Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lady Banks

Weather: Winds are turning bare surfaces into soft sand; last major precipitation 2/15/12; 11:50 hours of daylight today.

What’s active: Hybrid roses, Japanese honeysuckle, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, crocus, blue flax, tansy and black mustard, alfilerillo, gypsum phacelia, western stickseed, biological crust, moss.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; stems on young chamisa; leaves on native yucca, sweet pea, snakeweed, chrysanthemum, strap leaf aster; cheat grass.

What’s red or purple: Cholla; branches on sandbar willow, tamarix, apples, apricots, spirea, wild roses and raspberry; leaves on beardtongues, pinks, soapworts, purple aster.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, stickleaf, golden hairy aster.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae; weeping and globe willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, asparagus fern, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds. Large house fly has hatched and won’t die.

Weekly update: The winds have returned.

I learned that line when I was a child about the lion and the lamb, but never saw any relationship between it and the weather. It was simply one of those things one absorbed that unconsciously developed one’s sense of poetic imagery.

Then I moved to Abilene, Texas. The winds never stopped. The flags were always spread full. I learned to tack when I drove a car whose interior had dust blown into crevices that never would come clear.

When the winds start here, I just tell myself, it’s not as bad as Abilene. The sun doesn’t turn silver at noon. I don’t have sand in my mouth. Lady Banks has survived.

I bought a yellow Lady Banks rose in Abilene, and watched it bloom the first year, prosper in the summer, and die in the winter. When I moved here I bypassed the pots in the local stores until I visited Phoenix when they were in full bloom draped over yard walls. Then I did one of those faux cost calculations, the ones that go: it’s not that expensive, what can I lose?

I bought two in 2000, saw the winds batter them soon after. They went out of bloom in a few weeks, and, in late summer, the canes started to grow.

The next spring, the winds came again and one died. The other didn’t bloom, but started growing in August.

The cycle started repeated itself. Luxuriant summer growth, leaves persisting into winter when the snow buried them. The stems eventually died, came back and produced no flowers. The yellow rose, introduced from China into England in 1824 by John Damper Parks, blooms on old wood. I slowly realized I wasn’t going to get any thing unless the winter and spring were mild.

In 2007 I finally got my reward, a few scattered flowers. Not the thick clusters of tiny, double roses I'd seen in Phoenix, but enough to keep me dealing with the dead canes.

Then it became a nuisance. In the early years, it grew up sides of the wooden walk where I could wind the flexible branches back into the rails.

The root got stronger with every monsoon, and it started to take over the walk. The branches wouldn’t stay in the rails. I didn’t use that door very often, but I was beginning to get tired of the summer pruning that took several days. I told myself, at least it has no thorns.

Then we had one of those winters that are good for roses. The first flower of 2009 was deformed. The next two were barely formed. That was all. Rosa banksiae lutea blooms early in the season, so early its flowers form here before there’s enough water in the soil to support them.

I finally realized Lady Banks was never going to do well here. Or rather, it was never going to bloom here. The canes were doing even better.

Then came the bitter cold of February, 2011. Some branches greened as usual, but it never put out leaves. This time, when I cut a path to my door, I said to myself, this is the last time. Never again.

I cut everything, and finally saw the main trunk. The branches had always kept me at a distance.

That’s not going anywhere soon, but the columbine will cover it until it rots. Maybe, it will leave some organic matter in the soil.

Then I noticed it hadn’t just grown up the sides of the walk, but had come up through the bottom. There were branches I couldn’t cut because I’m not agile enough to prune lying on my back on an uneven surface.

The branch that looks so skinny from the bottom, isn’t so innocent on the other side. It’s too thick for my clippers and threatens to trip me.

So now the winds have returned. I’m watching my roses in the back drip line putting out the first nubs of red leaf buds and hoping I don’t see the stem color start to fade. However, if I see even a hint of green on Lady Banks, I will avenge.

1. Lady banks stump, 9 March 2012.

2. New growth, 1 May 2010.

3. Scattered flowers, 20 May 2007.

4. Canes, 21 July 2007.

5. Canes, 12 October 2008.

6. Limited flowers, 22 May 2009.

7. Canes, 12 July 2009.

8. Stump buried in a bed of golden spur columbine after it was cut, 20 August 2011.

9. Cane, 9 March 2012.

10. Other side of above cane, 9 March 2012.

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