Come February & Aunt Hortense's Funeral GarbWednesday, January 25, 2012
|Aunt Hortense's (Margaret Murray) funeral garb is enlivened|
by Hyrangea aspera var. Villosa, a relative of the
Very few who may read this blog might know that for some years I wrote a garden column for Western Living Magazine or that I occasionally reviewed garden books for the Georgia Straight. I am going to place here one that is most relevant at this time of the year although there have been some significant changes in the gardening world of our city of Vancouver since I wrote this in August 1997.
If you go to garden clubs you will find that most there are old. There are few young faces. Vancouver used to have many nurseries with huge stocks of the latest plants. The nurseries are fewer and many nursery owners are unable to sell their property while the going is not all that bad, as it gets worse and worse.
Perhaps it’s because young couples are now buying and living in a condos. Perhaps it’s the idea of having a no maintenance garden. A nearby neighbour has installed a concrete garden in which the only maintenance needed is a yearly pressure washing to remove unsightly green moss.
Rosemary and I still have that garden bug so we are looking through catalogues in anticipation of spring.
Since I wrote that Straight book review we have at least 35 different hydrangeas and about 80 old and English Roses. I will add to the piece below scans of some English roses and hydrangeas plus the original picture of my friend Margaret Murray in my garden.
English Roses, Hydrangeas Awaken Gardener’s Lust
David Austin’s English Roses
By David Austin with photographs by Clay Perry.
Conran Octopus, 160pp $34.99
Hydrangeas: A Gardeners’ Guide
By Toni Lawson-Hill & Brian Rothera
Timber Press, 16pp $49.95
By Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Although Vancouver rosarians may not have funny handshakes, they do have their secrets. Members of the Vancouver Rose Society order their roses in July, have them delivered in the fall, and plant them in November. Come spring, roses and perennials planted the previous season will have successfully jumped the gun. Nurseries generally put their plant stock on sale in the waning days of summer – another reason to do as rosarians do. And buying plants now may just be what you want to do when you read David Austin’s English Roses and Hydrangeas: A Gardeners’ Guide.
Until recently, rose fandom was evenly divided between two camps. There were those who liked the sweetly scented, disease-resistant, but once-blooming old roses (many with the names of long-dead French women, more difficult to pronounce that botanical Latin) and those who preferred the repeat-flowering (remontant is the technical term) but higher-maintenance hybrid teas and floribundas – the moderns. Then in the 50s, English plantsman Austin started tinkering with old and modern roses in his Shropshire nursery to see if he could combine their most positive features.
|Rosa 'Fair Bianca'|
His first success, Rosa 'Constance Spry' ( Rosa ‘Belle Isis’ x Rosa ‘Dainty Maid’), in 1961was the beginning of a line of almost 100 beautifully shaped and wonderfully scented roses, named after Shakespearean characters (Sweet Juliet), English writers (Jane Austen), saints (St. Swithun), and horticulturalists (Gertrude Jekyll) or graced with such odd as Financial Times Centenary. You would think that this relatively new class of roses would have helped patch up the long-standing differences between those old-rose buffs who cite the ancient tradition of the Gallica roses grown by the Romans, and the modernists whose idea of a rose is a perfect, huge (sometimes scentless) hybrid tea. But despite the almost three decades of success of his roses, Austin is still perceived as the new kid on the block and his roses are considered, by some, those newfangled English ones with the funny names.
If roses are just plants you want to savour in other people’s gardens, Austin’s book offers and intimate history of the rose, with photographs so real you can imagine the blooms’ smell. Even those who garden and might want to try roses, this book offers plenty of practical, easy-to-understand advice from a master, including tips on that bête noire of the novice gardener, pruning. If after reading David Austin’s English Roses you absolutely must have Fair Bianca so as to smell the white licorice/lemon-scented blooms, and the local nurseries are out, try the Brentwood Bay Nursery, near Victoria. They stock most of the English Roses and will ship before November.
While I don’t need an excuse to place the exquisite Austin book on my coffee table, why would I spend $15 more for a book on hydrangeas? And why would the two men who built the National Hydrangea Collection in Windermere, Cumbria, choose to write it? After all, we know that hydrangeas, aka mopheads, aka hortensias, are boring. Or are they?
The problem is partly one of perception. There seems to be a collective consciusness associating mopheads with Hortense, everyone’s spinster great-aunt (when “spinster” was acceptable vocabulary and wearing black meant someone had died).
That’s a shame, because Lawson-Hall and Rothera enthusiastically explain that in the 13-species Hydrangea genus only two, arborescens and macrophylla, contain mopheads. Yet some macrophylla species, like Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’, are among the loveliest lace-caps around. Perhaps the real reason for the relative unpopularity of hydrangeas (only in Vancouver, as there is a growing interest in them worldwide, judging by the innumerable articles in recent garden magazines) is that plant snobbishness dictates that desirable “specimen” plants be hard to find, expensive, difficult to grow, and disease-prone. The very opposite would define most hydrangeas.
|Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ayesha'|
If you’re like me, after reading these books you will want to explore the rose garden and the hydrangea bed at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. You will smell the English Roses and look for the climbing Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris, the gigantic and primitive looking (the leaves are as raspy as a shark’s skin) Hydrangea aspera ssp. sargentiana. Perhaps you’ll also do what I did. I searched until I found the ultimat mophead, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’, and bouth her – after all, she looks pretty good. She’s next to my Hydrangea serratifolia, a rare climber from Chile and Argentina. She’s slow to get established and it may be five or six years before I see her yellow flowers. How’s that you plant snobs?