Archive for the ‘roses’ Category

In the southwest we are enjoying a mini Indian summer. One of the joys of gardening is that one gets to listen to the radio from time to time and gather all sorts of useful bits of information. I always thought that the expression ‘Indian summer’ referred to the state of India in the east. I am reliably informed by a radio commentator – although I gather there are various alternative theories going the rounds – that the expression comes from the west rather than the east. In the midst of the terrible conflicts between the Native American Indians and the pioneers and settlers, there would be a lull in hostilities whilst the crops were harvested. This moment of peace came to represent a quiet time of weather before the storms of winter.

Charlie and Bones came up trumps by delivering three tons of dark black horse manure from the local stables that now sits triumphantly in the corner of one of the fields. This lovely stuff will be added to the compost heap to speed up the process and add bulk and bucket-loads will be put at the bottom of the hedges. I am rather proud of my acquisition and drag anyone passing to come and have a look!


I wrote last week of how many of our roses are flowering again. One in particular, Rosa ‘Penelope’ actually looks better now than she did in May when the strong sun caused her petals to fade too quickly. In these cooler temperatures the blooms are more vibrant and last longer.

rose penelope

This rose belongs to the ‘hybrid musk’ group of roses bred by Reverend Joseph H Pemberton (1854 – 1926). He was an Anglican curate and lived in Havering-atte-Bower in Essex with his sister Florence Pemberton. Together they began to breed and show roses, searching for a robust and healthy plant with a long-flowering season and a good scent. They remain popular to this day.

I must mention www.tulipsinthewoods.com/?s=pemberton+roses (scroll down) by Pomona Belvedere who gives an excellent description of these roses that she prefers to call ‘Pemberton’ roses.

rosa penelope

A fellow writer www.elephantseyegarden.blogspot.com asked me who the eponymous Penelope was. Reverend J.H. Pemberton would have been well-trained in the Classics and the names of his roses such as Danae and Cornelia would have come from this source. Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus in Homers classic tale. She kept her suitors at bay for twenty-one years whilst her husband was away on his travels. The story is more developed than this but she is generally famed for her faithfulness.

And so the lovely weather continues and we are all working in shirtsleeves. No-one is fooled though and winter will come soon enough. For the weather gods are no more than gangsters dining at a family restaurant…full of smiles and sunny charm…but their fine suits betray the bulge of cold steel and deadly bullets.

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Five lanes lead into the village. Each one winds uphill and down, flanked by steep banks, scrubland and over-hanging trees. Their narrowness comes from a by-gone era when horse and ox carts would wend their way to the weekly market. These days it is the fleet of wives and their children heading for the local schools that battle against the counter-flow of tradesmen drafted in to repair broken boilers and leaky taps.

These lanes were not built to accommodate people carriers and work-vans and so passing points have been carved out of the banks. A well-choreographed juggling of vehicles takes place during this rush-hour with general goodwill and just the occasional exasperated raising of eyebrows and muttering of oaths under the breath at the inability or disinclination of some to reverse or make way.

Fortunately I arrive at the estate early before the congestion begins and the only other souls on the road are a dozen pheasant hens who bustle around in the middle of the road, going one way then the other, before deciding that jumping up the bank out of harms way is the best option.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, the time when day and night are of equal length and from now onwards the nights draw in. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to this time. By then the farmers of old would have finished their harvesting and slaughtered any animals needed for preserving for the winter months.

Michaelmas Day is the third of the quarter days and falls on the twenty-ninth of September. St Michael is an angelic warrior who fights against the darkness of the night and defends us against the hardships of the winter to come. The Michaelmas daisy brings a certain light to the autumn garden and the promise of protection afforded by our guardian angels.

Many of the roses are blooming again in defiance of any coming winter. Reverend Pemberton’s hybrid musk rose ‘Penelope’ is one of the best and throws forth some gorgeous flowers.

rose penelope

Not forgetting the Rosa ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde…

rose ghislaine (2)

And the verbena bonariensis is graced by a small copper which is one of my favourite butterflies.

butterfly small copper

I am working by the house and a red van roars up the drive and screeches to a halt with its music system blasting out pop music at mega-decibels. The post man leaps out and runs to the door to deliver the mail and runs back to his van. ‘Blimey, your music is loud’ I shout. ‘You what?’ he shouts back. ‘Your music is very loud’ I shout, even louder. ‘Can’t hear you mate, I’m a bit deaf’ he says, pointing to his ears and then leaps back into his van and roars off again down the drive.

The weather remains warm and clement despite the rain showers. Nobody is fooled though and soon enough we will be grappling with frost and gales. But tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring!

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The weather remains an unsettled hotchpotch of sunshine and showers. Summer has well and truly gone. Every sunny moment is a bonus and not to be taken for granted for surely we have had our allotted share already. The michaelmas daisies need no excuse to luxuriate in the last warm rays of the afternoon.




We have a fig tree that has been planted in the most awkward of places by one of the doorways from the kitchen garden into the main garden. It has to be kept well trimmed back if we are to be able to squeeze past. Nevertheless, this corner catches the sun and we always have a few figs to pick to the delight of my wife.


fig (1)


In the greenhouse grows a chasselas rose royal dessert grape that was planted five years ago and has given a good crop of grapes every year since.


grape (4)


The rain has caused the earthworms to the surface and the moles have come with them. Fresh brown mole-hills are to be seen on the verges of the village and in the cemetery and no doubt some will appear on our lawns sooner or later. Already Charlie and Bones are tuning the hair-triggers of their traps.

There was a time when I worked as a jobbing gardener for a mother and daughter who lived next door to each other. The mother was well into her nineties but still came out to help me in the garden. In the summer she would bring me cool lemonade and in the winter she would bring a mug of steaming hot cocoa with lots of sugar to give me energy. She always made sure I was well padded up to keep the cold out. She loved roses and I will always remember her smelling a bloom and raising her eyes to the heavens with a smile on her face. She adored her garden and was always appreciative of my help.

By contrast, her daughter never seemed to have the time to bring me a cup of anything. She seemed to be more concerned with the black-spot disease on her roses. I tried to explain that the pure Dorset air was lacking in industrial sulphur which keeps this disease at bay. I also talked of the need for watering well in the spring and to gather and burn the diseased leaves and disinfect the soil at the base of the rose in the winter. Her roses still gave fresh lovely blooms but I fear that she never really saw them, let alone smell them, so consumed was she by the sight of the black-spot on their leaves.

In truth, both gardens had their successes and failures, but the vision of one gardener gave great delight and the attitude of the other caused grief. When we look out of our window at the garden below all we ever see is ourselves.

A ‘speckled wood’ butterfly lands nearby, posing, teasing, before fluttering off elsewhere. A green wood-pecker flashes past and then lands and pokes around in the grass in search of ants.

I stop to enjoy the last of the ‘marjorie seedling’ plums whilst resting against a young oak tree. The sweet memory comes back to me of that dear old lady bringing me a steaming hot mug of cocoa and just for a moment the garden is filled with an intense and heavenly perfume…

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The splendid summer has gone its way and unsettled weather has moved in from the west. The sun still shines through between the downpours but the magic spell has been broken and one thinks less of barbecues and flip-flops and more of coats, boots and umbrellas.

Perhaps September will bring a reprise and one last jaunt to the beach to renew our love-affair with the sun. Meanwhile the dry summer has caused an early turn of colour amongst some trees and already the whitebeam is casting its leaves to the ground below.

Underneath the espaliered pears and magnolias that adorn a south-facing stone wall runs a narrow border, no more than one foot wide, that meets the gravel path. Here we grow anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, a favourite of mine who flowers faithfully from July through to the first frosts.




It was way back in 1858 that a French horticulturist named M. Jobert spotted amongst a bed of anemone a natural mutation which bore single pure white flowers, with prominent yellow stamens. Realising its commercial potential he raised this plant, naming it after his daughter Honorine, and since then this flower has proved to be a darling favourite in our gardens. Oh, new varieties have been developed since then and quite good they are but the simplicity and elegance of the ‘Honorine Jobert’ has stood the test of time and will no doubt feature in the gardens of our grand-children too.

One rainy day last winter I wrote in more depth on anemones which can be seen on the page list to your right. I must mention Vita Sackville-West, the very best in garden writers as far as I am concerned, who commented that ‘August could be such a dull, heavy time when everything has lost its youth and is overgrown and mature but yet the delicate anemone brings a certain lightness to the garden’.

I meet grumpy George on his way to the allotments and we stop for a chat. George firmly believes that the apex of the motor industry came with the Morris Minor and that everything has been rolling downhill ever since. ‘The trouble with this world’ he says, waving his pipe at me in a rather threatening manner, ‘is that folk don’t stop and appreciate what they have, they are always chasing some new gadget or fashion’. I nod in silent agreement.

The very nature of man, and horticulturist, is to cultivate and improve his lot. Plant breeders work fervently behind the scenes to bring new varieties on the market. Their goal is to produce plants that are bigger or smaller, more crinkly or less wrinkly, the colour of the rainbow or just plain more resistant to disease. And they do love giving their new prodigies ever increasingly dramatic names such as petunia ‘hyper-explosive sun-rise’ or dahlia ‘super-duper ice-cream’.

Thank goodness that horticulture is not shackled by the cob-webs of tradition and is constantly pressing onwards and upwards. On the other hand though, what a joy that we still treasure our glorious heritage.

On an obelisk we grow rosa ‘Felicite-Perpetue which bears masses of small creamy white rosettes blushed with pink. M. Jacques, head gardener to the Duc d’Orleans, bred this rose in 1827. The story is told that his daughters, Felicite and Perpetue were running down the garden path, one dressed in white and the other in pink and he could not resist naming this rose after them.


rosa felicte perpetue


Graham Stuart Thomas, the renowned authority on roses, mentions that Felicite-Perpetue thrives ‘in windswept Welsh and Scottish upland gardens and even in the shade of a north wall’. She flowers beautifully in June but we often have a late flowering which I look forward to. Grow this rose in your garden and not only do you have a great beauty but also a part of history and culture, the reminder of a golden horticultural age.

George finishes his ranting and heads off to the allotment to check his potatoes and tomatoes for blight. The dry summer has warded off this ghastly disease but with the rain comes the risk again. George will pick off any infected leaves and either burn them on the bonfire if it ever dries up again or bung them discretely in his next-door-neighbour’s council garden recycling bin.

This is a staid village where time moves slowly and the pace of the modern world has left many of its inhabitants bewildered and feeling left behind. The exception being Charlie and Bones who are dedicated fans of Lady Gaga and who have downloaded all her tracks onto their pods and wait fervently for her latest twitter tweet…

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The forecast rain has come in the shape of blustery showers that beat against the windows by night. The parched land is gratefully refreshed and I am forced to dig out the waterproof clothing again. After such a dry spell it is hard to be working once more in the rain but needs must because there is too much work to be done and one resigns to getting jolly well wet.

The main work of the day involves cutting back the hardy geranium and nepetas in the main borders. Most of them have gone over and will quickly grow back fresh leaf if they are cut back hard. Both the geranium and the nepeta are hardworking plants and the border depends upon their stalwartness but one can rely on them too heavily and find the gaps left when they are cut back too much.

One nepeta ‘six hills giant’ in particular has grown far too big and the gap left when it is cut back is too painful to bear and will take more than a pot of lilies to fill the space until the leaf grows back again. And so I make a mental note to dig it up in the autumn and reduce its size and bring the neighbouring iris sibirica closer to reduce the gap left behind.

astrantia (2)

The astrantia major, the upright, prim, laced Victorian lady of the border has become rather frumpy and is discretely cut back to the ground to spare her blushes and she will soon return refreshed and elegant once more.

Cutting back these plants inevitably reveals weeds that have been lurking in the undergrowth. A cluster of white dead-nettle are growing merrily away and I quite enjoy their simple charm but they do spread and so I pull them out, only to find a canny, small stinging nettle growing amongst them that impudently nips my fingers.

The plants that are cut back are fed with a watering can of diluted comfrey stewing water that we make in a tub up by the compost bins in the woodland area. Pip the hound has been prowling around and I hope that in his thirst he has not been drinking from the tub of fermenting comfrey leaves but if he turns into a St. Bernard’s then we will all know why…

Cutting back the plants produces a mountain of material and soon the coffers of the compost bin is full to the brim. This reminds me to water the outer edges of the compost heap so they do not become too dry and slow the composting process down.

rose abertine

Sadly the rosa ‘albertine’ that lights up the front wall of the house has finished flowering. For the past two weeks I have been fastidiously taking off the spent flowers so that they do not mar the appearance of the emerging blooms but they have pretty much all gone over now and so I cut them all down, water the rose and give it a summer feed. It will hopefully give a second flowering but never to the scale or magnificence of its first display.

The meteorologists assure us that the hot weather will soon return. As the summer proceeds, the english pastels of the borders are replaced by the fiery yellows, reds and oranges of the hemerocallis, crocosmia and kniphofia, matched only by the Hawaiian shirts sported by Charlie and Bones down the pub in the evening.

My beautiful wife has flown off to the south of France to spend a week with her family, sob, sob, leaving me to fend for myself – where did she say she kept the washing-up liquid? – but still, its not all gloom and doom, she has left me the Waitrose store card so methinks I will buy a bottle of beer, just to drown my lonesome blues…

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On Monday, the first task of the day is to walk the estate and check, by observation and intuition, if any of the newly planted trees or shrubs are suffering from the continued dry spell of weather. In the vegetable garden the espaliered fruit trees are watered by a trickling hose-pipe along with the soon-to-crop currant bushes whose fruit will swell with the extra water. The fast growing courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins are amongst those given a quarter of a large watering can’s worth each day and needless to say that the pots and containers receive their fair share of water too.

The sun beats down relentlessly and my wife keeps nagging me to wear a hat but sadly I have never found one that fits or that doesn’t make my head hotter than without or doesn’t make me look like the village fool. I do apply copious amounts of sun-block though, roll my shirtsleeves down, put my collar up and drink gallons of water.

In the village store the locals are beginning to complain about the weather being too hot and humid, ice-cream sales have soared and knobbly knees, both male and female, are to be seen in abundance. As the week rolls on, a low pressure tries to move in from the west bringing clouds and breezes and the promise of showers.


A brick wall divides the vegetable garden from the main herbaceous borders with the espaliered fruit trees on the vegetable side and climbing roses on the flower side. The wall itself is some ten feet tall – one needs a pair of steps to tend the roses – and is topped with tiles as is the fashion in these parts.

Half way along the wall grow two cardoons – or cynara cardunculus to give them their posh names – which are still young and virile with their handsome silver-blue-grey leaf. They are beginning to flower and parenthood will cause them to grow tired and ragged with all the effort, especially in the hot summer sun, but for now they are at their youthful best.

cephelaria (2)

The cardoons are grown six feet apart and between them and the wall grows a large group of cephalaria gigantea, or giant scabious as they are called, which grow around five feet tall and have flowers that are well-described as being a delightful primrose-yellow.

An obelisk to the front of the cephalaria supports a rosa ‘konigen von denmark’ whose warm pink alba blooms blend beautifully with the primrose-yellow of the cephalaria. An ocean of geranium ‘magnificum’ and iris sibirica ‘silver edge’ grow in front and have been competing boyishly for attention for the past month with their blue and violet shades but are now just going over.

rose queen denmark

Charlie and Bones are busy mowing the lawns but are setting the mowers far too low for this dry season. Every year I tell them to mow higher and every year they nod their heads in agreement and then continue to mow at the same low height and I guess that some things are reluctantly never meant to change.

The prize lawn that adjoins the grand patio is reserved for croquet matches at the weekend. Economy dictates that only this lawn receives the five-star treatment: scarification, aeration, top-dressing and mowing twice a week and the green sward with stripes is our pride and joy and offsets the herbaceous borders in a stately manner.

Wimbledon nears its finale and the Duchess has taken up residence in her chambers and is not to be disturbed and Cook Jenny has promised to jig down the village high street if Andy Murray should lift the trophy…at the time of posting Andy is due to face Nadal this afternoon.

Charlie and Bones spend their lunch-break debating England’s demise in the World Cup and the Frank Lampard goal that was disallowed despite the ball clearly going in the net and crossing the touchline by a country mile or two. I cannot repeat what they would do if they could ever get their hands on the referee but apparently it would involve baling twine, creosote and a pitchfork!

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alpaca poo spreader…


On Monday the clouds thicken and it feels that rain is coming and I spend some time in the morning hoeing the vegetable garden, partly because the weeds are getting a little dense and partly so that the loosened earth will drink up the rain more easily.

For the first time this year I find myself dead-heading the climbing roses in earnest. I’m quite particular about this task; nothing annoys me more than a healthy climber with fresh young buds unfolding and old dead-heads spoiling the picture. Up the ladder I cut off the spent old heads and crumple them into a compact ball and then lob them into a bucket waiting below.

rosa abraham darbyrose abraham darby

The Duke and Duchess are having a small garden gathering this weekend, and this being Wednesday I not only cut out any dead-heads but also those about to go over as well so that by the time the weekend has arrived the roses will be looking their very best. Apparently the tea-party season is upon us and Charlie and Bones have been dispatched to dig out the croquet equipment from the sheds.


At this time of year I become a lily beetle vigilante. We grow some twenty pots of lilies, lined up against the greenhouse ready to be placed around the garden as they come into flower. It is now that the lily beetle comes to life and, given half a chance, will munch its way through the lily leaf, laying its orange-red eggs on the underside of the leaf which will hatch quickly into pupae usually covered in its own black mess as they too munch on the lily leaf before descending to the soil to emerge a fortnight later as adult beetles.

On a sunny day, these long black and red beetles come to the surface and rest on the top of the leaves of the lily, quite literally basking in the sunshine. I’m afraid to say that you often find two beetles together, romancing as it were. With a steady hand and a sharp thumbnail one can crush the backs of these beetles and stop their devastation. I’ll pass the lily pots every half an hour or so and I’ll always spot three or four beetles. By acting so vigilantly I’ll save the lilies without resorting to chemicals. One has to give a thought perhaps to the poor beetles, mercilessly killed whilst in the heat of a passionate exchange. But what a way to go though!

geranium magnificum

The Duchess has returned from visiting some friends and has brought back two bags of alpaca poo with her which is supposed to be excellent for the garden. I spend the rest of the morning forkling the stuff into the soil. I suppose that my teachers at school, frustrated in their fruitless attempts to download calculus and syntax into my feeble brain, must have thought that eventually I would end up one day being an alpaca poo spreader and I am so pleased to have fulfilled their prophecies…

For those who read my post last week and may be wondering if Charlie and Bones are still with us, well, the holiday in Barbados has been put on hold for the moment, their horse in the Derby crossed the finishing line, eventually, but sadly coming third to last does not pay dividends…

Later in the day a gentle refreshing rain falls that only the mean-hearted would begrudge and the dry earth drinks gratefully…


allium (2)

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