Is this a bumper year for roses? And what’s eating my strawberries?

Tiffany Daneff / 23 June 2014

In the latest instalment of the Sheep Garden Blog, Tiffany Daneff, our gardening editor, revels in roses, and worries about what's sharing her strawberries.



Well at least something is going right.  My new roses, six ‘Gentle Hermione’ from www.davidaustinroses.com, which I planted bareroot in the borders at the beginning of the year, are now flowering. And they are everything I could have hoped for. What’s so good about them?


  • To inhale them is dreamy. I can’t exactly describe the scent and perhaps “banana” is not exactly it, but there is a wonderful downy softness to their aroma that I can’t quite pin down. Very alluring.
  • The leaves are an unblemished green that perfectly offsets the translucent pink flowers
  • You get more than one bang for your buck: there are at least four distinct phases of flower, each quite lovely in its own way.  So you have tight and tidy buds that gradually loosen into a pinky apricot goblet.  When the blooms expand you first get what seems like a rose rose but then suddenly it opens further to reveal a satellite of deeply furled petals.  
  • They are compact and neat and so far no signs of being overwhelmed by aphids

So good old Hermione, despite the name, you are definitely growing on me.


Meanwhile, we are recovering a couple of old roses that we inherited when we first moved here. One is a climbing red, that has produced a healthy crop of flowers this year after some severe pruning last winter. We have cut off all the suckers below the graft (any shoots below the graft are suckers that will not come true) and fed it with proprietary rose feed as well as mollycoddling with sheep manure. 


The flowers are bigger than last year but it is still suffering from black spot. I am glad to report that the stems are much happier since we tied them in more securely to horizontal wires. I made one mistake, which I am paying for, and that is not having tied the lowest stem down low enough, which would have encouraged more flowers (tying stems to the horizontal slows the sap and encourages flowering side shoots). But all in all there has been a great improvement over the year.  Once these flowers are spent it will get another feed and mulch.


As for the third rose, it still remains a mystery. It was barely more than a brown stick last year, and we almost gave it up for dead. Grass had grown up around the stem and there seemed little sign of life. More out of curiosity than anything else, we pruned it last winter, cutting away the dead wood and leaving barely more than 18 inches of growth. We trimmed the grass, cleared the ground around the base, added some top dressing, some chocolatey, well-rotted sheep manure and some rose feed and, every so often, would dust the ground with ashes from the wood burner. And now there are a few buds, one of which should flower next week.  Can’t say what it will look like but its orangey stained with red, so who knows?


Question is, is this turning out to be a great year for roses?  Do email web.editor@saga.co.uk, or leave a comment on this page, with news of how they are where you live.  


What’s got into the strawberries?


The second story of my week is sort of successful, and sort of not. Today, we picked our first strawberries. Two, to be precise. They were slightly watery tasting – all that recent rain and both had finger nail craters gouged by something that has been enjoying the fruits of our labours, uninvited.


The husband swears he can detect the marks of sharp little front teeth. He rang me at work yesterday with the news and sent me in a terrible spin. “I reckon it’s mice,” he declared thus inducing visions of incoming hordes. The fruit cage is perched on a hill slope, just a barbed wire fence away from a field through which might march armies of little brown mice. And I can’t even put the cat out. With the swallow fledglings just taking to the wing this week Runty is locked indoors at night, much against her will.  


Much to my relief, an examination this morning revealed what looked me like the tell-tale concavity of slurping slugs. And this despite a scattering of bird-friendly slug pellets


The only answer was to put in a call to Mark Diacono, of Otter Farm, in Devon, from whom we got most of our fruits.  


“Birds?” Suggested Mark. Nope. They can’t get inside the fruit cage.


“Then it’ll be slugs.”


Hmm. I am sorely tempted to use some stronger pellets. It’s not for feeding slugs that I have weeded and weeded and sprayed and weeded and mulched and weeded and mulched.


There was a time when I might have rejoiced at being right and the husband being wrong. Now all I want is unnibbled fruit.


Tiffany Daneff is also the editor of the award-winning intoGardens app - the world's first magazine app for gardens. Visit the appstore to download a free sample or go to the website for more information. Gardening has never looked better or been more exciting. Visit www.into-gardens.com for more info. 

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