Rose Garden - My Grandpa's
My Grandfather's Rose Garden
My Grandfather’s rose garden. Hidden away, with an abundance of blooms in every color and fragrance. A secret garden. The funny thing is I didn’t even know it existed until I was about 10 years old. No, I wasn’t daft. Let me explain. My grandparents lived in a section of Glendale, NY called the “seven hills” by the locals. Glendale is mostly flat except for the seven hills. These seven hills are each streets and they border on Cypress Hills, NY. (As an aside, Houdini is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery.) Anyway, you go up the hill to see my Grandparents, at least that’s what my family always said. When you get there you see rows of one family houses in a neighborhood that normally has two or four family houses. Each house is almost identical. A small front lawn with not a weed in sight, a driveway separating one house from the next and a concrete backyard leading to a garage. No place for a rose garden. Next to the garage is a narrow walkway that allows the home owner to care for the side of his garage. What I didn’t know, until I was 10, was that walkway led to a patch of land behind the garage – in my grandfather’s case, the Rose Garden.
There was no reason to go behind the garage unless you were invited, or you knew there was a rose garden there. My first visit to the rose garden stands out in my mind and senses to this day. My Grandfather invited me to walk with him behind the garage. I couldn’t imagine why, he'd never asked before, but no one ever refused my grandfather. He was about five feet tall with the most beautiful curly white hair with a middle part. He wore glasses and always had a smile on his lips and twinkle in his eye - he was more like an elf than a grandfather. So, behind the garage we went. I felt like I had stepped into a world totally different from the world I’d just left. It wasn’t very large but it was filled with rows of the most beautiful and fragrant roses I had ever seen (or smelled.) Each bush was healthy and in different stages of blooming. Name a color, that rose was there. There were reds, whites, yellows, pinks, bi-color peach and white, bi-color pink and white, large floribundas, full blown hybrid teas and more. It was incredible. I had never seen so many roses blooming in one place. How had this happened?
My father later explained that roses were Grandpa’s passion. He was a sewing machine mechanic before he retired and was very skilled in precision work. After he retired he had started the garden with only one or two rose bushes from Jackson&Perkins. At that time Jackson&Perkins was the Cadillac of rose producers. Grandpa then began to read about roses and their care, remember the precision skill? I think it led to a bit of OCD. He learned all about the type of soil that best suited roses. He found out by trial and error which fertilizer worked best. He knew what type of insecticide killed the bugs but left the bushes healthy. As he learned he expanded his garden. One row led to another until he ran out of space for his rows. Every day he visited his rose garden to care for and nurture it. In addition to the watering, fertilizing, and insect watching he pruned. Diseased and damaged wood always needed to be pruned away but only at the right time. Some roses needed pruning to produce bigger blooms others just to keep the disease away. Roses should be pruned back in early spring before they start to bloom. During the growing season when you want to cut roses to bring them inside you can do a little pruning if you're careful. Always cut just above an eight leaf leave cluster and cut on a slight angle. Whether pruning back or just cutting roses it is really a good idea to wear a pair of good gloves. While roses are lovely their thorns are very piercing and while your busy cutting you don't notice the throns till they get you, but Grandpa knew all this.
Wild, Old, and Modern Roses
Roses are susceptible to so many bugs and diseases; black spot, mold, fungus, red spiders, and chafers to name a few. Many of today’s hybrid roses are hardy and not susceptible to these rose problems but back then most roses were. However, there was none of that in Grandpa’s rose garden. I don’t know if he used sulfur or a specific insecticide but I do know he handpicked bugs off when he found them. There were no threats in Grandpa’s rose garden, he wouldn’t allow them.
Roses are a lot like people, treat them right and they’ll flourish leave them alone and they’ll shrivel up and often die. Some roses need full sun, some prefer partial shade. Some roses are climbers, some bushes, some shrubs. If you don’t know what kind of rose you have and what type of care it needs, you can lose it the first year you plant it. That never happened in Grandpa’s rose garden, he wouldn’t allow it.
There are roses going back before the 16th Century! Everyone loves roses. Roses have three main classifications; Wild, Old, and Modern. Wild roses usually bloom only one time while Old roses are usually repeat bloomers. Within the Old rose classification there are additional classifications such as Bourbon, China, and Hybrid Perpetuals. Modern roses really run the gamut. Hybridizing has allowed roses to do things they never did before. Within the Modern classification are additional classifications such as Climbing Roses, Hybrid Tea, Miniature Roses, Shrub Roses and Rambling Roses. Grandpa had volumes of books on roses and their care.
Some roses provide double, scented flowers, some have a single rose on a stem while others grow roses in clusters. Each rose is as different as the bush it grows on. Even roses on the same bush are never exactly alike. They have a delicate appearance that appeals to the eye.
Education About Roses
Now that I'd seen these beautiful roses and learned a little, remember sometimes a little information can be a dangerous thing, I decided I would have roses when I grew up. When my husband and I bought our home many years ago and many years after my first visit to Grandpa's rose garden, the first thing I wanted to plant was of course, a rose bush. It had to be beautiful so I ordered three rose bushes from Jackson & Perkins. Being a novice I thought I should really start with one but there was a sale so I bought the three and gave two to my father. My father had some beautiful rose bushes too, but nothing compares to Granpa's rose garden. Though we live in the same town only two miles apart, our dirt is very different from my father's. His is real dirt with nutrients and water holding capabilities, mine is pure sand. Okay, I know sand isn't good for roses so I bought peat moss and worked it into the soil before I planted my rose bush. Now the education really begins to pick up. I watered and cared for the rose bush and was rewareded with beautiful flowers -- the first year. It bloomed the entire summer with rose after rose. The second year, one rose! Okay, maybe a faulty bush. I tried another. This time I used more peat moss, bought special rose food and insecticide. Carefully planted and cared for again the rose bush bloomed beautifully the first year. I did notice though neither rose bush had the fragrance of my Grandpa's roses. Remember way back in the beginning of this article I mentioned hybridizing? Well, it seems while rose hybridizers were going for the perfect bloom and the disease resistant bush they hybridized the beautiful scent right out of the rose! Now, over 40 years later, they are starting to realize people really miss the scent so they are hybridizing the scent back into the rose. You have to carefully read the label when you buy a rose bush to make sure it says 'strong scent' or 'very fragrant' to get a rose anywhere near as fragrant as my Grandpa's, but I digress. For three or four years I planted rose bush after rose bush and every time I got the same results, first year great, second year one flower. Isn't that the sign of an idiot? Someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? Well it finally dawned on me that this was not going to work. No more Jackson&Perkins catalogs for me. Part of my education included how hardy or rather not hardy a rose bush can be. Some just can't survive the winters of the northeast and this may have been one of the reasons I couldn't get mine to survive AND thrive. Remember tho, rose bushes are in my blood and roses are just so beautiful.
Rose Bush Continues to Grow
One day I'm shopping in K-Mart and there's a sale on some end of season rose bushes. Pictures of the flowers are vague but hey, it's a rose bush and it's cheap. Since the expensive roses don't bloom for me, why not try a cheap one. This time I figure, even though I know rose bushes need at least 6 hours of sun, maybe mine were getting too much sun, especially with the sandy soil. So I plant this rose bush on the north side of my house, probably the worst place to plant a rose bush but I'm pulling out all the stops this time. The first year this rose bush was covered from head to toe in tiny blood red roses. Wave after wave from late July (when I bought the bush) right through to October. It was a lovely thing to behold but I knew it was only year one. The spring of year two begins and just like always the leaves begin to appear on the bush. It begins to fill out and by mid-June little tiny buds appear. Not just one bud but lots of little tiny buds. Can this be a fluke I wonder? Time will tell. By the beginning of July this bush is loaded with little red roses in year two! I am amazed. What's more amazing is care is minimum. The biggest issue is deadheading. Deadheadihng is cutting the dead blooms off so new ones can grow. If you don't deadhead it won't hurt the bush but you won't get as many roses. Since these tiny roses grow in clusters there are so many roses on this bush at any given time it takes an hour to deadhead which needs to be done every couple of days but you have to know I'm in my glory. It's wonderful. Of course there is very little fragrance. If you put your nose to one of those tiny roses you get a hint of the real rose smell but that's about it. I don't care, I finally have roses.
This rose bush is so incredible I want another one so I go on a search. The only place I can find it again? K-Mart! This time I get a pink and plant it by my small pond. The glorious thing is, a repeat performance. This rose bush grows like the red one. Bloom after bloom from June through October. It is phenomenal! Not only do these two rose bushes continue to grow and bloom after more than 20 years, I have to trim them back to keep them at a height not greater than five to six feet or I can't reach to deadhead them. Everyone who walks into my backyard is amazed at how lovely they look. (Eat your heart out Jackson&Perkins) I occasionally feed them and treat them for bugs but unbelievably even if I forget and the bugs eat the leaves I still get blooms. These are really incredible bushes. I miss the beautiful multi-petalled flowers of a real rose bush but sometimes we have to make sacrifices to get at least part of what we want. I have a feeling Grandpa would be proud! I would love to tell you the name of these bushes but after all these years I forget. I know it was Van-something, a German or Scandinavian name. The roses are tiny and open very wide. The buds are very small but so adorable. I haven't seen them on sale anywhere in quite a while. Actually, I haven't looked for fear I would wind up with a backyard full of rose bushes that I couldn't possibly keep up with. Just FYI I don't think these are actually rose "bushes" but rose "shrubs".
Of course there's even a song, "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden", what does that tell you? But don't let it get you down, anyone can grow roses you just have to find the right one for your area and soil. Below you'll find some photos from the red and pink rose bushes.