Sunday, April 29, 2012


This is  Allium, a flowering plant that has more than 500 species.  The most common flower variety in this part of the country is the deep purple globe.  Her globes range from two to 4”inches in diameter, and she can stand as high as 4’.  I also have a small white Allium which has not yet bloomed.  Since this is the white’s first season, I don’t expect her to get more than a 1’ tall with globes no more than 1 -2” in diameter.
Many of her species have been harvested for eating.  Today the most common are French Shallots, Leeks, Scallions, Garlic and Chives.  I would not advise eating the ornamental Allium. 
Some Allium can be found in Africa and South America; however they are primarily indigenous to the Asian Northern Hemisphere.  Their habitats range from mineral soils that are dry and well drained to moist organic soils.  Some even grow in swamps and forests.  Mine like heat, dry mineral soil, sun and a lot of drainage. 
They are usually grown from bulbs and fill in nicely for a back border or garden divider.  Butterflies like them and as you can see, so do bees.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Bearded Iris

This is the tall, bearded Iris.  She takes her name from her graceful falls.  Her standards are upright and elegant.  This is a rhizome as opposed to a bulb, that is to say that her roots are large and tuberous spreading out in all directions.  She is generally divided every three to five years to contain her growth.  It is not a good idea to plant the Iris near roses or any other plant whose water and food supply she might interfere with.  
From mid-spring to early summer she blooms prolifically – each year producing more and more blooms.  There is also a variety of Iris that re-blooms in fall.  They will be marked accordingly.  Her fragrance is warm and sensual.  She comes in myriad colors and variations. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Care and Types of Roses

Many people have asked me about pruning roses.  I am happy to share my knowledge with regard to gardening, and anything else for that matter, with one caveat.  I live on the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  Thus, my experience is geared toward the High Plains.  Gardening is not just a seasonal occupation for many of us, but a regional occupation.  By that I mean, what grows here may not grow where you live at all, or very well or for any length of time.

Speaking as an experienced gardener I believe that it is critical for anyone growing roses to know the following: soil type – acid or alkaline and concentration of organic matter; soil composition – sand, clay, rock and loam content.  If your soil contains clay; what kind of clay?  What is the drainage in your area?  Roses do not like what is called, “Wet feet.” They require good drainage.

Locate your resources such as the best nurseries and/or University Agricultural Extension in your area.  By the time you have been gardening as long as I have you have probably managed to build a library.  My library is large and covers many species.  If I can help answer questions, don’t hesitate to call upon my resources. 

I can’t stress this enough; I buy roses from reputable nurseries and growers.  Here in Colorado roses are stressed in their first season by a soil that is clayey and alkaline, climate of hot, dry summers, very cold and often dry winters, not to mention a good chance of transplant shock.  In the second season their roots hit what is called the clay wall.  Amending the soil helps to a point – to a point I say – however the rose is likely to struggle.  If the rose has not been propagated and nurtured properly in my experience it won’t survive.

Having said all of this and turning to the care of the rose, it is my belief that roses should be pruned in spring; other people will tell you fall.  It is a matter of philosophy.  To begin with any leaves left from the previous season on the ground or on the rose canes should be totally removed before pruning begins; this is to prevent the spread of disease agents that have overwintered.  Dead canes should be removed all together.  The cane is generally never pruned – cut – anymore than one third of the way down.  In recent years here in Colorado may roses have had canes that died back very close to the ground – those canes need removing.  The pruning cut is made on a diagonal with a very sharp rose shear.  In some parts of the country the end of the cane should be sealed with a rose stick or water soluble Elmer’s Glue. There is a tiny carpenter bee that likes to burrow into the cane; if enough of them go deep enough the rose will die.  Again, your local nursery or Agricultural Exchange can tell you about your area insect population.

In addition to the carpenter bee there are a number of insects and diseases that plague these lovely plants.  Infestations of thrips, spider mites and aphids are common on the Plains.  Rose diseases in their most virulent form are often caused by fungi.  These fungal agents vary from area to area depending upon temperature and moisture.  Three of the most common diseases are Rust, Black Spot and Powdery Mildew.  They appear on leaves and canes.  Although they may not kill the rose they can disfigure and act as serious stressors on a plant trying to survive a blazing summer, an insect infestation or going into a hard winter.

Conventional wisdom holds that watering roses overhead is the prime causes of fungus, along with excessive rain and humidity. While it is recommended that roses be watered at their base, people with large or mature landscapes and many roses might not be able to do this.  Rule of thumb has always been that overhead watering should be done in the morning – not the evening.  Allowing the leaves to dry in the sun will cut down the incidents of fungal diseases.  Infected leaves should be cut from the plant immediately.   

However, new thinking is that good pruning; plenty of airflow within the garden, conscious selection of resistant rose varieties, vigilant monitoring and prompt action when problems are seen will decrease the incidents and severity of infection, watering practices notwithstanding.  Watering in the morning is still recommended if overhead watering is necessary.  Again, infected leaves should be removed.

In addition to newer and ever more resistant rose varieties, gardeners – whether organic or inorganic – have any number of ways to deal with the pests and fungal diseases of roses.  If you are an organic gardener you might want to speak to the University Agricultural Extension or gardening center professionals in your area for ideas on how best to deal with insect infestation and fungi.  If you are an inorganic gardener you can chose a foliar (applied to the leaves) spray insecticide or fungicide or use a systemic (travels through the entire plant and often administer to the root via the soil).  The gardening professionals in your local nursery will be of great help in deciding which is best for you.  Be conscious of the needs of pollinators like bees. 

Feeding roses in Colorado means compensating for a number of things; we have an alkaline soil, little organic matter, cold often dry winters and hot dry summers.  All of these things are stressors.  Amending the soil helps over the long haul, however most of the nutrients in Colorado’s soil are not in a form the rose can take up readily.  Again, your nursery or University Extension can help you decide on what is the best option for your gardens as there are many kinds of feed available.  Once again, you have the choice of foliar or systemic.

There is hygiene to gardening, most definitely when dealing with diseased plants.  Keep hands, tools, gloves and clothes clean.  After working with an infected rose wash your hands and tools with antibacterial soap and rinse with warm water and rubbing alcohol.  Empty clippings from a diseased rose out of your gardening basket or can before approaching any other rose in the garden.

Rose beds should be laid out in such a way as to give roses plenty of space and airflow.  Not only does this reduce the incidence of fungal diseases but it lessens contamination from one rose to another.


It is generally held that roses first appeared in prehistoric times, exclusively above the equator in the northern hemisphere.  We are not talking about the complex beauty with many petals growing in your yard today.   Instead, the early rose was much like the wild rose – flat in design with a single layer of petals resting above the sepals or the slender, green pointed leaves that contain the bud and open out as the rose blooms. 

Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this discussion to elucidate the history of the rose.  Suffice it to say that they have been admired for their delicate beauty and sweet scent, coveted, fought over, immortalized, researched, grown, groomed and hybridized for as long as there have been rose lovers.  Today there is a bewildering array of types.  It behooves anyone interested in acquiring a rose or starting a rose garden to know something about the various types of roses. What follows is a list and brief description of some of the most common. 

Miniature Roses many of which are very small, seldom above thirty inches tall and are excellent for containers, lining a walkway or garden.  The true miniature rose is perfect for the patio garden.  Other roses of this type are miniature only with regard to their leaves and flowers.  They can become quite tall.  A word of caution here – make sure you know which one you are buying.

 Species Rose, Wild Roses and their Hybrids are extremely hardy.  They are old roses – some call them the original roses – and are often of the climber or large landscape variety.  The flat petal structure is generally the rule.

Hybrid Tea Roses are the most fashionable garden roses and range from about three to five feet tall depending upon sun exposure.  This rose is greatly admired for its pallet of stunning colors, wonderful fragrances and gracefully symmetrical flowers.  The hybrid tea frequently produces one lovely rose on each stem.

Grandifloras are more robust than a hybrid tea.  They can stand well over six feet tall.  Their blooms can show as clusters of large to medium size roses on one stem. This rose is produced by crossing a floribunda with a hybrid tea.

Floribundas are exceptionally hardy roses with the ability to adapt too many soil types and temperature variables.  This rose produces a great number of flowers, in thick clusters.  They re-bloom much of the season.  They are not as fragrant as the Grandiflora or the Hybrid Tea.  They reach about 2-4’ in height – although some can get taller. They are dense in structure.

Mini-Floras fall between Miniatures and Floribundas with regard to blooms and foliage of intermediate size.  Since 1999 when the American Rose Society identified this species many lovely varieties of this rose have been developed.  This is a great rose for people who don’t have a lot of space, but want a rose garden.

Landscapes are large – up to five feet tall – disease resistant and extremely hardy in most climates.  They are prolific, all season bloomers.  This is the best rose for a beginning rose gardener. 

Climbing Roses do not climb – they have no way to climb.  They lack tendrils and can’t twine.  Climbing roses simply have incredibly healthy growth habits.  They just grow into things with their stiff - even woody - canes, grabbing on with their thorns.  They show blooms singularly and in clusters.  Most of them bloom all season, however, know what you are buying.  Some climbers often called Antique or Victorian only bloom once a season.

 Plan your rose space before purchasing the rose.  For instance, how large will the space be, and what companion plants will share the space if any.  Talk to the gardening professionals in your area about soil type, water requirements, best over winter performance and disease resistance of the roses available to you.  Not all roses are hardy in all areas.  As with any gardening project; plant the rose where it belongs.  Roses require at least six hours of sun per day.  The optimal exposure is eastern and southern sun here in Colorado.  Western sun burns the delicate tissue of the rose bloom.

There is no trick or great difficulty to growing roses.  Respect them – give them the sun, the space and the care they need.  They will repay you a hundred fold.

All roses have names – given to them by their growers.  The rose featured here is Cary Grant, as elegant and beautiful as its namesake.  This rose’s vital statistics follow:

Type:  Very Large Hybrid Tea

Color:  Bright orange blended with copper & gold

Height/Habit:  Medium-tall/Slightly spreading
Bloom/Size:  Large, very full

Flower habits: Long period from bud to bloom, long lasting.

Leaves: Deep green and glossy 
Petal Count:  35 to 40
Fragrance:  Medium strong spicy
Hybridizer:  Meilland-1987 (Grower and year created)
Parentage:  (Pharaoh x Konigin der Rosen x seedling)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sweet Columbine

This is the Columbine – in her true blue presentation she is Colorado’s state flower. She is high born, gracefully cascading down the slopes of the Mighty Rocky Mountains in a radiant stream of sunlit elegance. This little lady stands in tribute to endurance and charm. Grown in some of the coldest regions of the our mountain range, she can tolerate a late freeze or snow. If you plant a bed with different shades of Columbine they will cross pollinate, and the next season you will discover that they appear varied in subtle and lovely ways.

Native to the rocky earth of Colorado’s High Country they aren’t particular about soil. I do amend my soil every season with organic compost to steel them against the one thing they won’t experience in a cool and often rainy Rocky Mountain spring – heat. Sunday at the beginning of April it was 84 degrees here on the Eastern Slope. Today it is snowing and 32 degrees, yet my little Columbines stand like sentinels armored in lace and looking skyward for a break in the clouds. Nonetheless, transitioning between a very cold winter and an early summer will stress plants, particularly the wild flower.

Columbine likes her water. I water her as often as I water the Rose. In the two to three weeks of triple digit heat in a Colorado summer I see to her watering more often.

Even though they can be bought bear root, they are usually grown from seeds or starter plants, and spread through broadcasting. Columbine’s roots are neither invasive nor destructively tuberous so she can be grown near other plants and will not disturb their food and water supply.

It has been my experience that her preferred companion plants are the Agastache, some species also indigenous to Colorado, and the Lily. Because of the many, many colors of Agastache it can be chosen to compliment Columbine’s hues and multiplicity of hues.

It is generally believed that the Columbine is a spring bloomer – sun to partial shade – this information is found on bags of dry root, seed packets and with containers of starter plants. These instructions do generally refer to life in the wild as opposed to closer and more meticulous care in a garden. My Columbines live in the sun, with only evening shade, and with proper deadheading, watering and feed they bloom well into mid-summer.