Writing about hearts – and now roses – Heart Sisters

by Carolyn Thomas

Regular Heart Sisters blog readers may have recently noticed that the Sunday morning blog posts I’ve been publishing here since 2009 have slowed down.  Well, not just slowed. They’ve stopped. With spring in the air and my new balcony rose garden on my mind, I’m taking a summer break from writing about women’s hearts. Instead, I’m pulling on my gardening gloves and exploring my latest infatuation: is it possible to grow roses in pots out on a balcony?          

And like many writers, the urge to document my summer adventure has turned into a little blog. It’s called The Novice Rose Gardener.  For quite a while, I’ve felt the need to write about the things in life that bring me PURE JOY.  In the final paragraphs of my last published blog post here, for example, I hinted that I needed a wee break to do just that. Although I’ve been an avid gardener here on the west coast for decades, I’ve never been tempted to grow roses – however lovely the photo on the rose tag may be – mostly because of their nasty reputation: high maintenance, short blooming season, black spot, powdery mildew, aphids.  No thanks!

But – something wonderful happened last summer.        .    

Back then, my favourite son Ben and I were out on his back deck with the adorable Baby Zack one afternoon, chatting about his rooftop-high climbing white rose that was NOT what rose-growers call “well behaved”.  (Zack did not seem remotely interested in this topic, so promptly fell asleep on my lap). That white climber had a showy explosion of nice enough blooms in June (peak rose season), but after that, it was covered with brown fading blossoms and mildewy leaves for six months, ones that refused to fall gracefully to the soil like well-behaved roses do – yet were much too tall to tidy up with pruning shears. Ben picked up his phone to Google a possible replacement climber – and that’s when we discovered Russell Nursery’s pre-order rose catalogue.

From that detailed full-colour catalogue last summer, we learned about new kinds of roses.

These are newer roses that “pay their rent” – in other words, they are essentially care-free, disease/pest-resistant, no-spray, fragrant, repeat bloomers from early summer to frost – and (unlike the fussy roses my mother grew when I was a little girl on Pleasant Avenue) very well behaved.

Ben and I were both smitten!  For days, we discussed our best possible choices in the catalogue, starting with our rose wish lists. Then we pre-ordered a bunch of bare-root plants that would be ready for us to pick up from the nursery in March, and we waited for winter to pass.

March is now here! And we’ve just picked up our new bare root rosebushes! This is a new adventure for both of us. (We’re not expecting much help from Baby Zack at this time, as he’s already pretty busy crawling, napping, eating, pooping). Meanwhile, Ben and I are learning about roses as we go, and I’ve started slowly documenting and photographing our progress.

I suspect that other would-be rose gardeners like us may have also avoided roses because of the common problems that misbehaving roses have long been known for, and because they, like us, didn’t know about the countless kinds of newer roses that are not fussy at all.

One lesson I’ve already learned is that if you do own a misbehaving, disease-prone, aphid-covered rose bush that no longer brings you any joy, just dig it out. Replace it with something more suited to your wish list and to your surrounding environment.

Ben’s wish list, for example, included “must be fragrant” as a rose requirement. (If, by the way, you wonder why roses in flower shops rarely smell as good as roses should, you’ll like this explanation in The Demise of Scented Roses:  “Many commercial rose breeders have bred their rose varieties for appearance, durability or vase life rather than their smell. As a result, the scent of roses has become something of an afterthought and many rose varieties, especially those bred for the cut flower market, have lost their scent altogether.”)

Having a clearly defined wish list for a new rose garden helps to narrow down potential garden choices right off the bat. That filter also applies to any other plant ( or relationship!) that’s been limping along for years while clearly unhappy.

Especially during stressful times like these, gardens are a place of beauty, refuge and renewal, and should contain no sickly plants that suck the life right out of you every time you see them. Until now, I would have included roses in that description. But not anymore! A friend once decided to dig up some of her garden plants that weren’t growing well and move them to a tucked-away area of her garden that she called her “infirmary”  (a dappled-sun unused patch of soil around the side of her house). After a couple of summers, however, she was surprised to see that some of her most sickly plants there had actually perked up and flourished in their new home.

Meanwhile, please don’t worry, dear reader:  all 900+ Heart Sisters blog posts will still be available every day (just click The Topics on the right hand sidebar to narrow down the heart-related subject you’re interested in).

And I’ll likely be popping back to Heart Sisters once our rose-filled summer is over.

Just thinking about my newly planted balcony garden makes me feel so happy, and reminds me to s-l-o-w down – and smell the roses. . . ♥


Q:  If you’ve ever been a rose grower, what are some of your favourite roses?

JULY UPDATE:   They’re in bloom!!  All four of my new Drift roses out on my balcony (easy-care groundcover roses typically used by landscapers along highways) are finally in bloom this week – and all at the same time! It’s been an unseasonably cool damp spring/early summer here on the west coast (May for example had only seven days of sun!) so all gardens, including my balcony roses, seem far slower to bloom this year. But still thrillingly gorgeous!  Here’s what they look like so far:


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  Do you know a woman who has recently (surprise!) become a heart patient?  Consider gifting her a copy of my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ (which reads like the “Best Of Heart Sisters”  blog archives). You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).


                                                                              My balcony roses at sunrise

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