The war of the roses

Sunday mornings in my neighborhood are nice and quiet. We have two major types here: the folks who don’t get up until noon on Sunday and the folks who aren’t back from church until noon. And then there’s me, up at dawn, mind reeling with To Do lists.

This Sunday morning I sneaked out of the house after breakfast and a couple of rushed cups of coffee, armed with a shovel and my pruners.

I was going to dig up every rose in the yard and I wanted to do it before any of my neighbors could protest.

Lemme ‘splain. Every rose I had (note the past tense) in my yard was troublesome in some way or another. The one that spontaneously generated in the front bed behind the “Unique” rhododendron put out three spindly canes a year, which usually died in August or September without putting out a single flower. At the other end of the same bed was a prostrate climber with nothing to climb. It, too, was a poor grower and I don’t think it ever flowered. In the foundation planting, beside the front porch, was a scraggly climber that grew back from the rootstock of a tea rose that was snapped in a windstorm in 2007. It seemed most susceptible to the local blight of black rose spot, which seemed to make it a poor choice for rootstock.

And then there was Audrey and The Monster. On the sunniest side of the house there were two rose bushes that bloomed prolifically: vase-ready bunches of fist-sized or bigger classic roses in bubblegum pink. So, yay, right? Nope. Every winter I cut these bastards down to nubbins and every spring they threw up canes that reached well over the roof and tangled in the neighbor’s trees. When there was wind their thorns raked paint off the siding and tore holes in the window screens. Their roots pushed up and exposed the the drainage pipe that leads the runoff from the gutters down to the street. They were undaunted by bad cases of black spot and seemed determined to throw around as many diseased leaves as possible to infect the other Rosa family members in the yard (including the apples, which are only just getting established). About the time they started to bloom the black spot would start taking their leaves and they would shed deep drifts that, no matter if I raked the beds daily, would smother any newly transplanted perennials at their feet.

Audrey, the smaller of the two, went down without much fight. I snipped her down to nothing and yanked her out of the ground without even digging a hole. The Monster took hours to untangle from the field wire arbor it had collapsed and filled three heaping wheelbarrows with cane trimmings. When I stuck the shovel in the ground to pop the rootwad out the handle snapped neatly in two. Matt said it was a sign. I agreed: a sign that I was smart to have two shovels.

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The root was oval-shaped and this is the narrower end so you don’t get a real sense of the true diameter of the thing, but still: there’s my perfectly normal-sized lady hand reaching only about 1/3 of the way around the one root of The Monster.

I dug a hole big enough to plant a small fruit tree and saw no end to The Monster’s roots. A single root, as thick as one of Matt’s prodigious biceps, snaked under the drainage pipe and disappeared under the house. I didn’t want to disturb the foundation or the pipe so I dug just a little deeper and sawed through the root.

I don’t hate roses. I just hated the ones I had. I would like to plant replacements, but I would like some well-behaved, predictable, disease-resistant varieties. Preferably something I can prune without a ladder and which actually blooms now and then. I particularly like the sumptuous, overly romantic, uber-frilly old English types; “Abraham Darby” and whatnot. Go big or go home, right?

— Amanda

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