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Roger Barbee: The effort that goes into a garden is well worth it

By Roger Barbee

The past winter, as gardeners know, was a brutal one for plants. Our winter-killed butterfly bush is just now showing good growth from its root ball, and Mary Ann and I await its first blooms of rich purple.

The winter also killed one of the Lyda roses and severely damaged another, but with some careful pruning it is coming into its second bloom. Along with the mermaid rose, which did fine in the cold, the Lyda roses were my first attempt at growing roses some 10 years ago, and I was sorry to see the one killed. Over the years of watering, pruning, and mulching, I had come to not only appreciate their soft pink and fragrant open-faced flowers, but also to see the roses as a sort of a benchmark for my gardening skills. However, a month ago we called the company in Oregon and ordered two more Lyda roses. This week the box holding the two young plants arrived.

Several years ago a neighbor was helping me plant two Colorado redbuds. As we finished the holes and were setting the trees, he remarked, "Well, these are something else to mow around." I reminded him of their beauty as they would mark the early spring with bright blooms, but all he could see was two obstacles while mowing the yard, and he is, like all of us, entitled to see things as he wishes, but his choice is not mine. Yes, trees, gardens, flower beds, even stumps slow the mowing process, but each "obstacle" gives to Red Hill. For instance, the pileated woodpeckers enjoy the stumps left from the Chinese elms cut down eight years ago, and the wonder of those birds is worth more than an inconvenience while mowing.

It was this long-ago conversation that I was reminded of as I removed the two roses from the shipping box and placed them on a shop workbench before getting tools I would need from the corn crib. Because our land at Red Hill can be rock-filled, I would need the digging iron and my well-worn, small shovel. Both tools I purchased years ago at an auction, and over the years of scratching and digging and planting, I have come to rely not only on their heft, but also their feel as they do the work I need done. You can trust an old tool. Unlike the cheap, modern ones, an old tool has style and substance. The small shovel's wooden handle is well marked by years of sweaty hands, and its blade is worn like the teeth of some elderly person. The digging bar, too, has its own character. It is long, heavy, and slightly crooked in the middle as if to prove that it was hand made on some home forge. It is not some perfectly, mass-produced project of a foreign factory. Ready to expand the old bed of the Lyda roses, I went to the tools I trust.

The one surviving Lyda rose is in the one end of a bed which is hour-glass shaped. Since I had ordered two roses, I needed to not only expand the size of the bed, but remove the dead rose's stump. Setting to with the digging bar and shovel, I made good progress against the stump and its tangle of roots. Taking a short break after that labor, I surveyed my options for expanding the bed while following directions for planting the roses. I decided to make the bed more circular than before and began removing grass with my trusty shovel, all the while noting how the grass was rich and deep rooted. Why, I wondered, did not a flower bed ever get placed where the grass is spotty or thin?

With the removed grass piled in one area for later dumping, I began to dig the earth of the new bed to a depth of 18-24 inches. Soon, the expanded bed was full of soft, newly turned soil. Mary Ann retrieved the two roses from the workshop, and I dug two deep holes. She mixed mulch and soil, and we planted each rose as instructed. As she went to get more mulch to cover the new bed, I leveled out all the soil, removing any stones. A good soaking was followed by stringing off of the bed in hopes the dogs would recognize our labor.

All of this took place days ago and it is well. The plants are soaked every other day, the dogs respect our work, and the gnarled, old Lyda rose that I planted 10 years ago reigns over the new bed. As Mary Ann and I admired our work over coffee the next morning, I remarked that, if we are fortunate, another 10 years will pass for us to admire and enjoy the Lyda roses. And, yes, I will gladly mow around them while admiring their beauty.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.


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