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Urban Gardener: Summer Solstice Celebration

Saturday, June 21, 2014

 

When like a red wafer is pasted to the sky the sun reaches its zenith Urban Gardeners dance for joy. Our journey through the garden seasons never hesitates. We follow the molten sun in its long arc to bask in life giving sunshine. Cares and woes are far away and a yard or two from sidewalks and active streets. Peace finds residence as the Earth tilts towards the sun for the longest day. There is much beauty here and evident in every garden. Trowel in hand, gratitude and love pervade the plantings. We are at the turning point and enter yet another season for garden delights. Let’s party.

Every gardener wishes for that one perfect rose. Whether its fragrance, color, shape or form, there is a rose suitable for every urban gardener. No space? Transitory? Don’t worry, roses are inseparable from us and perform well for gardeners of every stripe. For we must plant our gardens for many reasons and chief among them is the universal expression of love: the rose. From community gardens to more spacious yards, thriving in big pots or as an anchor for a plot, the rose conquers common urban obstacles with aplomb. Look no more for the ultimate in versatile horticultural champions. You’ve found it and it’s the rose.

Roses are explicit in their requirements for success. They are simple ones; lots of sunshine, good drainage, and a bit of guidance and you’re already a winner. Do you wish to contribute to the rose’s endurance? Does your heart swell with gratitude and happiness as the red, white, yellow and pink joyous experiments greet the summer solstice? Ignore any thorny reputations of this most universal ancient plant. Archeology has confirmed roses were among King Tut’s treasures and if they will prevail four thousand years in a tomb they will resurrect in your garden in a season.

Roses thrive in neglect and will rejoice with love and tenderness. They readily accept top dressings of manure each fall. They develop thick canes whenever bone meal is worked into the soil around their roots. A taste of dolomite limestone is welcome in our acidic soils. Hay, seaweed, or lawn clippings tucked under their stems retain moisture. As the mulch transforms into compost during the summer, vital nutrients nourish the rose. I like to form collars of brown paper torn from old leaf bags and surround the bushes before adding layers of mulch. The collars last a growing season and keep weeding to a minimum. If you wish, simple 10-10-10 fertilizer applied each spring will encourage growth.

Rose varieties offer gardener’s endless choices. Rambling roses are classic plantings for arches, gateways and entrances. Exploit the space above the plant’s footprint by growing climbers high into the air and gently tied off to stakes or trellis. Let your imagination run wild here, roses have no opinion on style as they have so much of their own. Each gardener adds a personal signature to their gardens and no-where is this more apparent when caring for roses. Not for the faint of heart, this ultimate expression of the romantic calls for gloves and courage. Each rose variety offers a lovely bloom and links this gift with the occasional thorn. Experience soon teaches the young or old to handle roses with less hazard than first assumed. Once you’ve found a favorite, don’t hesitate. Find a spot where the plants are not disturbed by foot traffic or balls tossed over the fence. Not very fussy about water and happy with mediocre soils, the rose rewards again and again.

No summer solstice is complete without the natural fragrance often attempted but never surpassed by the perfume industry. Some roses are outstanding in color and form and may lack scent. I am enchanted by their fragrance and to compensate for roses that are more stylish than fragrant, plant rose scented geraniums among the roses. They share the same cultural requirements and do double duty with intense fragrance. Yes, to borrow a metaphor, urban gardeners can have their cake and eat it too.

Floribunda roses are famous for blooming throughout the summer. Even so, June is their favorite month. Finicky? A bit, however, the most hesitant rose will become staunch and robust in rich soils. Rose mosaic and black spot are best controlled when roses grow in the best soil. However if faced with despair, resort to one of the many but least toxic of commercial fungicides. Allow a role for insect predators and they’ll consume aphids. Groom your roses for the shapes you like best, always pruning out any dead or heavily infested branches. Dead head the spent blossoms for repeat blooms.

The solstice is time to harvest the spring plantings and consider succession plantings. I sow edible podded peas over several weeks early in spring. They do best clinging to a trellis which avails urban gardeners eager to squeeze as much harvest as possible from confined spaces. Each evening I fill a bowl with the pea pods and enjoy bringing them into the kitchen for delicious meals. Their root systems grow in synergy with nitrogen fixing bacteria and enrich the soil.

Soon, I’ll plant Kentucky Wonder and French horticultural beans among the roots of the peas. As the peas die off with hot weather the beans ascend through any leftover foliage. Beans love warm soil and quickly germinate. Their rapid growth is legendary and in 45 to 60 days you’ll harvest this garden favorite. Like the roses, beans are among the earliest of domesticated plants and it shows. There are endless types and many heirlooms. Grow string beans on trellises or tuck bush beans in odd spots or a patch. Many of us enjoy diversity and cultivate either bush or climbing beans as successive plants to spring patches of lettuce or spinach.

Although roses redefine the dramatic, a more humble harvest is under way. Grow strawberries. They are faithful persistent plants and nothing surpasses the pleasure of eating luscious strawberries from hand to mouth. This is our homage to the sun’s zenith and happiness. When the molten sun sets on the longest day, begin and end with a silent communion with the natural world. The joy of living is the theme and action is the key. Savor the sun warmed sweet strawberry and gaze at the lovely rose. Listen and you will understand the peace that passes all understanding. This is good, very good.  

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

 

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