Starting over in the rose garden

The challenges and rewards of starting a new rose garden after moving.

Courtesy of Lynn Hunt
What an appealing rose! Boasting more than 40 petals, Princess Alexandra of Kent is a disease-resistant, prolific bloomer with a delightful lemon tea fragrance.

Moving from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to the mountains of North Carolina has been a formidable learning experience.

For starters, I’m learning how to negotiate harrowing hairpin turns without flinching. I’m also learning how to treat chigger bites on my arms and legs by painting them with clear nail polish (even though experts say it’s a waste of time.)

And I’m learning how time-consuming and expensive it is to create a new garden virtually from scratch.

Of course, I had to leave my cottage garden behind on the Eastern Shore. I called it my “tidy mess,” as British garden author Christopher Lloyd would say, composed of a jumble of flowering perennials and more than 50 roses.

The new owners kindly offered to let me take a few of my favorites, but the timing was wrong for moving plants. So, in the end, I brought only my obelisk with me.

What works in the new landscape?

When we first bought the property in late 2009, we inherited a much smaller garden with two 60-foot-by-10-foot areas on either side of a porch. (The backyard slopes steeply down to a stream and is suitable only for native plants, ferns, and wildflowers, not roses.)

The existing garden consisted of some diseased evergreens, wild blackberry bushes, a few recognizable perennials, and a holly tree that was far too close to the house.

The only plants that looked happy were the daylilies and Shasta daisies, so we left them in place and tore out everything else.

I then added five David Austin English roses (Sir John Betjeman, Darcey Bussell, Princess Alexandra of Kent [see photo at top], Lady Emma Hamilton, and Young Lycidas) to get my new rose garden off the ground.

Fast-forward to May 2011

When we arrived on May 1 to begin our life here year-round, I was astonished to see how well the new roses were doing in comparison to ones I’d planted at the same time in Maryland.

Sir John and Young Lycidas were already three feet tall and covered with blooms. Darcey was sporting a candelabra with over 25 buds -- living proof that roses other than Knock Out can flourish on high.

We put in hydrangeas all along the house foundation, transplanted some daisies, added tree roses, and ordered a colorful variety of daylilies.

I found a 5-foot Climbing Cecile Brunner and a good-sized clematis at a local nursery. Planted alongside the obelisk, this mature combination has given the garden instant height.

Suddenly I could envision a real garden taking shape where not long ago there were only holes where offending plants had been removed.

The rewards of starting over

Anyone who has ever had to begin anew in the garden, whether due to a move or a natural disaster, understands the anxiety that accompanies the task.

There is the combination of excitement and dread that comes from not knowing whether the old garden magic can ever be recaptured.

Then again, you can easily avoid mistakes made in the past.

You simply hope a mixture of creativity and elbow grease will result in something special -- that the hard work and expense will be worth it in the end.

I do miss my old garden and recall it fondly. But it now appears that the best is yet to come.

PSSST: Before planting climbers be sure you have allowed space for their eventual growth. Cl. Cecile Brunner can reach 30 feet in height.


Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. She grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter.

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