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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Entries in black earth (1)

Saturday
Oct012011

It Was Compost That Made It Grow So Tall.

The two plants above that appear to be talking to each other were photographed at the end of September. On the right is Vernonia, in its final days of glory, while on the left is Rose Morden Centennial, or at least, that is what I think it is. Soon after planting, fifteen years ago, the rose bush got lost among the shrubbery, now lifted and gone.  By the time I rediscovered this plant, its identity had been wiped from memory. My only clue is a plant tag with a faded picture resembling the flower, affixed years ago to the Rose page in my scrap book of garden tags.

Morden Centennial was planted against a north fence, which gave it a southern exposure. With sun all day long, no fertilizer or food of any kind, and little irrigation, it thrived in spite of neglect. The water from the aboveground sprinkler hardly reached it; its thirst was satisfied only by the occasional rain. To those growing conditions, add a soil hard packed with clay and we have a recipe for an abused rose.

Not surprisingly, it produced few blooms, grew slowly into its promised height of three feet, and never re-bloomed as it was supposed to do. In its favor, I am delighted to report that rose blossoms that do flower, appear sublime in a shade of day-glo fuchsia pink, that is difficult to capture with a tiny digital camera. In reality, the color is so intense that it zings towards the viewer from a distance of over 40 feet.

My rose bush is situated in a flowerbed with soil that has always been hard to maintain. Weeds grew prolifically and perennials did not. Trying to remove the unwelcome vegetation was frustrating while planting new perennials was disappointing. Eventually, it was necessary to improve the soil - a three-stage process. At the end of June, I began the amendment by spreading a thick layer of marine compost over the arid clay, followed by a thick layer of black earth, a soil rich in organic matter. Finally, I covered this lasagna with a layer of cedar mulch. To this recipe, nature contributed copious amounts of rainfall and, by the end of August, it was apparent that amending the soil was beginning to show positive results; something was stirring. Never before had I seen such substantial growth on this rose bush. Last week, it flowered, although sparsely, for the second time this season, on stems double its historic height. My demure rose bush grew to 6 feet tall for the very time in 15 years.

What is interesting about the technical specs for this plant is that, depending on who is marketing the rose, each nursery promises growth of a different height. Some say 3 feet, others 4 or 5, and still others promise 6 feet. Another attribute is that it is supposed to bloom continuously all season. In 15 years, that has never happened. However, I am happy to report that the flowers in the image above are from the never-before-seen second crop of September.

Some gardeners must be wondering how a rose bush could grow so upright and stately. Because it faces south, it actually bends towards the moving sun. The new growth of August and September stretched horizontally across the flowerbed. In order to determine its actual height, I staked the plant. That is how I was able to measure it. What the viewer sees is a propped up rose, but what a magnificent one it is -  even if my camera isn't versatile enough to confirm it.