By Steve Hutton
The second season of the year, the one between winter and summer, is for some strange reason called Spring. Looking at the landscape over the past five days I have decided they should have called it Yellow. After an easy winter that stayed way past the March equinox – the beginning of spring – we finally got warm, then hot, weather the first of this week. Half the plants in the area’s yards immediately showed their gratitude by erupting in yellow flowers.
Of course, all these plants are exotics, which is to say that they are native to other parts of the world. Except for skunk cabbage and red maples and a few other early-flowering plants, our natives are just beginning to wake up. So, we have come to rely on daffodils, forsythia, winterhazel, Cornus mas and officinalis, and other foreigners to say (actually, shout – there’s nothing subtle about these shades of yellow) that’s its spring.
Me, I’m glad. Subtlety, after a winter that’s lingered way too long, is not what I’m looking for. This will come in due time, when the woods turns its hundred shades of green, with shadblow, redbud and native dogwood lighting up the edges. When the forest floor is begins to quake as ferns emerge, spring ephemerals quickly bloom and fade, when bloodroot and trout lily cover road banks–this is true botanical spring and my favorite time of the year.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy Yellow. It’s like having dessert before dinner, which is something we should all do from time-to-time.
By Steve Hutton
Last week I joined my Conard-Pyle colleague and fellow blogger, Kyle McKean, for a couple of days with P. Allen Smith at an event in Little Rock. Twenty-four garden bloggers from around the country got together to tour some local gardens and to spend one day visiting Allen’s stunning Garden Home Retreat. Kyle and I were there to talk about Conard-Pyle’s rose introduction program, focusing on our 80-year relationship with the storied French rose breeding firm, Meilland International.
P. Allen Smith’s rose garden.
Kyle and I first saw Allen’s two acre rose garden about a year ago, as the first roses were being planted. At that time, the garden’s bones were in place — beds laid out and hedged with boxwood, garden structures and gates in place, pleached oaks surrounding the entire garden.
What a difference a year makes! All beds were fully planted and the roses had just finished their first flush of bloom. Outside the garden and on a slope leading down to it a large bed was being prepared in which masses of Drift® Roses and companion plants would soon be installed. Inside the garden a wide range of shrubs, perennials and annuals were integrated in a painterly way with several dozen different varieties of roses. I told the guest bloggers that in my view Allen had succeeded in creating a model rose garden–one in which roses were less than 50 percent of the plants in the design. For me, this is a key factor in any successful rose garden. Roses are plants, not museum pieces, and are at their most striking when they are creatively combined with other types and colors of plants, not set off by themselves as if they had no fit companions.
In addition to a superb garden on a majestic hillside overlooking the Arkansas River, the choice of rose varieties made its own statement. Allen’s focus at The Garden Home Retreat is on sustainable living, and we helped him select varieties that would not need chemical sprays in order to thrive. The “modern” portion of the rose palette (Allen wanted to emphasize three centuries of roses in America) was therefore comprised of varieties of the Knock Out® and Drift® families of roses, as well as disease resistant traditional roses from Meilland International (the breeders of the Drift® series) and Bill Radler (breeder of the Knock Out ® series).
Our day at The Garden Home Retreat was a warm one, but when the sun went down we ended it the perfect way–with locally-sourced ingredients given a southern accent and transformed into a very special meal.
By Steve Hutton
At some point in the long slog of human evolution we developed pectoral muscles, and I’m glad we did. I make sure I use mine at least once a year, and this is that time–pruning time.
Pectoralis major, in case you’ve forgotten, is the large muscle in the chest, going from the breastbone to each shoulder. Overdeveloped, cartoonish versions are found in bodybuilders like the young Arnold Schwartzenneger and the guy that played The Hulk. Underdeveloped, cartoonish versions are found in guys like me. But even underdeveloped ones can come in handy, especially if you prune your roses and other plants the way I do, the quick, easy and slightly medieval way. Take a look!
I have nearly 40 rose plants in my home garden, plus a 20 ornamental grasses and dozens of other shrubs, all of which need a wack in late winter/early spring. If I were to follow the useless, but standard, advice you see in books and on the internet–using hand shears, cutting to an outward-facing bud and putting Elmer’s glue on each rose cane I cut–I’d have to start the process in the fall and wouldn’t finish until early summer. And I’d be a fool. I’ve discovered much more enjoyable ways to be a fool.
So, don’t make pruning harder than it has to be, and give your pecs their once-yearly workout.