants over. (At several points, we had to remind each other: "Focus!") At the end of our four hours working together, we felt very sore, exhausted, filthy, sweaty - and SO HAPPY! We'd accomplished so many gardening tasks on our To Do list, and were pretty pleased with how almost everything had seemed to settle in as planned. Did you catch that ALMOST everything? We were left with two areas of concern in Ben's garden: our still-homeless Don Juan climber of course, plus the little tree rose Violet's Pride. We had decided to plant Violet in a big beautiful ceramic pot because a standard rose seems to be one that deserves a showpiece place in the garden. But the pot seemed to be draining slower than we would have liked when we gave the rose its final watering (the soil we used was potting soil/compost with rose fertilizer and bone meal as directed on the rose tag, and then mixed in 2:1with Ben's existing garden soil which has a moderate clay content. Clay itself is not actually the issue (most rose resources we consulted tell us that clay soil is very fertile and actually contains more calcium, potassium and magnesium then other soil types, all of which are important nutrients for growing healthy, strong roses that are resistant to disease and pest damage. But clay MUST be amended with some organic material like compost to improve drainage and avoid a soggy heavy soil that might cause root rot. Stay tuned as we monitor Violet's Pride for good drainage in the next few days; if it looks wonky, we're ready to pull it out and find a healthier new home for that little rose tree. Speaking of yucky things like root rot or poor drainage, I've also spotted two culprits that might become problematic: an aphid was found munching on a lovely new rose bud on my Coral Drift, AND it seems that our unseasonably cloudy and cool spring weather has affected the canes of all four of my new Drift groundcover roses (coral, red, apricot and pink) which are looking decidedly frail - how can droopy canes hold up the many emerging buds just waiting to pop open!? More on these two dastardly issues here. And for even more dastardly issues, can you stand one more thing? Read this recent update about the day I spotted the dreaded Black Spot on my Coral Drift! But all is not lost - this week, all four of my new Drift roses are finally blooming - all at the same time! For the thrilling details, read this! - and here's a sneak preview for you: (For more on how Ben and I first discovered that we MUST start growing roses - his in his large back yard and mine in my tiny apartment balcony, please read this post!) Meanwhile, always take time to slow down and smell those roses when you do find them. . .

  • Balcony roses: the hanging basket rose

    Flower Carpet Scarlet - apparently an "ideal rose for hanging baskets!" It's mid-May - and unseasonably chilly here on Canada's usually-balmy west coast this year. In fact, I now suspect that the grey chilly weather might be part of the problem with the alarmingly frail-looking new stems (canes) in my four Drift roses along the balcony railing. There's lots of canes, growing fast - but I'm already wondering if they'll be sturdy enough to hold up the blossoms without drooping over when they're fully open if that sun doesn't start doing its thing like it's supposed to do. I have found a groundcover rose called Flower Carpet Scarlet that is recommended for planting in a hanging basket. Like my four Drift roses that I planted as pre-ordered bare root plants along the balcony railing, Flower Carpet roses claim to be easy-care, highly disease-resistant and long-blooming from summer through to frost. The tags on Scarlet promise an ultimate height of about 2' and a 2-3' spread - but rose experts sometimes warn that, given the right growing conditions (full sun, regular watering, and a good fertilizing schedule), they may grow much bigger! I'm guessing that a confined root space in a container might keep Scarlet to a manageable size in her new hanging basket home. Stay tuned. . . One nursery grower wrote recently that groundcover roses like the Drift or Flower Carpet families are his "top pick" for the best rose to grow in a container. "They have a lower and more compact growth habit than shrub roses, which makes them look tidier when planted in a pot. Plus they play well with others. Groundcover roses will mingle beautifully with companion plants for a spectacular display of color, bloom, and texture". Until I have more experience as an actual balcony rose grower, I'm resisting the urge to add too many companion plants to my rose containers. So far, my four Drifts along the balcony railing have only two little buddies: Rainbow Chard (a colourful and useful edible pot plant!) and some delicate purple and yellow winter pansies that will be pulled as they fade in the heat of summer. Let's see how the main attractions do this summer before adding serious competition for root space! Masses of Flower Carpet Scarlet along a road (National Gardening Association) Flower Carpet roses have naturally arching canes that make them popular choices for landscape gardeners wanting to fill in mass planting spaces along highways or in long borders. But despite my keen urge to plant Scarlet now in her waiting hanging basket (one that housed my gorgeous fuschia last summer), I'm holding off until June. June seems like forever away at this point. Here on Vancouver Island, the Victoria Day long weekend (also known as simply the "May Long" - usually around the 24th of May) is traditionally planting time for our summer annuals. Planting any earlier doesn't actually result in earlier blooming if it's just not warm enough to encourage growth. Even the garden centres have signs along every massive rack of six-pack annuals warning "BRRR-RRR! Don't plant me yet!" For maximum bloom, plants need consistently warmer temperatures at night - and that's why my hanging basket rose will wait in its nursery pot in a sheltered corner of the balcony for a few more weeks. At this time of year, garden centre roses that started off as bare root plants during the winter (like my four Drift roses in red, coral, apricot and pink) have now been transplanted into plastic pots by commercial growers, but we still need a few more weeks for those newly transplanted roses to grow stronger roots before moving them again. UPDATE on BEN'S ROSES: As I wrote about here, my favourite son Ben and I had pre-ordered our roses together last summer. These bare root plants were ready to pick up in early spring, with instructions to plant them into their new homes within a few weeks if possible. I planted my balcony roses in their pots as directed, but because of moving, a new baby, visiting relatives and general overwhelm, Ben had to heel in his collection of bare root roses to keep them protected under a gentle mulch until he had time to properly plant them out. Because of even more overwhelm (and then his entire family coming down with COVID!), he lost another month - and those roses are still heeled in under mulch in his raised veggie beds awaiting a move to their permanent homes. But their leaves are amazingly green and healthy with lots of new growth poking out of the mulch! Despite the longest heeling-in period ever, Ben seems to be one step ahead so far. Fingers crossed. . . . For the latest development with Ben's long overdue planting day, read this! UPDATE on the DASTARDLY ENEMY of all roses: Black Spot sighting here! Plus A HAPPIER UPDATE: all four of my new Drift roses are finally blooming (in early July, not June when most self-respecting roses explode into bloom) and all at the same time together! For the thrilling details, read this! And as for the Flower Carpet Scarlet that I had high hopes for as my first hanging basket rose: well, it's disappointing news all around! First, I learned that this hanging basket casts a long shadow right over three of the four Drift roses along the balcony railing for a distressing amount of time each day. In order to get maximum east-facing sun on those four sisters, I had to move Scarlet from her overhead hook to a lower spot that's not perfect (tightly wedged between a big happy hydrangea that's been in a pot here for years and my new H.F. Young purple/blue clematis that's in bloom right now. Second, Scarlet is so far behind the Drifts in blooming - barely any buds, even in early July (because of that crazy-damp spring no doubt) and those buds that are visible are still tightly closed, unlike the four Drifts. Meanwhile, please don't forget - take time to stop and smell those roses!

  • Balcony roses: so far, so good!

    Barely four short weeks ago, I planted my first four Drift® roses (one each in red, coral, apricot and pink) out on my small balcony. These were bare root roses (essentially bare sticks attached to a bunch of roots - no dirt, no pot). For more about the advantages of choosing bare root roses, read A Bare Root Rose, or a Rose in a Pot? At the time, it was hard to get too excited about my new balcony rose planting based on appearance alone that day. I've reminded myself every morning when I wander out onto the balcony to "survey the estate" (as my family likes to call my careful inspection tours of the tiny garden) that their little roots are busy getting nicely settled into their new home underground even when not much is happening above ground. The leaves are opening! This is my Coral Drift® in its new balcony pot. But this past weekend, something miraculous started to happen! Those little green buds along each 'stick' that had been slowly swelling for weeks have suddenly opened. In each of the four pots, the bright green, slightly serated (or "toothed") leaves have unfurled. They look gorgeous! Still tiny, but on their way. . . JUNE UPDATE: My four Drifts® are growing like mad and looking healthy, with several buds beginning to form - which is good news. The not-so-good news is that with the grey and gloomy unseasonable cool spring we're having here on the west coast, the stems seem to look quite thin and frail - and not nearly sturdy enough to keep the blossoms upright once they fully open. Will we have drooping floppy stems? JULY UPDATE: Hallelujah! All four Drifts® are now blooming - at the same time! For more on this thrilling news, read this! WHAT I'VE LEARNED ABOUT ROSE BRANCHES and LEAVES: Those straight sticks poking out of the dirt I'd mentioned? In rose plants, those branches are actually called CANES. Rose canes are the branches that bear the leaves, thorns and flowers. They grow from the trunk, and may be branched themselves. Canes are usually green, or they may also be bronze, reddish or woody, depending on the rose variety and age. Apparently, my roses will benefit from having these canes pruned back after their first winter (some sources say up to 1/3 of the plant should be cut back). I'll report back on how this pruning works out after I do the deed on them in early spring. By the way, I've also learned that the best time to prune your roses (no matter what the variety) is when the forsythia start to bloom. I love this kind of gardening advice because it applies to all roses in all zones no matter where you live! Forsythia, in case you don't own one of these must-have spring plants, is a deciduous flowering shrub that belongs to the olive family. This low-maintenance, fast-growing shrub features an upright, arching form, known for long branches that fill with lovely yellow blooms which emerge before their leaves do. Even in late winter, I keep an eye out for the distinctive shape of forsythia alongside the road. They may look like dead brown sticks to the uninitiated, but put them in a big vase of water indoors, and within a week the sticks will explode into brilliant yellow blossoms. Every garden needs a forsythia bush. Even on my four young roses, you can clearly see their 5-leaflet leaves. Sometimes you'll see a few 3-leaflet leaves close to the bloom. Other rose varieties may have 7, 9 or even more leaflets. Leaves grow on alternate sides of the stem. These leaves are often the site of common rose problems like unsightly black spot or powdery mildew (which explains why I've been so uninterested in planting roses until this year). But the good news about these easy-care Drift® roses is they are somehow remarkably disease-resistant - among many other advantages. TRAGIC and RELATED UPDATE: It turns out that Drift roses are NOT entirely immune to the dreaded black spot if the weather takes a wet and cold turn as has happened in Victoria, and as I whined about here. Time will tell, but I'm hopeful that these beautifully healthy first green leaves will remain just as beautiful all summer long. Meanwhile, you can find out how Ben's four unplanted bare root roses are coming along in his own back garden (carefully "heeled in" to a raised bed until they're properly planted out in their planned new homes) Until then, please remember to s-l-o-w down and smell your own roses. . .

  • Balcony roses: thoughts on pots

    Roses on a sunny patio in Greece: who says you can't grow roses in pots? So far, my four bare-root Drift® bare-root roses are nicely planted in their four matching square plastic pots along the railing on my balcony. I'm waiting impatiently for summer warmth to tease them into bloom. I hope! UPDATE: take a look at the beautiful green leaves that have suddenly exploded just four weeks after planting! My balcony pots are made of either plastic, ceramic, or clay terra cotta. There are good and not-so-good features of each. For example, TERRA COTTA POTS are porous, and tend to wick moisture from the soil so you won't likely worry about over-watering or root rot, and they will keep plants cooler than their plastic counterparts. I have just one of these. You may gradually notice a crusty white buildup on your terracotta pots due to mineral salt deposits or fertilizer in the soil. It's known as "efflorescence". This buildup is harmless but unsightly: it it bothers you, it can be scrubbed off using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. PLASTIC POTS don't "breathe" like clay pots do, so retain soil moisture longer than more porous clay does. Most of my current balcony pots are made of plastic; the biggest are ceramic. In my son Ben's new rose garden, he has a number of very large ceramic pots that will become home to his own pre-ordered bare root roses - see his update here! Last year during our record-breaking heat dome, I still had to water each of my balcony pots every day to keep my flowers from wilting dramatically. I can only imagine how often I would have had to water had they all been in terra cotta pots! The COLOUR OF YOUR POT matters, too. Dark-colored or black pots will tend to hold the sun's heat and may stress or even fry rose roots during very hot weather extremes. The smaller the pot, the hotter they'll feel, and the faster the soil will dry out. My four square plastic posts containing those four Drift® roses I've already planted are dark brown. So this means - even with a plastic pot - I'll have to regularly check if they need water on hot days so those precious new rose roots don't fry. The SIZE OF YOUR POT is also important. Most rose growers say "the bigger the better" when choosing planters or pots, and recommend that pots should be at least two feet high and two feet across. But most of my pots are far smaller than that out on my tiny balcony. This means that the plant roots might outgrow their space - or does it? Although I've read the same recommendation in a number of gardening books, my own experience in my former gardens tells me not to be afraid of snug root space. This may sounds like sacrilege to gardeners who are able to grow in large garden beds, but I once had a townhouse garden planted on just six inches of soil atop the concrete roof our underground parkade - the worst possible growing conditions imaginable! This sounds odd, I know, but a combination of annual soil amendments (especially mushroom manure and compost to create the best plant-friendly environment I could, given my reality) plus of course regular fertilizing produced pretty amazing results for 15 years - and even won a national Gardening Life contest in the Small Garden category! Take a look at the photo of my spectacular 3-storey high Kiftsgate rambling rose that climbed up to the roof - impossibly thriving in only six inches of dirt! Of course, it's always best to provide the least stressful and most favourable surroundings for any plant if you can - but I have been amazed over the years at which plants will thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. The biggest pot currently on my balcony is two feet in diameter. It contains a spectacular weeping Blue Atlas cedar tree that has tumbled up and over the railing since I moved here in 2007. I also have a wonderfully prolific pink hydrangea and a Virginia Creeper climbing vine happily living in their 15" plastic pots. Most summers, I tuck 4" plastic pots of bright red geraniums into bare pockets. They become tightly root-bound by the end of summer - and they still thrive. Geraniums, apparently, like being root-bound! I know that roses are heavy feeders, and so with regular doses of rose food this summer, I'm optimistic that those four matching plastic pots will work just fine. Did I mention planting roses in hanging baskets? Read more about why I chose a Flower Carpet Scarlet groundcover rose for my balcony this year! Apparently, Flower Carpet roses make ideal hanging basket plants! Finally, a note about PLANT POT SAUCERS: these are the shallow trays that your pots sit in. They help to protect your balcony or patio floor by preventing water from spilling all over. Sometimes the plant saucers remain filled with water. This can be bad news for plants that could develop root rot if their lower roots are submerged in water. If this water sits for a long time, it can also invite insects to nest and multiply. Best way to drain this little pond of standing water is with a turkey baster. Seriously. Smaller pots can be lifted and the saucer simply drained out. For several years, I've been filling my bigger plant pot saucers with gravel or pebbles. This elevates the bottom of the plant pot, which then sits on top of the layer of small stones so that the roots inside the pot won't be soaking in a saucer full of water overnight. For my four square rose pots (which narrow to about 9" in diameter at the bottom), I couldn't find any square saucers, yet I still wanted to keep my pots tightly spaced together on their long narrow bench. I found 10" silicone cake pans (in a saucy red colour!) that were the perfect size to fill with small stones. Filling each silicone baking pan "saucer" with pebbles The pebble-filled pot saucers sit beneath each pot to catch water. JUNE UPDATE: Find out more about how our unseasonably cool and damp spring so far may be the culprit in what's looking like thin, frail stems (canes) coming up in my four Drifts along the balcony railing. There's lots of stems - they just look too fragile to hold up all the blooms once the many buds start to open wide. And I found an APHID on my Coral Drift! JULY UPDATE: After all that unseasonably cool and damp weather (e.g. only SEVEN days of sunshine during the entire month of May, as I just calculated!), I'm thrilled to report that all four of my Drift sisters are in bloom, and all at the same time! For more on this excitement out on the balcony, read this! Rain or shine, cool or hot, please don't forget to s-l-o-w down to smell your own roses. . .

  • My rose gardening buddy, Ben

    I blame my favourite (and only) son Ben for my recent infatuation with growing roses out on my balcony. It's all his doing. Ben and I at one of our neighbourhood beaches in Oak Bay Ben and my lovely daughter-in-law Paula moved into their Oak Bay home a few blocks from me last summer - a 1940s house that came with an unusually deep back yard, an apple tree, a pear tree, a grove of five birch trees, two garden swings hanging from an old Hawthorne tree, raised veggie beds, and a wonderful established perennial garden. One afternoon, we were sitting out on their back deck with my favourite new grandson Baby Zack, discussing the fate of a roof-high climbing rose growing up the back of their new home. (Zack apparently has very little interest in this topic, so he promptly fell asleep in my lap). The trouble was, this climbing rose was not "well-behaved". (Read more here about what I've learned about well-behaved roses, about roses that "don't pay their rent", or about some nasty rose pests and diseases you'll want to avoid - all of which are important factors in choosing the right rose.) This unnamed white climber is one of those unfortunate plants that cling ferociously to their dying brownish blooms all summer. This trait could be manageable with a rosebush that stands under 6'. Regular clipping with scissors or pruning shears ("dead heading") just below the fading flower head, here and there, will keep things looking nice on a short-ish bush during bloom season. I adore dead heading. I find it meditative; and unlike a real meditation practice, there's a terrific before and after effect after only a few minutes of puttering. But because this white climber was so massive, and worse, so permanently entangled in the roof-high mesh background that was holding the climber vertically in place, this was a bad situation. I suspect this mesh background had at one time seemed like a good alternative to constructing a cedar trellis to support a very tall climber. But all summer, Ben, Paula and Baby Zack would have to look at the browning petals of a very large mass of formerly-white rose blossoms. We could dead head the very lowest branches, but this one was so tall that we (and by "we", I mean "Ben") would have to buy or borrow a dangerously high ladder to reach those upper branches. What to do? We brainstormed a bit (but not being experienced rose growers, we had no clue what we were talking about). We decided to do some research via Ben's phone. This is how we discovered Russell Nursery, a magical place about a half hour drive from our Oak Bay neighbourhood. Their beautiful and detailed online rose catalogue hooked us right away. Before long, we had decided that replacing the naughty white climber with a truly well-behaved new rose was the answer. Ben decided on a 12-15' climbing rose called Don Juan, "beautiful deep red blooms, very fragrant (rare in a red climbing rose), disease resistant and low maintenance." "Don Juan" climbing rose - will Ben's "Don Juan" look like this some day? And then we discovered all the other roses we could pre-order from the catalogue. Remember, this was in mid-summer, during what our weather experts called a rare "heat dome"(the worst time to plant anything. In fact, a number of the rhododendrons and other plants in Ben's garden didn't survive the heat dome in spite of an existing sprinkler and drip system. It was just too hot). But pre-ordering bare root plants from Russell now would mean they would be ready for pick-up the following March (and a cool early spring is the ideal time to plant bare root roses here on the west coast, we learned, because all of the plant's energy would go into establishing a strong root system, during a time of year when we'd still be getting regular rain to keep those new roots healthy). And that's how it all started: in the Russell Nursery rose catalogue, I discovered smaller shrub and groundcover roses, many described as "ideal for patio containers". Until that day, it had never occurred to me that the dozens of plant pots lining my balcony could one day contain roses instead of geraniums and other annual bedding plants! For more on choosing appropriate pots for your space, see Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots. So while Ben spent the rest of that summer day deciding which roses he would pre-order, I walked back home to decide on which ones would make the best balcony roses. I started with the family called Drift® roses. These would grow about two feet tall and spread out about two feet wide, making them ideal for my balcony pots. For an update on how Ben's rose choices are turning out, read this. And for a thrilling July 4th update on what's FINALLY blooming this week out on my tiny balcony, read this! Here's a hint: Meanwhile, always remember to s-l-o-w down and smell those lovely roses - yours or not!

  • Today's roses: never mind what your mother grew

    One of the first things I learned in 1972 (when I was just a tiny baby!) after moving to Canada's beautiful west coast was this: gardening here is very different than it is anywhere else. For example, roses that grow happily here would not likely have made it through winter in my late mother's St. Catharines garden near Niagara Falls. My mother was justifiably proud of her beautiful yellow roses that covered a tall white arbour in our back yard on Pleasant Avenue. (Yes, really. Pleasant Avenue). But while Mum loved those roses during their short June blooming period, even as a small child I can recall that the beauty of the blooms didn't seem to reduce her complaints about how finicky those roses were. She watered, she fertilized, she sprayed, she pruned, she carefully plucked off each dying leaf. No wonder I grew up convinced that growing roses was not a fun project. Rose guru Brad Jalbert from Select Roses, a farm-style home-based rose nursery in Langley, BC (just east of Vancouver), once explained that, in fact"many favourite roses of the past are just too disease-prone to be sold today": What rose growers hate: leaves covered with black spot fungus (left) or powdery mildew (right) "Iceberg roses, for instance, once hugely popular floribunda rose bushes, are now so prone to black spot, they shouldn’t even be sold here. New Dawn, a striking pink climber, was also a big seller in the past, but today it is considered a mildew magnet." Speaking of black spot. . . read this recent update on the horrifying sight that greeted me in June! Because I'm on the lookout for the best rose suggestions for my unique coastal growing conditions, I like to ask the locals - like Steve Whysall. Before his 2017 retirement, Steve was the garden columnist at the Vancouver Sun newspaper for 26 years. When he interviewed Brad Jalbert for his column, Steve asked him for his top suggestions for roses that were "totally reliable, virtually bullet-proof, and guaranteed to provide years of trouble-free blooming on our coast." (Those sound like my kind of roses!) Here are just a few of Brad's recommendations for roses that will do well growing in our specific west coast climate - but check these out to see if they'll also be as terrific in your own area, too): 1. The Germany-bred Kordes roses, especially the Vigorosa collection. Brad adds: "They have won trial garden awards and they excel as low-maintenance shrub roses. The rose called 'Ruby' has long-lasting red blooms, and grows to about 90 cm/3 feet. These are roses meant for mass planting at shopping malls and public areas, but also fit well into the home garden. They are definitely bullet-proof. You can prune them with hedge trimmers if you like. One established plant will produce more than 100 flowers in its first flush.” Vigorosa, "Ruby" 2. Flower Carpet roses are widely available, but of all nine colours available in this collection, Jalbert gives ‘Pink Supreme’ the highest rating: “Gardeners tell me it produces masses of flowers and outlives most other roses they grow." Flower Carpet, "Pink Supreme" 3. Weeks Roses"Julia Child" is an award-winning yellow floribunda rose. A spectacular mass planting of Julia grows in the small but perfect rose garden next to the British Columbia Provincial Legislature Building in downtown Victoria. "What an amazing rose this has turned out to be,” says Brad Jalbert. “Landscapers, park gardeners and home owners have all said that this is one of their very best easy-care roses. It has a wonderful bright yellow flower, unique licorice fragrance, and healthy glossy foliage. It’s one of the best yellow roses for our climate and it is proving itself to be one of the best roses in the world.” "Julia Child", winner of the prestigious 2006 All-American Rose Selection award 4. "Elina" is a creamy, pale yellow hybrid tea rose that's known to be tolerant of urban pollution, producing large, flawless blooms that also make lovely cut flowers to bring indoors. “It's a member of the World Rose Hall of Fame and is one that our customers always recommend and praise,” says Brad Jalbert. Elina, winner of the Top Rose Awards in Germany, Ireland and New Zealand. In reviewing Brad's list of favourite roses for our coastal conditions, I'm most drawn to the first two listed ("Ruby" and "Pink Supreme") - perfect smallish sizes for my balcony planters. But I'm also madly in love with "Julia Child" (having walked past the stunning plantings near the Legislature many times). Yet those "Julias" seemed far taller when I walk past them in real life than the 2-3' that most sources describe their maximum height. I'll have to do more sleuthing on these as my favourite son Ben and I continue to learn more about becoming rose-growers. News about our first marathon gardening morning of the season over at Ben's back garden here! Meanwhile, I'll have to learn which roses will be just as happy living in pots. For more on choosing appropriate pots, see Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots. JUNE UPDATE: Two things that might turn into problems, but too soon to tell yet: An APHID has been spotted on a bud on my Coral Drift groundcover rose, one of four Drifts in pots alongside the balcony railing. Easy to flick off with one finger, BUT STILL. . . I've noticed something odd about the stems (canes) of my Drifts: although they're growing tall and lush, the stems seem almost fragile - too thin to support the weight of the blossoms once the many new buds open. JULY UPDATE: For some thrilling news FINALLY, read this report about what's blooming out on my balcony, all at the same time! Here's a hint . . . While I'm monitoring these developments, a reminder: always remember to take time to smell the roses (unless the stems are too floppy or are covered with aphids!?) Which also reminds me: those frail weak stems I was so worried about on my Red Drift rose? Here's what the plant looks like in early July:

  • Planting the first roses out on my balcony

    Yesterday was THE DAY, a damp yet mild west coast morning out on the balcony. I pulled on my green gardening gloves, my ancient red gardening jacket and my yellow Crocs - then filled a big bucket with water. I was ready. A few days earlier, I'd already emptied the four big pots lining the balcony railing of their previous occupants, potting up the assorted over-wintered spring bulbs and vigorously spreading clumps of Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica) in 4" pots to give away. (By the way, this is the first time ever I've done what experts tell us to do: dig and prepare the hole BEFORE you come home with a new plant!) My four bare-root Drift® roses were carefully unwrapped, roots untied and soaked in a big bucket of water for 30 minutes, arranged inside the four pots on "hills" of fresh soil (with a nice dollop of bone meal worked in), watered gently, tucked into place firmly with more soil until the soil level was just at or under the 'bud union' (the roundish bulbish part where the root ball meets the emerging stems), and watered once more. For more on choosing suitable pots, see: Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots Halfway done - roots firmly in place over the 'hill' of soil, before adding water and more soil I'd never planted bare root plants before. I'm used to whacking a plastic pot a few times and sliding out an established pot-shaped root ball that gets plunked into its new hole and tamped down with new soil before getting a good soak. Like most new experiences, the first pot I planted felt a bit weird. Was I planting the roots deep enough - or too deep? Was I spreading them out correctly over the 'hill' as directed? By the second pot, I relaxed. By the fourth, I felt like a Master Gardener. See also: A Bare Root Rose or a Rose in a Pot? Tags for the four Drift® roses I chose: Red, Coral, Apricot and Sweet Drift (a lovely pink, a last-minute substitute for the suddenly unavailable yellow and white Popcorn) Meanwhile, a few blocks away from the balcony, my favourite son Ben was eyeing his own four bare root roses, picked up at Russell Nursery at the same time. For his back yard garden, he'd ordered one red climbing rose (Don Juan, up to15' tall), one orange pillar shrub rose (Tangerine Skies™ Arborose®, 8'), one rose standard (tree) rose grafted onto a 3' trunk (Violet's Pride) and one red groundcover shrub rose (Flower Carpet, 3'). Because of still unpacking their new home, being crazy-busy at work, getting ready for incoming house guests next week (plus, of course, playing with our adorable Baby Zack), Ben knew he wouldn't have time to plant his bare root roses right away. If this happens to you, here's what to do: it's called "HEELING IN". Heeling in is what you do if you get your bare root plants during bad weather, or when the ground is still frozen, or if, like Ben, you just won't have time within the next week or so to plant them. Just gather your bare root plants together, pack their roots in moist (not soggy) soil, mulch, compost, sand or sawdust until planting time. In the SPRINGTIME, plants can remain heeled in for up to a month. In the AUTUMN, heeling in will let you overwinter your plants - as long as they're planted early the following spring. UPDATE: Find out here how my favourite son Ben managed to somehow ignore that "up to a month" instruction for "heeling in" his bare root roses. If you garden on a balcony or patio, you could pack the plants together in a large box or 5-gallon bucket. If the ground's not frozen in a larger yard, dig a hole about a foot deep in a shady area. Untie and soak the root ball for 30 minutes in a big bucket of water. Then lay the roses on a 45-degree angle into the hole and cover all the roots and the bottom third of the plant with moist soil, mulch, etc. Check this covering layer often to make sure that the roots will NOT dry out. Add water if necessary. At planting time, just gently remove the roses from the hole. Soak the root ball in a bucket of water for at least 30 minutes before planting. Roses are heavy feeders all summer, but if you decide to add a bit of rose fertilizer when you're first planting, add it to the bottom of a well-churned hole, then add a couple of inches of good soil so the roots will not be in direct contact with the fertilizer before adding the rose and more soil. Water bit by bit as the soil level increases; fill the soil to just at or below the bud union (the roundish swelling part where the bare roots meet the straight stems. Follow the rose fertilizer instructions for feeding your roses throughout the growing season. Already, those straight stems of my newly-planted bare root roses already look robust and healthy, with bright green swelling buds sprouting along each ste,. All I have to do now is to water occasionally, and wait patiently for them to explode into bloom by early summer. I'll post more pix as exciting things happen out there. SAD UPDATE on the CRUEL ENEMY of ALL ROSES: Yes, it has happened to my balcony roses! Despite the fine and easy-care disease-resistant reputation of my red/coral/apricot/pink Drifts, I did discover the dastardly BLACK SPOT lurking on a coral rose leaf - ironically the first of its sister roses to show some lovely colour as the buds began to open! Read this sad story only if you dare. . . HAPPY UPDATE IN JULY: Hurray!! All four of my Drift roses out on the balcony are finally in bloom, all at the same time! Read more about this thrilling development, albeit a month later than they usually behave. Here's a sneak peek: Meanwhile, remember to s-l-o-w down and take time to smell the roses no matter how late they start blooming. . .

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