Two Years of Hummingbird Hill Part 2

When I began my flower islands in the meadow in front of our house, I didn't intend for them to be rose gardens. I just wanted some fragrant flowering rose shrubs mixed in with the other perennials and small trees. But I had heard of Griffith Buck roses and was anxious to see how they would do in Texas. Dr. Griffith Buck was a rose breeder who developed shrub roses in Iowa that would withstand the summer humidity and heat, as well as the freezing cold of the upper midwest. He was a professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University from 1952-1985. Dr. Buck was a man before his time. When he developed his landscape roses, Hybrid Tea roses were popular, and many people at that time were involved in flower competitions, so Dr. Buck's wonderful shrubs didn't get the attention that they deserved. Now people who are interested in sustainable horticulture want landscape roses that don't need a constant regimen of spraying, and Griffith Buck roses are being rediscovered as the fragrant hardy shrubs that they are, all after Dr. Buck died in 1991.

I also wanted shrub roses that had a big show, were fragrant, and didn't need to be sprayed for foliar diseases. I have been pleased as punch with my Griffith Buck roses as most of them have done beautifully, quickly growing into large shrubs in three years time, with huge flower displays in the spring that waft fragrance across the meadow. Some of them bloom sporadically through the summer, and most bloom again with a lovely fall flush of flowers. Roses will just not bloom prolifically throughout our hot Texas summers, and few other plants will either, although a few hardy roses will put forth a few blooms now and then. Even the ubiquitous Knockout roses put forth sporadic blooms when the day temperatures hover above 100 F. In my opinion, you might as well just consider our Texas summers as a dormant time, the way winters are up north.

Some of my Griffith Buck roses succumbed to blackspot badly enough that they stood around naked all summer in just stems and no leaves, although they flushed out again in the fall, with more blooms. I am not happy with this. I can live with some blackspot, as long as the plant grows back enough leaves to keep itself covered most of the time, but I'm not into a few beautiful flowers hanging upon naked ugly rose canes. Like a rose hybridizer once said, a rose should be a beautiful shrub that you hang beautiful roses upon. Well, the naked roses had to go, for there are plenty others out there who keep themselves covered better. After my success with Griffith Buck roses I decided to try out some heirloom roses.

Roses grown before 1867 are considered to be heirloom roses. These very old roses have been propagated for hundreds of years because people loved them. Time has a way of only keeping the best plants around, and weeding out the weaker, less hardy ones. I was able to collect a few wonderful roses, that, even though they got some blackspot, they never went naked for long, and the fragrance of most of them were out of this world! They were very hardy and handled the heat just fine. My flower islands were filling out with roses, but I didn't care because they were drought hardy, and I only had to deeply water the large established shrubs twice a month if it never rained. This was no different than growing a fruit orchard, and so I could live with that much watering. My rose babies grew into big girls, and in just three years time they put on a mature spring show. It was breathtaking! The drifts of flowers blew like at a wedding, and wafted heavenly fragrance across the meadow. I had visited England in May years ago, and when I saw their giant rose shrubs dripping with fragrant roses I came home so discouraged I told everyone that roses wouldn't grow like that in the US so I was giving up on growing roses.

Well, I had been growing the wrong roses. Now I was ecstatic to see my own roses dripping with flowers that I had only seen in pictures or paintings. I was hooked. Then two local rosarians showed up at my front door, Ray Ponton and Robert Stiba, asking to see Hummingbird Hill. Soon they were offering me roses of their own hybridizing to test here, as well as many other heirloom roses they had propagated from their own gardens. They belonged to the Bastrop Rose Society, and the Rose Rustler Club. Many of these rose loving members propagate roses from cuttings of roses found on old homesteads, cemeteries, and the like, to preserve wonderful heirloom roses in danger of being lost forever. Some could be researched to discover their names. This is important to rose hybridizers because roses have been carefully bred for so long that they have important pedigrees useful to rose breeders looking for certain traits in their ancestry.

My flower islands in the front meadow have become rose gardens with other native and adapted plants filling in around the shrubs. Most of my shrub roses are quite large, and I am lucky to have the room to let the girls stretch out to their full height. I don't prune my roses much except to cut out diseased or dead canes. I have too many, and besides they seem to be healthier that way without the stress of annual pruning. The flower production has been very prolific each spring without much pruning, so for now I am going to stick with this easy care way of growing roses. I try to ask how big they will get before I plant them so they will have plenty of room because I have discovered that if a shrub rose isn't pruned annually it can easily double it's size.

It has been fun to learn from my rosearian friends how to propagate my own roses from cuttings. It is illegal to propagate roses under a currant patent, but you are free to propagate as much as you want of the wonderful roses that have been around for twenty years or more. Come for a visit to Hummingbird Hill If you want to see my flower islands, and how well many shrub roses do in Central Texas. Roses don't have to be difficult to grow here. You just need to grow the right ones.