Hello again. I seem to have been a blur with two watering cans for what seems like weeks trying to keep alive plants in various places during our otherwise delightful heatwave.
In the “big picture” this month are visitors enjoying the rose garden in Queen Mary’s Gardens, Regents Park. People love roses, you can visibly see people enjoying being amongst them. One person, making the inevitable phone call, was describing this rose garden as “heavenly”.
In my early professional gardening days I felt I needed to learn about roses because they were important to so many people. I think my then lack of interest came from being in an age group that grew up seeing a Victorian concept of rose display everywhere – I always thought of them as blowsy “hats on sticks”. After working with many clients who really loved them I caught their feeling and now I too am a fan. I have also become increasingly aware of the importance of how you display plants.
Queen Mary’s rose garden, a large round garden encircled by wooden pillars and rope chains, is festooned with roses. There are benches in the shade for sitting and contemplating.
To support the weight of the roses the hefty ropes are of the type that might tie up ships. Within the circle are large beds of a single variety of rose each bed in a different colour. Worth a visit – as is all of Regents Park. The visitors seem to range from a few locals, people on days out and many, many tourists and the atmosphere in London parks is always happy and lively. The rose garden even features on tourism websites and the tourists do seem very appreciative.
What follows I am including since it could happen to many other gardeners and a warning will, hopefully, be useful in dealing with a problem that was quite a mystery at first.
Back in June I had an unexpected phone call from friends who consulted me about seven years ago to design a hedge for them. They didn’t want a wall so as to avoid encouraging its use as a seat in their front garden. We discussed types of hedging at length and a rose hedge seemed to combine beauty and practicality and on this we settled. We chose Rosa ‘Buttercup’ (from a well-known grower of luxury roses) with creamy yellow cupped flowers fronted by a row of blue Nepeta x faassenii. I put these in and they have been happy with their hedge ever since.
I had had lunch with them at home about a month prior to the surprise phone call. Over lunch they remarked that their rose hedge had been stunning in the previous year but now wasn’t looking great. I had to agree it looked rather sad, just generally not thriving. I advised feeding and mulching and watering well.
People can change their restaurants of choice but cultivated plants are stuck where you put them and, in general, the stock of nutrients in the soil becomes very depleted after several years and this isn’t always considered.
When the phone call came my friends were both clearly perturbed. More and more very strange symptoms were emerging on their rose hedge! Clearly, it wasn’t simply depleted soil.
They had researched the problem on the internet and told me that the symptoms looked like the Rosa rosette virus which they understood was fatal. I said at the time it seemed too dramatic and I felt it might have a more common or garden (sorry!) cause and went off to do my own research.
Rosa rosette virus has apparently become a considerable problem in the US in recent years. Here in the UK Defra is aware of it and has tightened up rules on propagating material imported from the US. From what I can see the major concern for the UK at present is the actual threat that it might arrive here at all and then take hold. There is no currently no cure for it.
The Importance of the Rose
Can you imagine if the rose were to disappear? It is much more than simply a loved plant with its significance as our national flower plus the symbolic historical significance of it in our culture, to say nothing of the importance of the rose industry.
I then rang the famous rose grower’s premises at Wolverhampton whose roses I had used for my friends’ hedge to get their take on the situation. They were as helpful as they could possibly be, confirming that there were no recorded cases of Rosa rosette virus in the UK and from my description they thought it possible that what my friends were seeing was weedkiller damage. I planned to take pictures of the ailing hedge and they kindly agreed to look at them.
It later emerged that my friends had in fact asked their gardener to treat their drive with weedkiller around the time they started to notice the hedge’s poor appearance. No doubt he would have taken care but even if drift were not caused by wind if it had rained a short time after the weedkiller application it could well have leached into the soil of the nearby rose hedge bed.
We all finally agreed that it probably was weedkiller damage to the hedge. There are no guarantees that the hedge will survive but, as can be seen from the picture above, it has started to flower again and my friends have given it lots of fresh soil and plenty of water – and we are all keeping our fingers crossed.
There are many different types of weedkiller available and plenty of information available on the internet to help people choose the right one for their task.
• Roses are particularly vulnerable to weedkiller damage, particularly from July onwards.
• Check the long range weather forecast before spraying. Glyphosate-based products recommend that six hours must elapse before any rain. They also advise caution using weedkiller during drought conditions.
• Cover any valued plants, say with plastic sheeting or a tarpaulin, when spraying close by. Choose a windless day but remember weedkiller could drift with a unexpected gust of wind.
• Make a note of spraying dates. You may well not see the unexpected results of spraying until the following season.
• Is your use of weedkiller absolutely essential or can you avoid using it at all? Follow manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Remember also the possible human health implications.
I suppose I imagined that were there were nurseries in many places in the UK with people beavering away in fields growing roses but research threw up the fact that roses, like most plants and flowers, are increasingly produced in countries where the climates are better and production and labour costs are lower. I know we still have rose growing nurseries because I have bought from them but the change of business model has given rise to a paradigm shift in the floral industry in Europe. Attention has shifted from flower production to flower trading. Production itself takes place in new flower growing centres in developing countries like, amongst others, Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya and India.
Kenya, for example, is the major exporter of rose cut flowers to the EU with a market share of 38%. In the UK supermarkets are the main outlets for these. Kenya flowers are sold in more than 60 countries and it is estimated that in Kenya over 500,000 people depend on the floriculture industry.
In the UK the value of plant and flower production is £2bn although £1bn worth of plants and flowers are imported. There seems to be little fanfare on the topic of the UK horticulture sector even if, according to the Horticultural Trades Association, £10.4 bn is spent in the UK on garden products, tourism (i.e. garden visiting) and services and 300,000 people are employed in horticulture and landscaping. Many more than this are in self-employed businesses which is the model I know best.
The famous rose-grower mentioned worked from a very different business model starting as a hobby breeder as a teenager in the 1950s and ending up with a collection of “gourmet” roses that are world renowned. His approach was considered old-fashioned at the time but, when he tried his roses out on the public, he discovered that they got it and he has never looked back. His “model” was motivated by his passion for rose breeding and he is still working in his 9th decade.
Late Summer Border
In my May 2018 post I talked about the late summer border project. This is now completed. Many of the plants had been especially ordered in from Amsterdam so I was lucky enough to have more or less exactly what I had asked for which was great. All is now planted up and the colour palette of orange, yellow, red and hot pink is going to look pretty special as the days shorten and there are less and less flowers around to look at. Perhaps even more importantly the plants have also been selected for drought tolerance. Remember even drought tolerant plants will need an initial period, at least one season, of careful watering to help them establish. Only after they are well established can they be said to be drought tolerant. My aim has been to avoid for the owner a continuous failure of plants due to an extremely dry bed where every drop of moisture percolated away through gravel foundations. Hopefully if you have a similar dry soil problem this will be helpful.
Good bye until next time. Happy gardening.