Dark Lady is in all her glory this year. In past years she grew weakly – mostly because she had to spend the first part of each season recovering from winter damage and the second part trying to build up steam.
A couple of years ago I took cuttings from my weak plant. Rather than being grafted, as was the original, the new plants would be growing on their own roots. Any new sprouts on my new plants would always be Dark Lady roses – never rootstock sprouts, which are worthless for flowers and occasionally grow and sap energy from the rest of the bush.
I planted my new Dark Ladies in a bed on the south side of my house. There, with the brick wall of the house adding a few extra degrees of warmth in winter and spring, Dark Lady might better survive winter’s coldest nights and get a jump on spring. What’s more, the roots had ample soil to explore rather than being restricted within the narrow, dry bed along my terrace where the mother plant had grown.
The three Dark Ladies in their new bed have grown up, and today their stems bow low with the weight of corpulent, dark-red blossoms. Although a relative newcomer among roses, coming from the skilled breeding hand of David Austin (www.davidaustinroses.com), Dark Lady has the blowsy look and fragrance of old-fashioned roses, coupled with the disease-resistance and repeat blooming of contemporary roses. Good work, David!
Pity the poor birds. All my fat juicy blueberries are starting to ripen, and now there’s a net between them and them.
Putting up the net always brings the words of fruit-breeder Dr. Elwyn Meader to mind. When I visited him 25 years ago, the old New Englander – still active in his retirement and growing about an acre of blueberries, among other crops – recounted in his slow New Hampshire accent, “It takes a patient man to net an acre of blueberries.” Covering my two plantings, encompassing a total of about a thousand square feet, always creates a little tension.
I now feel like a captain setting sail on an old sailing vessel, with all the sails trim and masts set – except rather than sails and masts, it’s a blueberry net that’s spread tightly over the permanent seven-foot-high perimeter of locust posts and sidewalls of anti-bird plastic mesh. That covers 16 bushes within a 25-foot-by-25-foot area. Rebar through holes near the tops of the locust posts keeps that sidewall mesh taut, and 18-inch-high chicken wire along the bottom keeps rabbits, which love to teethe on that plastic mesh, from doing so.
On my other planting of a row of six bushes, the net drapes over flexible Fiberglas poles that arch over the plants. Giant metal “staples” pin the net down at ground level to thwart my chickens and other birds that want to get at the berries.
Don’t worry: The birds will get their fill of berries elsewhere. I don’t net my lowbush blueberries, nor my lingonberries, mulberries and gumis. The birds also have free access to a blueberry lookalike, juneberries, the plants of which are sometimes called serviceberry, shadbush and, in the case of one species, saskatoon. The bushes are common in the wild and, because of their pretty flowers, fall color and neat form, also planted in landscapes.
Juneberries are related to apples and pears, not blueberries, and share some of their kin’s pest problems – especially in my garden. They’re one fruit that doesn’t usually grow well for me, although this year is a pretty good year for them, so that the birds and I can have a few berries.
Juneberries are small, blue and dead ringers for blueberries, but have a taste all their own: sweet with the richness of sweet cherries, along with a hint of almond. The birds seem to enjoy them as much as they do blueberries.
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try answering them directly or in this Alm@nac column.