Sandy's Garden ... The Hidden Benefits of Neglect

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I found this definition of 'floribunda' yesterday:- floribunda in British English (flɔːrɪˈbʌndə) NOUN - ‘any of several varieties of cultivated hybrid tea roses whose flowers grow in large sprays’ - Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers.

Yes, I certainly am not going to argue with that. But let me explain; some years ago, dinner guests presented us with a rose bush. We had once grown roses, when we were first married and had a largish garden and next-to-no money to spare for plants.

Cheap plants … I suppose we might call them ‘inexpensive plants’ or ‘bargain plants’ nowadays … were the order of the day and Woolworths (who still remembers Woolies?) offered a reasonable choice of shrubs at 2/11 each … that’s two shillings and eleven pence for the under-55s, or a little less than 15p in today’s coinage … although even that was at the very top of the range of affordability.

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Then friends told us of a small nursery near Kirkliston where healthy rose bushes were quite a bit cheaper than that if the customer bought at least a dozen … that’s twelve, for the younger generations. Garden to fill, cheap rose bushes, that’s a marriage made in heaven. And in that manner we became rose growers.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy SimpsonFalkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson
Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

That was when we started to become aware that roses and an easily-maintained rose garden are not natural bedfellows. Beginning with the fungal diseases, we have black spot, powdery mildew, rose rust, grey mould, sooty mould and cankers for starters; there are plenty of others.

Then there are the viruses like rose mosaic, rose wilt and rose rosette disease amongst others. And don’t forget the pests, such as greenfly, spider-mites, red spider mite, thrips, rose sawflies, caterpillars and eelworms – the list is a long one.

And dealing with the diseases and the pests is only a part of the story. Pruning roses is a science in itself, worthy of an entire library of learned tomes. Woe betide the gardener who cuts a rose stem in the wrong place! In the five years which passed before we moved house ... and garden … we acquired a shedful of rose medicines and a shelf-ful of rose books as we learned that our cheap roses were rather expensive to maintain and not very successful despite our best endeavours.

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So, when we moved, we left all these roses behind us with nary a sign of regret and set off on a new life of rose-free gardening; and in the last nigh on fifty years we have kept that promise to ourselves, for there are only two rose bushes in our present garden, both gifts from well-meaning friends and both planted … don’t tell our friends … in inconspicuous locations where our neglect of them remains largely unseen, even by us.

But yesterday, during a tour of lesser-visited parts of our environs, I chanced on one of these rose bushes. Its variety is long forgotten, its label long lost, but one thing is abundantly clear; it’s a floribunda rose, for I counted more than one hundred individual flower-heads in large clusters on this single bush! And very attractive flowers they are, tight and decorative, with delicately shaded petals blending several shades of pink into a complex blur of pastel colours.

They are flowers to make you stop and stare and then to bend closer to admire. And when you bend closer, you become aware that the plants … flowers, leaves and stems … seem to be not only totally free of any of the disfiguring diseases whose illustrations in rose-growing handbooks are enough to put you off your sleep but also entirely lacking any of the myriad pests which appear in nightmares when you do drop off from sheer exhaustion.

“More houseplants are damaged by excessive care than by neglect,” Tom Mitchell of Polmont Horticultural Society used to say. That also seems to apply to roses in our garden!

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