Clay and Roses

In a June 9, 2012 Toronto Star article titled “Tips for surviving in the clay belt” an experienced gardener warns that residents of the GTA have only clay soil in which to garden, but consoles these poor clay bound gardeners by telling of the rather lengthy array of plants that will grow in clay soil. But there is a flower he forgets to mention that appears to thrive in clay, and that flower is the rose. For according to everything I recall reading about growing roses, roses like clay; in the words of Pickering Nurseries in their online instructions for “rose care” we are told:

Type of soil

Roses like clay soil, although they may be grown successfully in a variety of soils, as long as a good amount of organic matter is worked in. Very heavy soils are best improved by replacing at least half with sandy loam or sharp sand; also gypsum and/or perlite may be added.

Now when I bought my house I did not know I had clay soil, so I started planting and to please my wife I started planting roses. My first plant was a tiny Bonica on sale at White Rose that is no more. I remember it had little buds on it that the lady in the cashier line next to me remarked on “oh it has little buds”. Today 15 years later that Bonica rose is blooming almost savagely through entangling vines and above noisette and tea roses. I forgot its heritage: I know it’s not a tea rose, and believe it to be a shrub, like my Champlain, John Cabot, and Theresa Bugnet that will grow almost any place I push one of its branches into the clay. Out front I have a hedge of 3 vicious Grudenhorst shrubs planted in gravel and clay beside the front pavement, vicious because they are full of thorns for the unsuspecting pruner whom it defies by growing where it pleases spreading flowers inside and outside its branches, and eventually blocking the walk with masses of flowers and thorns.

And I’ve not mentioned the little white ground cover full of roses and reaching over the south side of my drive way, nor have I mentioned the Teas such as Golden Fairy Tale, with Sue Hipkin, and Royal William, seeming to grow more florid with the years. Then there’s the magnificent old roses Persian Yellow, and Albertine, Austine’s magnificently unique Compe de Champagne, shade surviving Bishop Darlington, Penelope, and Buff Beauty, and a beautifully flowered climber whose name I don’t recall. And all are thriving in this stiff sometimes cement-like clay which a fence post digger once insisted on giving me a five liter container gift of that sits unsculpted in my garage.

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