Followers of Sacramento-area gardening blogs may recall Bill "Sacramento Vegetable Gardening" Bird's latest garden travail: a tree rose that snapped in a windstorm. "Heartbreak on a stick" as he aptly described it. Which brings us to today's rant: tree roses suck.
A tree rose, usually about four feet tall, is comprised of three different roses: the rootstock, the stem and a budded or grafted hybrid tea, floribunda or miniature rose variety on the top. The end result: a top-heavy, blooming lollipop, that looks good in a formal garden.
On the plus side, the blooms are at eye level.
On the minus side: they will break in a windstorm or freeze back in a cold winter.
I know, we used to prominently display these heartbreakers. In 1990, we planted four John F. Kennedy tree roses, a beautiful white hybrid tea on a stick. These tree roses strategically encircled our first, formal rose garden, bordering a centrally placed birdbath. And, like Bill's tree roses, they were supported by tall stakes, one on either side of each plant, a few inches from the trunk.
The windy winter of '90-'91 uprooted two of the JFK's. By 1992, the remaining two JFK's resembled flowering Towers of Pisa, leaning precipitously to the northwest, the result of ferocious winter winds from the southeast.
So, those two were moved to a different part of the yard, adjacent to a wooden fence, in a neglected part of the property, where they have managed to survive, but not nicely.
Why did they make it there (sort of)? Protection from the wind. Over the years, they've become gnarled, ugly and not much of a memorable bloom.
Tree Roses Suck.
E-mail discussions of Mr. Bird's rose woes, an exchange that also included consulting rosarian Baldo Villegas, turned up some pertinent information about why Bill's tree rose snapped in two.
For one thing, he used the wrong stakes: thin, wooden ones (the nursery was out of metal stakes, is Bill's defense).
Baldo Villegas explains: "Rosarians usually use a piece of iron pipe or rebar that goes from at least a foot into the ground to just below the bud union. The entire length of the tree rose stem has to be staked and protected from breaking off. I usually put a piece of old water hose over the iron bar/pipe so it does not damage the bark of the rose stems. Also special attention has to be placed on the top of the tree rose below the bud union so that the end of the iron pipe/rebar does not damage the bud union. Again, rubber hoses are great for this situations."
Adding to his misfortune, Bill may have not been very picky in his nursery shopping and selected a rose that was weak to begin with. He says, "I had really babied this rose through the fall, winter and spring. It was in bad shape when I got it. Black spot and other diseases were on the leaves. But I watered, sprayed, fertilized and literally sang to that tree rose after I bought it. It had just received a third application of protection this past weekend. It was opening up beautifully."
To which I responded: "You have to learn to say 'no' when nursery shopping. Why buy something in bad shape to begin with? And couldn't you go to another store for the metal stakes? Sheesh."
Bill blames his wife, saying he was pressured into buying it. I don't buy that! Venus is a sweetheart, who would understand that a diseased rose, no matter its sentimental value, ain't living long like this.
Baldo doesn't buy it, either: "I avoid most tree roses as the trunk WILL NOT support the top growth!!! In my life, I think that I have had less than five tree roses. Four were given to me. I avoid tree roses like the plague. The trunks will not support Hybrid tea/Grandiflora roses. I might accept some Floribunda/Shrub roses but even then, I look at the size of the blooms and the cane habit and wonder if it is something that I have to have. But, I love miniature rose trees. I have three of them and they are great!"
And anytime Baldo uses three exclamation points, you have to believe him.
So, there's your answer: if you must have a bloom on a stick, choose miniature roses.
During a trip this week to Sacramento's Old City cemetery, this one rose caught my eye: the shrub rose, Lyda Rose.
Although not one of the historic old roses in the cemetery, this 1994 introduction is stunning, covered in single, white flowers with a light pink border.