Garden Notes: It was a great June for roses

Here are some varieties to look for next year.


Not sophisticated enough for the designed garden, the old-time combo of rambler roses, tawny daylilies, blue hydrangeas, and Japanese honeysuckle is a signature of Island July.

They hold their own, sweetly clashing without fancy irrigation and other fussing. While I appreciate the art and work of well-designed, sophisticated gardens, I also have fondness for these artless ones. They manage without the 21st century necessities of upscale Island Life. 

June closed out as a beautifully floriferous month, where flower gardens and trees and shrubs all burst forth into abundant growth. The growth being made is phenomenal, something I, as an observer and obviously not a scientist, attribute to the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Up to a point, all growing plants use it; it is “sequestered,” or stored, in the makeup of plants’ structures, and as the carbon we frequently read about in news and climate reports.

In a simplified version, if carbon dioxide is being overproduced, as long as there are plants in conditions capable of utilizing it, they will make amazing growth. And that is a good thing.

More roses for more gardens

In this particularly florid June, roses seemed to outdo themselves. To generalize, roses prefer full sun and an inch of rain or water per week, and yet, this is not possible for every garden or gardener in want of a rose.

It may not be a classic, high-centered, hybrid tea, or have heavenly fragrance, but there is now a rose for almost every garden and gardener’s skill level. So-called landscape roses, such as the ‘Oso Easy,’ ‘Meidiland’ and ‘Drift’ series, could almost be called groundcover roses; and the Wichuriana and old-fashioned rambler roses, mentioned above, can be used this way, or grown on fencing or trellis.

‘Knock Out’ roses are well known by now, having taken gardeners and garden centers by storm over the decades since their introduction; the series now includes a wide color range.

If the garden is shady — and all gardens become shadier over time — it is harder to grow roses without performance becoming disappointing or disease-prone. Even so, comprehensive guides to roses, of which there are a number of excellent ones, such as “Taylor’s Guide to Roses,” contain recommendations for shade tolerance.

One shade-tolerant rose that we have planted in four different gardens, four different situations, is ‘Zéphirine Drouhin,’ a fragrant, rich pink climber that is practically thornless. A heritage variety, said to be a Bourbon rose, it is one of the few roses that David Austin Roses sells that did not originate with their breeding program. This year it has been sumptuous, and is capable of good rebloom.

Roses demand lots of nutrition, side dressing regularly with organic, low-number soil food feeds the micro-organisms roses need to make the heavy growth and rebloom required of them. Black spot and rust can be a problem with many roses in our humid climate. Neem oil sprays and other control measures seem to work well. Limiting fungicides’ use in the soil environment is always wise.

When the first flush of bloom is past, there is petal drop to clean up as well as possible. While ‘Knock Out’ and other easy-care roses are proclaimed to need no grooming, deadheading any rose allows the gardener to collect the spent petals pre-emptively, before having to rake them off.

Roses are tasty, and many creatures like to dine on them, both insects and other arthropods and four-legged. Repellent sprays regularly applied work well, up to a point. A protected location or caging is unfortunately required if rabbits, deer, or household pets even, are a problem.

In the garden

Elsewhere in the garden, it is time to catch up with the turning of the season from late spring to summer. Pansies planted for spring bedding and containers will be unhappy in the heat, but can sometimes be brought along for an autumn renaissance by cutting back, fertilizing, and moving to a cooler or shadier location. Replace them with heat-loving annuals such as ‘Profusion’ zinnias, bedding dahlias, or pelargoniums.

Annuals and biennials that flush early in the season, such as foxglove, poppies (pictured), and feverfew, may be cut back or weeded out entirely. Look for their progeny to ensure next spring’s show. Early-blooming perennials, such as nepeta and salvia, if cut back now, will make a second and even third flush of bloom.

Staking and weeding continue. Unwanted self-sowers and weeds appear as if by magic. One such is sow-thistle, with a fluffy seed head like a dandelion, shooting up in an otherwise well-behaved bed. And crabgrass is eternal.

Early lilies, such as heavily fragrant L. regale, are in bloom, but depredations of voles, chipmunks, rats, mice, and other small creatures have deprived many gardens of lilies and other bulbs this year. I hope to have a feline solution by the end of the month. Be shrewd with bird feeders, composters, and trash storage.

Shade trees

Wildfires fueled by Western coniferous forests make us unusually fire-aware, although Island conditions are dissimilar, excepting pitch pine and scrub habitat. If I were ruler of things, I would require every new subdivision lot created to have a shade tree planted. Not spruce “Christmas trees” or arborvitae stockade plantings, whose volatile oils would burn like kindling (remember ‘naval stores’ from school days?), but real hardwood shade trees, whose canopies mitigate micro-climates and create dewfall.

Air we breathe

Summer’s weather and heat are here. For visitors and the uninformed, Massachusetts has an Idle Law, Mass General Law chapter 90 sec. 16A. It states vehicles cannot be idling more than five minutes unless being serviced, or being used to deliver or accept goods where engine-assisted power is necessary.

Many suffer from post-COVID issues and others related to breathing, such as chronic pulmonary obstruction. Let’s see chapter 90 sec. 16A enforced rigorously, for the benefit of all in the Island’s public outdoor spaces.

Tick check every night!