Dec 28, 2012

Otherwise Normal People

Inside the Thorny World of Competetive Rose Gardening
by Aurelia C. Scott

Although it has (again) taken me quite some time to read it, I found this book about roses very interesting and engaging. In it, the author met with quite a few rose enthusiasts from different areas of the country, visited their gardens, learned how they grow roses, and attended a few rose shows. It was all quite eye-opening. First of all, I was pretty taken aback by all the work that roses seem to require. Especially if they're grown in cold areas and need winter protection- which ranges from simply covering them up to burying them in trenches (resurrected in spring) or finding ways to bring them indoors (usually a garage). But it seems that rose people love the challenge. Not only that, but roses also need constant tending whether in the form of pruning, pinching unwanted buds, complex feeding and spraying schedules, applications of insecticides, etc. This part upset me a bit, but it sounds like it would be impossible to grow perfect show roses without the use of chemicals to kill disease and thwart bugs. If the roses are grown well enough to be considered show quality, there is a whole 'nother round of meticulous preparation and grooming they go through to make it to a display table and possibly win a prize. Even the spacing between petals is carefully rearranged. It all sounds quite heady, and the show-rose people certainly seem obsessed. I do admire their ingenuity in devising things to protect blooms from the weather and safely transport cut roses, usually out of recycled materials. One guy even built his own sprayer.

All that was fascinating, but I found the very end of the book enthralled me most. I wish Scott had written more about this side, the world of old-rose enthusiasts. They are even more my kind of people. Instead of being interested in the perfection of form and visual beauty of the rose, they are all about the scent and the thrill of finding and rescuing hundred-years-old varieties. (Because you can't have both, a rose is either very beautiful or has an incredible smell). As roses are usually grown from cuttings, there are scions alive today that are literally from the same living tissues as roses that grew hundreds of years ago. These old-rose enthusiasts will hunt for roses growing at old homesteads or graveyards and take cuttings to grow them in their own gardens. Sometimes they rescue roses from sites slated for demolition. Then they try to identify what variety they have; some arguments of old-rose names in public gardens are ongoing! They are rose-hunters and rose-rustlers, definitely a more casual bunch than the show people. And the roses they grow have deep history, often have a mystery surrounding them, or a story behind them. In fact, while there were quite a few tender stories about roses in the lives of people among the show set, they didn't really touch me the way stories of the old roses did; one tale of a rose planted on an infant's grave brought me to tears... These old roses are wild, rambling, intoxicating and not at all persnickity about care. I think if I got into roses these would be my kind, the ones that make your head swim when you inhale, and don't require arsenals of chemicals to keep them healthy.

The only thing that would have made this book better would be the inclusion of some pictures of roses!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 235 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Pop Matters
The Hum of Desperation
Rose Garden Advice


Bookwyrme said...

Because you can't have both, a rose is either very beautiful or has an incredible smell)

Actually... You can! These days, a lot of breeders are working on combining the two. The Double Delight, for example, is a tea rose that is gorgeous in the "standard" rose shape & smells nice & is pretty disease resistant & is fantastic in a vase.

And the old rose shapes are lovely, too--they're just not the "standard" rose we think of. I've a Shropshire Lad (a new-old-rose) that's got the multi-petaled spread & smell of an old rose + good disease resistance. It's not that good as a vase rose--two days max, usually floating--but it's a lovely garden addition.

Jeane said...

Good to know! I guess roses have come quite a way along in five years (since this book was published and thus informed me). Isn't there an actual blue rose been developed now, too?

bermudaonion said...

I never realized there's competitive rose gardening. This does sound fascinating!

Bookwyrme said...

Of course, there's the difference between "Show rose" and "rose in the garden" in terms of what is demanded of them. I do, however, have an eye on a lovely bush (Francis Meilland) that has a gorgeous scent & shape & won the All-American Rose Selection without spray--first time that has ever happened, apparently. (I get hazy here, but I know it's a big deal ;) )

I don't think roses actually have the genes to be blue, on their own, but there are starting to be some gorgeous dark purples. I've decided my life (or at least my garden) won't be complete without a Midnight Blue.

How much care they need depends a lot on where you live & how fanatical you feel like being. I never really worry about trimming bushes so as to get a few perfect blooms, for example. I let 'em all bloom out & have smaller, less-perfect, but still beautiful, blooms. I also live in an area with great weather--no winter to worry about!

On a book-note, have you read Amy Stewart's Flower Confidential?

Jeane said...

Yes, I did read Flower Confidential. Liked it very much!

Chris Howard said...

wow, this sounds really good!!!! I need to get my hand on this. I didn't know that you could grow roses from cuttings!! I've been wanting to grow roses for awhile now. Just need to learn how :p Totally going to check out this book!