HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW
By Kit Flynn
Nature has a way of confounding me at times.
I’ve written about the loss of a major climbing rose, ‘Peggy Martin.’ I explained how she survived Hurricane Katrina, only to succumb after a number of years in my garden. To refresh your memory, here are the telltale photos, one examining her in her full springtime glory, the other detailing her demise.
And, this is what she looks like today. Obviously, the lady is stirring, thereby raising my hopes. We’ll cut back the dead canes and smother her with love and affection, although I’m not sure how to go about hugging a rose that looms on a trellis ten feet high. In fact, I’m not even sure a rose wants to be hugged.
Now there’s an important lesson in her potential return. Fortunately, we hadn’t taken her out in preparation for the spring planting of a Bignonia ‘Dragon Lady’ I’d ordered to fill (what I thought was) the vacated trellis. You will agree that an empty trellis offers little interest to a garden unless it’s a work of art.
The lesson is this: Don’t give up on a plant until you are 100% sure of its demise. By all means, feel free to pitch a plant you do not like, one you do not appreciate. An unloved plant is like that unattractive outfit hanging in your closet: It will never go anywhere. However, for a much-loved plant, my advice is to hang in there. Don’t rush in with the fertilizer; rather give it time to ponder its existence.
Several years ago, I became interested in the Itoh (Intersectional) peonies. Now these are not inexpensive plants – in fact, they constitute a splurge so I was dismayed when Peony ‘Pink Double Dandy’ (a lovely peony with a horrible name) decided to retire mid-August. Because the other peony varieties were still in leaf, I assumed ‘Pink Double Dandy’ was spurning my hospitality. Fortunately, through sheer inertia, I didn’t take her out of the ground as she happily began putting out new leaves during the following March.
The same thing occurred last August: she evinced her desire to disappear. Clearly, she is a lady ready for an early bedtime. And, this month she is proudly wearing new leaves. In other words, this behavior is what this particular variety exhibits, something I would have never realized if I had taken her out, thinking she had succumbed to our August weather.
A friend of mine has a ball-shaped Camellia japonica that she was threatening to take out as it wanted to outgrow the spot where she had planted it—and it never bore any flowers. Obviously, she wasn’t getting all the benefits of camellia ownership. Finally, I figured out that she was pruning it at the wrong time, in June in an effort to get it to conform to its assigned spot.
Yes, this is an example of planting the wrong camellia in the wrong spot—but it could work for her if she pruned it in late March, right after its bloom cycle. All camellias set bud in May and June so by pruning it in June, she was unwittingly destroying its future blooms. By all means, she should prune away the first flush in late March so it will fit into its space – by doing so, she’ll also be able to enjoy the blooms.
Sometimes, we gardeners get a chip on our shoulder, thinking nature enjoys sending us curve balls. I have learned that patient observation is sometimes the key we have to employ. There’s no question that plants can up and die but they can also regenerate, sometimes along the stems, sometimes from the roots.
Certainly, it takes an acceptance that a particular variety may behave differently than its brothers and sisters. Why don’t all my Itoh peonies start yawning in August? I haven’t the vaguest idea. However, I now have great hopes that I haven’t managed to kill ‘Peggy Martin,’ a rose that sailed through Katrina. Can you imagine having to admit that as a gardener, your ministrations are deadlier than those of Katrina?
Editor’s Note: With this week’s column, TLR breaks with AP style on the use of double vs. single quotation marks, having already broken with AP on the use of italics for the Latin names of plants. Botanists use single quotation marks around cultivar names. For news articles, however, TLR will continue the use of AP style for the occasional references to plants. The determination is that a column devoted to botanical subjects utilizes the names so frequently that the standard botanical formats will be more visually recognizable to readers.
After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at email@example.com.