My rose prunes gardeners

We have a sporadic trail of them arriving at the front door. If we are out, they put their card through. If we are in, they have their spiel ready. Either way, the message is much the same, and somewhat pointed. If spoken, it is often prefaced by an overdramatic ocular survey of our front garden. This is followed by a noticeable intake of breath. Then the speech begins.

Basically, they have designs on our peduncles.

Not that they use this botanical word. It may, in fact, not be a prominent part of their vocabulary. Their vocabulary consists of words like cut, lop, tidy, mow, prune, tree surgeon, garden designer, shears, clippers, chain saw, ax, machete, and such longer phrases as "could bring your wilderness under control" and "not too late yet."

If they feel that stronger persuasion is called for (i.e. when we don't immediately fall on our knees, begging for help and writing out a check), they can become quite epithetical and indulge in words like wild, needed, overdue, desperate, and unbelievable. They can even, in extremes, resort to exclamations like "Wooo!" or "Phew!"

I let them finish, mostly. Then I politely tell them I am happy with the garden the way it is. And anyway, with the occasional exception of our two multistory hedges and the ivy when it begins to invade the highest gutters, I do all the gardening around here myself, thanks all the same. (Set them loose in my garden, and where would the peduncles be?)

The majority then depart gracefully, leaving their card "just in case you do need our help sometime." The most recent young man, however, wasn't so easily deterred. He was evidently unconvinced. "Is that your hedge?" (incredulity in his voice). "I could trim that hedge for £45." Then he spied a conifer. "That conifer is far too tall. Needs its top off."

That decided me. I could see my natural style of gardening had fooled him. He thought it was chaos. To him that spelled opportunity. It was a difference of philosophy, perhaps. I like a garden in which most things fulfill their potential. Where things are allowed to grow the way they choose. Where they attain their own shape, come into flower, and seed.

In my book, if that particular conifer were "topped," its natural shape would be permanently ruined. It would never grow back. It would just look like a beheaded conifer. Besides, I think this particular evergreen tree is an avian haven. Heaven knows how many pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, and others clandestinely hatch their clutches in its dense inner reaches, or roost in it at night, safe from all predators. On behalf of birds, general and particular, I declined his offer.

And he, in turn, at last decided I was a lost cause.

But these hopeful entrepreneurs always overlook the one plant (though "plant" is not quite an adequate word) on which, at the right time each year (after flowering), I probably would happily let them practice their chopping technique.

This oversight is even more strange when you consider that as these visitors stand persuasively on our doorstep, the plant is inches from them. It may even have clawed at them like a cat as they approached the door. It isn't easy to miss. And it really does have to be radically chopped back each year or it will take over the known universe. It has taken over this wall of the house, as it is. It grows with rampant disregard for any form of ordinary decency.

But pruning it is not an easy job. I know no plant with such lethally hooked thorns. It attaches itself to you, your clothing, your ladder, and your clippers. Every thick-wood branch you successfully fell is immediately entangled and refuses to fall to the ground.

My "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Roses" has this to say (among other things) about Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate': "... not a rose for the faint-hearted.... This rose will reach 35 feet in height. Indulged to its fullest it may equal the original rose growing to around 50 feet."

Oddly, I did not first come across this remarkable creature when, years ago, I visited a garden in Gloucestershire called Kiftsgate Court. I met a lot of other vigorous plants that moist summer afternoon.

To say they were all flourishing is an understatement, and I well remember how this breathtaking jungle of horticulture was dripping with warm wetness. The rose that bears this garden's name (the specific variety of the native Chinese species was first grown here) is well-suited to the scale and fullness of that place.

The encyclopedia again: "This rose ... [at Kiftsgate] is now quite enormous having climbed up through a large copper beech and also worked its way through a large part of the formal rose garden."

Formal, it is not. How could I have missed it? If it had been in flower, I couldn't have. But its flowering season is not very long, and once it is over, before the hips ripen red, it is not an eye-catcher.

The first time I noticed it was in the garden of a friend's parents. It was in amazing contrast to the truly extraordinary tidiness of this garden. But it was given full rein in the woodland on the far side of the billiard-table of a lawn, and climbed like a vertical stampede up into a lofty silver birch. In full flower, it was a sight to see.

The flowers are creamy white with yellow centers. They are individually as small as any rose flowers I've seen. But they are spectacular because, as the encyclopedia puts it, there are so many of them that they look like "a mountain of snow in summer." It goes on: "The individual flowers are borne on very long slender peduncles in huge cascading sprays."

Ah, maybe the peripatetic trimming folk know a thing or two after all. Maybe they do know peduncles when they see them. Maybe they know that where there are peduncles (slender stems for single flowers), there may also be ferocious thorns. Maybe.

All I know is they never offer to trim my Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate.'

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