Sunday, June 17, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, hybrid roses, cholla, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, daylily, fern-leaf globemallow, purple salvia, velvetweed, purple mat flower, amaranth, milkweed, tumble mustard, pink and white bindweed, English and wooly plantain, locoweed, yellow sweet clover, golden hairy aster, goatsbeard, hawkweed, native and common dandelion, grama grasses; goatshead and prostate knotweed showed up; corn and sunflowers growing; rice grass releasing seeds; needle grass seeds becoming a nuisance.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Miniature rose, red hot poker, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartwegii, perky Sue, fern-leaf yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat; buds on butterfly weed; sour cherries turning red

Looking east: Dr. Huey rose, coral bells, thrift, pinks, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, creeping baby’s breath, catchfly, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, pink salvia, rockrose, winecup, hollyhock, California and shirley poppies, Kellerer yarrow.

Looking south: Iris, sweet pea, rugosa, floribunda and Blaze roses.

Looking west: Flax, catmint, Rumanian salvia, purple and white beardtongues, purple ice plant, sea lavender, Valerie Finnis artemisia; buds on lilies.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy, marigold.

Inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird at coral beardtongue, bumble bees on blue ones; smaller bees on coreopsis, blanket flowers and catmint; ants on peach; aphids on roses; black butterfly on thrift seed ball; small grasshoppers bouncing everywhere; young male rabbit in drive.

Weather: Attempted showers during week, temperatures warmer; high winds yesterday, but little water reached the ground; strong manure smells along back road of village.

Weekly update: Roses are ablaze in the village, both pastel and florescent. Once again, I’m envious.

When I told a friend last year that my last tea rose from the year before had been killed by spring winds, he said, "oh, my wife, doesn’t plant stuff like that; she only uses xeroscapic plants." Apart from aesthetics and snobbery, her preference is probably derived from the perception that roses, especially those descended from the first Chinese teas, are too tender to survive without pampering.

As soon as roses entered the China trade in 1752, men studied them in their gardens. Around 1802, John Champneys discovered Rosa chinensis had yoked itself with Rosa moschata on his Charleston area plantation. His neighbor, Philippe Noisette, experimented with the seedlings, and sent his fledglings to his brother in Paris, whose nursery introduced the first tender Noisette in 1814.

Rose multiflora arrived in Europe from the newly opened Japan in 1860. Scmitt tried it with different hybrids before releasing Aglaia in 1896 from a Noisette. He sold the yellow rambler through the Rhineland’s Peter Lambert, who promoted an Aglaia seedling as Trier in 1904.

Wilhelm Kordes opened his nursery in Holstein in 1887, and soon after sold Lambert’s roses. His son, Wilhelm II, united Trier with a polyantha to produce a hybrid musk. While invigorating the Mediterranean moschata, he fortuitously intensified the multiflora heritage because polyanthas had evolved from Jean-Baptiste Guillot’s attempts to combine the flower clusters of multiflora with the repeat blooming and bush habit of chinensis.

Meanwhile, Svend Poulsen was commingling polyanthas with hybrid teas to increase flower size. When Jackson and Perkins hired the son of a French cotton mill owner to establish their breeding program in 1930, Jean Henri Nicolas not only extended the Dane’s experiments with polyanthas, which he called floribundas, but also negotiated exclusive marketing rights for Kordes roses in this country.

His assistant, Eugene Boerner, had become a close friend of Wilhelm II by the time he removed 10,000 seedlings from Europe in 1939. Later, Bourner crossed a Kordes tea rose, Crimson Glory, with a Kordes floribunda, Pinocchio, to beget Fashion in 1949. In 1952, he marketed one of Fashion’s children as Ma Perkins. A Ma Perkins scion was introduced as Gene Boerner in 1968, two years after his death.

The only rose I have that has survived drought, cold winters, high winds and grasshoppers is a coral pink Fashion I bought in 2000. The only rose I added last spring that’s blooming is a pale pink Gene Boerner. Both are large flowered, clustered headed floribundas.

Apparently, I owe my ability to grow my own roses to one Wisconsin born grandson of Saxon immigrants who absorbed continental breeding ideas. When Americans encountered Rosa multiflora in 1866, they saw utilitarian graft stock for the preferred tenderer roses.

In the 1930's, the government promoted multiflora for erosion control, because it grows on bad soils, including claypan, sand and gravel, to naturalize by seeds, suckers and rooted branches. More importantly, it tolerates dry conditions.

Fortunately, germplasm, even in the most refined tea, diffuses men’s ideas of the possible so that when I go to the local store to buy cheap roses, it offers floribundas, polyanthas and climbers amongst the hybrid teas because they all bear large bright flowers in black pots. I’m anxious to know if the ones that survive this year, if any, are the ones with the indefatigable multiflora ancestors, or if the floribunda is yet one more chimera in my quest for roses on my windswept prairie.

Photograph: Gene Boerner, floribunda rose, 10 June 2007.

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