With the beginning of the traditional Irish spring on the 1st of February, I got back to work at the Big Garden after a very, very long winter. Yesterday was a gorgeous Saturday morning. It was the first really nice morning I’ve been able to get out and do something: it’s either been too cold, too wet or too dark to do much since November. So I took myself to the Big Garden, had a look around and decided that it was time to prune the four standard roses in the big mixed border. I may have mentioned these before. They are a lovely pink… but a lovely pink that doesn’t really go with any other colour. Still, they have to be cared for.
I always have a bit of fear before I start to prune something like standard roses because they really rely on their shape to make a statement. Their shape is their reason for being afforded such a prominent place in the garden. If they weren’t shaped like lollipops they’d just be bush roses and, believe me, there are enough of them in the Big Garden. So it is up to the gardener to keep the shape while at the same time rejuvenate the plant and not let it become congested with older wood. It can be a bit daunting, but once I got started it was fine. If you just throw yourself into pruning and not worry about hurting the plant (the majority are tough and resilient), you’ll be fine and will become more confident with each pruning job you do.
So, it was time to take out a good bit of older wood; I had missed my opportunity last year as I only got back to work once the roses were about to flower. I wasn’t going to miss my window of opportunity this year. I stuck to the one-third rule, i.e., each year or every other year (depending on growth habit), take out a third of a plant’s older wood. With the standard roses this meant taking out one big, old shoot down to the base (in this case, down to the graft untion). Then I went through and took out all the dead material, including last year’s old hips. Next, I took out crossing stems. After that I made sure the overall height was down about 6 to 8 inches. Finally, I went through the whole head of the plant and thinned out very spindly growth and congested areas. It took me about two hours, so half an hour a rose.
I will let the pruning settle and in a week or so, depending on weather and growth, I will drag myself into the big muck heap and get a few bags of well-rotted manure. Lord knows there is enough of it piled up in the walled garden. The last year has not been kind in terms of weather so I will have to let someone know that I’m going onto the muck heap for fear that I may never come out of it. But once I do manage to extricate myself from the mire, I will heap up a bit of the manure around the roses to encourage recovery and growth after the haircut. It’s still a bit frosty so I’ll just keep an eye on the weather.
I noticed that there has been a bit of wind rock with the roses. Last year I took out a lot of very old, overgrown shrubs that were providing a bit of shelter for the roses from the prevailing westerlies. I was a bit concerned that if we had the normal winter gales we get here in the west of Ireland the roses might snap off because they are so top heavy (in the very top photo you can see what happens when they get too top heavy). Thankfully this didn’t happen. But they did rock quite a bit. Taking a good bit of weight off the top will help as will re-staking.
Finally, once the roses start into growth I will have to start a spraying regime. The roses are the only thing in the garden that get sprayed with chemicals. They make up an important part of the garden and have to be sprayed to be kept looking well. Unfortunately we live in the blackest spot for blackspot and I have to use every weapon I have to keep the fungal disease at bay. I don’t like using rose spray but I’m afraid it is a necessary evil. I do also use seaweed feed and other organic materials on the very, needy roses. They are really gorgeous in the summer when they are in full swing, but by God are they high-maintenance!
Taking care of the prissy misses was a thoroughly satisfying job to do on a lovely, early spring morning. I was delighted with myself. I then went and had a look out the front at the 36 or so rose bushes I have to prune next and felt less delighted with myself. But then I went into the woods and saw the snowdrops, my faith in the garden restored.
Next time… A Strawberry Dilemma