Answering gardening questions on the radio has been one of the most nerve racking things I have ever done. The questions come flying in, you don’t know what is coming next, one moment you’re talking about house plants and the next you’re on the allotment. As I’ve said, nerve racking! But on the other side it’s good for me too, it keeps me on my toes and learning more about a subject I love, gardening.
One of the things I like to do, when I get a chance, is to visit some of the listeners gardens. I am learning a lot from seeing how other people get around their gardening problems. At work if I want to propagate a 1000 plants, I twist a couple of dials and flick a switch and technology does most of the work for me. At home people must be more hands on, propagation is done on a windowsill, conservatory or even the bathroom. People put cuttings and seeds in home made propagators made from empty pop bottles or a polythene bag, where the gardener has to check daily, sometimes four or five times in a day, to make sure the seed or cutting is germinating properly. Who has the greater growing skill?
One visit brought me to a shady built up area in St Agnes, where we have shallow and infertile soil. Now my advice on seeing this site would be, whatever you do don’t grow roses, but hey, what do I know, this area has been turned into a very impressive rose garden, a garden you can smell before you view.
If you ever go to St Agnes it is a must visit. To find it you only need to ask a local to show where George’s Rose Garden is and they will give you directions.
George is quite a remarkable chap, he is a gentleman in his eighties, who has a keen interest in gardening. He will tell you in conversation, he doesn’t know all that much about his roses but his rose garden is twenty-four years old, so with over twenty years’ experience the man has substantial knowledge. Just a few minutes talking to him or his team of helpers will give anybody a further interest in roses.
A retired miner from Wheal Jane, George now lives in the complex where the Rose Garden is planted. When he unfortunately lost his wife in 1993, he wanted to plant some roses in her memory. Well George, looking down she must be truly thrilled with what you have achieved.
From George planting a few roses in memory of his wife the area soon snowballed into, what is now a garden with over 200 roses. Once he planted his roses and people heard of his story, they asked George if they could plant memorial roses for their loved ones also. George was given permission by the land owners and he got to planning and planting a rose garden. After all being an ex-miner, the boy knew how to dig!
As I mentioned earlier, the ground is shallow so considerable work was needed to improve the soil. Roses are very hungry plants, if they were human they would eat a three-course meal and then go to the cupboard for a Mars bar (I might have some rose in me!). So, to keep up with their demands you need to have a good soil structure. Organic matter needs to be added and in the St Agnes case, well-rotted manure improved the soil no end helping it hold moisture and nutrition. So basically, George and his friends needed to make new, deeper soil.
After a quick look around his garden, we sat on a bench to have a chat. Sitting there for about twenty minutes, you could really soak up the peaceful atmosphere as we heard the insects buzzing around and listened to the sound of birds singing in the trees. The garden was obviously attracting visitors because as we rested there, we saw several visitors walk through, taking photos as they passed the garden.
The garden has grown and George is not short of helpers, this means the plants are in safe hands for many years to come. Even the local Parrish Council has provided a little funding to help things along. Local businesses also have donated money. In fact, there has been such praise and recognition of Georges efforts that now there are plans to increase the planting in other areas around the complex. George has been given permission to change some unused grass areas into Rose beds and in the next couple of years (sooner knowing George), it is hoped that he will have 1000 roses, wow!
George has lost both his wife and daughter to cancer. How I would manage this type of heartbreak, I couldn’t begin to imagine. But George, has not sat back in his grief, he has done something, that has not just helped him occupy his mind, but has brought great pleasure to many people in St Agnes and those who visit.
The rose garden is inspirational, an example of what the community can achieve, to enrich and improve their local area.
George, thank you for your time, meeting with me, you’re a busy man.
As I’ve said George has a lovely garden in a difficult area to grow, so what does he do to keep things looking as good as they do?
OK, so the soil was rubbish. George and his helpers improved it, by adding top soil and plenty of organic matter. This I believe was left to settle for a while.
They then started planting. This is best done later in the year, it is in fact easy and cheap to buy roses in the bare root form in November, however George has found over the years he has less fails, when he buys potted plants. A little more expensive but little better chance of survival.
All his plants are mulched in the winter months. This helps to protect the roots and as it breaks down, adds nutrients to the soil. When mulching around roses it is important to remove any debris from the ground around the bottom of the plant before. Lots of pest, disease and fungal problems can overwinter on the ground and under the mulch, only to work its way up the plant causing all sorts of problems the next growing season.
Pruning is done through the winter. A light prune in November to help stop the rose catching the wind and rocking around and then before March a prune according to type. Always with roses prune to an outward facing bud and work at letting light and air into the plant.
When spring arrives, so does the maintenance work. George’s team spray with a spray specific for roses. This is done regularly through the growing months, every two to three weeks. It is done early in the morning, when there are no visitors and before the full sun hits any of the leaves helping to protect them from getting scorched.
Roses, as I have said are very hungry plants, needing lots of feed. For this George uses a feed specific for roses. A granular feed is put down regularly, to break down and feed these ever-ravenous plants.
George takes cuttings for charity days. Unlike most people he takes softwood cuttings during the summer months. 50/ 50 peat and sand is used as a medium, put into pots, watered, kept moist and left outside. This is not necessarily completely what the books say, but it works for George.
Finally, he could not stress to me more the importance of dead heading. Dead heading any flower saves the plants energy and with the seeding stopped the plant has not gone through its full cycle to reproduce. So dead heading will make it flower again.
Roses have always been one of those plants that I have not fully understood the fuss about. But George and others have converted me. They are quite a labour intensive plant in the garden, but look after them and they’ll reward you well.