Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Roses Past

When we moved into our last house nearly 30 years ago, I inherited a rose garden occupying half of the strip between our driveway and our neighbor’s yard. At that time the neighbors had a tall evergreen hedge which screened our view of their yard and provided a background for the roses. I had never really thought about growing roses because they seemed demanding, ugly as garden plants and not very exotic. (After all I was in Southern California after a Midwestern upbringing and education. You can grow roses in Missouri but not hibiscus.)
Anyway, we had other more important priorities and so the roses stayed. Eventually, I decided that since they were there; why not give them a little attention. I learned to prune them and provided some occasional fertilizer. They responded by not dying and providing a springtime show – some a better one than others and gradually I considered adding some more interesting varieties. I don’t remember the ones that either died on their own or were ripped out but two were with me until the bitter end after which the new owner ckeared every plant in the front yard and replaced them with a grass lawn livened up with one palm tree carefully placed in the center. Oh well….


The roses that survived my reign at the old house were good credible varieties that I would never have selected. They kept being good enough that I hesitated to cull them. They were also hybrid teas (well I guess Queen Elizabeth is not really and HT but close enough) which I never even consider anymore.

Queen Elizabeth
In my garden it was a gangly teenager with ok but not beautiful flowers. It did keep blooming.

Chicago Peace
Just did enough to survive although it was on my list.


The Dark Lady
My first Austin. It had a nice deep red color and the flowers were attractive and full but it didn’t bloom a lot. I treated it like a hybrid tea which probably didn’t help. I was just getting to understand Austins when we moved.

My second Austin. Lovely flowers and a reputed wonderful smell although I can’t remember being overwhelmed. It was just getting going when we left.

Souvenir de Malmaison
My first old rose, a Bourbon. Slow growing and just coming into its own when we left but with beautiful flowers.

Mme Cecile Brunner
I mistakenly ordered climbing which because a huge rambling mound in my rose bed. Lots of blooms.
I was trying here to get some blooms. I also planted a grouping of three to get some mass. It worked well but made the overall look of the bed rather odd.

French Lace
Same planting as Scentimental. I loved the color and shape.

Things I learned

Over time I got better at pruning but only at the end did I begin to understand that not all roses are hybrid teas and since I kept eliminating the hybrid teas and replacing them with other types, I had to develop some sensitivity which is not a normal behavior for me. (I am still learning that as you will hear in my NorCal rose report sometime soon)

I also explored better fertilization adopting a four week cycle of fertilizers, Epsom salts and something else I don’t recall and a Spring tonics of alfalfa pellets. I got good growth but I think my pruning sabotaged the effort.

I never got to the point of thinking I was a rose expert but I was beginning to feel competent. So much so that when I was telling the landscape architect what to include in our new backyard plan, I told him I wanted some roses. He blocked out space for three.

How is it working out three years in to the new yard. I'll get back to you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Water Lily

Some action on my resolutions. I ordered a dwarf hardy water lily for my courtyard. It is supposed to be an excellent variety for growing in a container. Knowing nothing about water lilies I take the word of the purveyor and purchase Helvola. Now all I need is a big pot.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


We are beginning our fourth year in a new house located in a severely CC&Red community in the Sierra foothills. Before we lived 3 blocks from the ocean in a rural seeming suburb of Los Angeles. We enjoyed frequent fog and very temperate weather. It never froze and seldom got to the high 80's. My gardening was limited by time and budget (for two years I was working in Sacrmento during the week and driving home for the weekends) but I had a few roses, some cacti and succulents and a bunch of cymbidiums. I was growing a living hedge of lehua to enclose a front yard patio off my wife's home office.

Finally, we decided that a new house near Sacramento would make life better for us all and we selected our plan and lot and the builder started building. We selected a lot with an upward sloping back yard. There is a 15 foot level yard, then a retaining wall and maybe another 30 feet of slope. We selected the lot for the privacy and the idea of looking out to see a green slope from our house.

We found a landscape designer and he developed what is proving to be a very nice plan as it grows in. Three maple trees are just getting big enough to shield us from the incredibly hot setting sun in the summer but are bare and let light and warmth in for the winter. The hillside has Canary Island Pines and an African Sumac (the designer specified a Crepe Myrtle but I had never seen one that I thought was attractive and asked for something else). There are strips of pittosporum, raphiolepis and grevillea with manzanita filling in the bare spaces and rosemary billowing over the retaining wall. We have a dry creek bed meandering down the middle of the lot but ran out of money for a water feature.

On the flat area we have a crescent of lawn, a lemon tree and some small shrubs (mostly pittosporum. The beds surrounding the lawn were largely bare to begin with and four years later are not much better. I have tried to introduce some plants and had some success but more failure which I will recount at some later time along with some of my problems with the slope.

For now this will give you an idea of the kind of gardening I had leaned at my former house and some idea of what is coming as I relate my growth as a foothill gardener.

2008 Resolutions

For this year I am resolved to accomplish some goals set when we moved into our new house in 2004 and some new ones.

The old ones are:

1. Build the raised bed for vegetables on the side of the house- mostly tomatoes
2. Increase the substance for the flower beds on the level area of my backyard

The new ones are:

1. Grow a water lily in a pot in my courtyard
2. Create some ambiance in the afformentioned courtyard

New Direction

In my previous life as a blogger, I focused on politics with occasional detours into my garden. Having realized that I offer little in the way of new insight into the political follies and recognizing that rage is not attractive and seldom useful, I am redirecting my blog energy to the documentation of my steps and missteps as I learn how to garden in the rocky Sierra foothills.

Look for posts reprising the last three years interspersed with my plans for the next year and updates on my successes and failures.