The Roses are here, the ground is ready. No longer is the Rose grower a navvy; he has become an artist.
With a complacent eye he surveys the bed. which is swollen like a boa constrictor after a heavy meal. With a sharp knife in hand he picks up the first Rose.
Reader, have you tasted the joy of that moment? If not, make haste to do so. If you read this in the autumn, pass on to the chapter giving selections, sit down, make out your list, post it, and then take up the book again to read what I am going to say about planting.
If you read it in the winter, do likewise, but give the nurseryman a little latitude about the varieties, because he may have sold out of some of them.
If you read it in the spring, visit the nursery if you can, and pick your plants from the best of those left. Allow a wider margin for substitutes if you post the order.
If you read it in summer, try and see the Roses that I shall presently chat about, either at a show, or in a garden, and so strike up a personal acquaintance, that will ripen into a warm friendship, or even a deep attachment, later on.
All these stages centre on one thing - that proud, exalted, glorious moment when you stand in the garden, tree and knife in fist, ready to trim and plant.
The hint given above as to substitutes tells of one reason why it is wise to order early. The Rose planting season is like the wait for refreshments of the limited mail - there are always a great many people tumbling over each other to be first served. When you read that a wait of twenty minutes is allowed for breakfast, you settle down comfortably. How often have you looked sleepily at a watch, got out of bed, tubbed, shaved, dressed, breakfasted, and caught a train in eighteen minutes! Of course, there is no hurry. But when the groaning express slows up, and everybody except yourself flies off and crowds the tables, and the rolls have run out by the time you saunter up, things look different.
The Rose planting season extends from October to April - say six months. Well, when one has half the whole year to plant one's Roses, why any unseemly haste ? Why not proceed with dignified deliberation - think about it in October, fill up the inkpot in November, look for a stamp in December, send for a catalogue in January, lose it in February, write and abuse the nurseryman for not sending it in March, and finally get the Roses in April? A comfortable, stage-coach, London-to-Brighton-in-fifteen-hours mode of progression, in short.
Alas! there is that hustling, hungry crowd of early birds to think about. If you do not allow for them, your chance is gone. Substituting saves the situation in a measure, but in my humble experience as a Rose buyer the sorts the nurseryman picks to take the place of those which he has sold out are invariably varieties which you have. If you have none at all, the substitutes are certain to be Roses you do not care about. I cannot explain this phenomenon; I can only state it.
For my own part, the particular substitutes which have poured down on me ever since I began to buy Roses are Marie Baumann and Madame Lambard. I have received enough of these to set up a nursery with them. I have been peppered with them, pelted with them, bombarded with them. I have written imploringly at the foot of an order: "If you can't supply anything, don't substitute with Marie Baumann or Madame Lambard," and the first variety which has appeared when the unpacking begins is always one of this pair. I love Marie Baumann, I love Madame Lambard. I have been constant to Marie Baumann ever since I saw her first, in the days before even my teens began. I have been faithful to Madame Lambard from the day that Lacharme sent her out - yes, more than twenty long years ago. But now - dare I confess it? - these sweet and lovely ladies grow superfluous. I am prepared to love single spies (so long as they are feminine), but not whole battalions.
Ordering early is therefore good, because it gives you a reasonable chance of getting what you want. Another advantage that might be claimed is that you get better plants. There is a. tradition that the nurseryman hunts over his quarters and picks out the very best plants for the earliest customers. I may make a modest claim to know a little about nurseries, having spent many happy years in them, but I have never seen this going on. However, if the dealer does not search about for the best trees for his early orders, he certainly passes over the worst. There are a few poor plants in every drift, which he does not mean to sell, but when the end of the season comes, and the rows are very thin, and the customer is very peremptory about having no substitutes, and the workman who is sent for the plant has his ear strained to meet the imminent melody of the dinner bell - then things happen.
The Roses have reached us, and reached us early. If the ground is ready for them, we trim and plant. If it is not, we "heel them in" until the bed is fit for their reception. All things considered, November planting is the best, but there is not much in it. I would rather plant in March in a properly prepared bed than in November in a poor one. Roses "heeled in" - that is, laid in a shallow trench, roots covered with soil, their tops clear, but convenient for covering in hard weather, are perfectly safe. It might be argued that if they cannot be planted early they may as well stay in the nursery, at somebody else's risk than yours, till spring. I used to look at it in that way myself until I had reached my hundred with Marie Baumann and Madame Lambard!
Late October or early November planting is very good, because (1) there is warmth left in the soil, and the trees are quite likely to make root before winter; (2) there is generally time to do the work thoroughly.
Whatever the period of planting, however good the quality of the trees, a little trimming is likely to be necessary. And that is why - man being naturally a cutthroat - the grower feels such a glow of delight when he finds himself with a bundle of Roses beside him and a sharp knife gripped tightly in his dexter paw. If there is a tap root going nearly straight down it had better be shortened, and any and every root that is torn, or broken, or jagged, or is in any way whatever an imperfect root, should be cut back.
It is not a case for indiscriminate hacking, but for intelligent curtailment. Unless a root is very strong and straggly, there is no necessity for cutting more than the injured part away; directly clean, healthy wood is come to the pruner should hold his hand.
If I might venture to just mention my own modus operandi in this matter of preparing Roses for planting, I should do so as follows: First of all, I talk (apparently aimlessly) at the breakfast table about the wonderful quality of the new trees, and the astonishing crop of flowers which they are likely to produce. This secures me the ardent sympathy of the presiding genius of the coffee-pot, and the pick of all the old gloves in the house. I select something pretty tough for my left hand, but have my right hand only lightly covered.
Taking up a Rose tree with my left hand, and gripping it firmly by the stem, I poise it, and run my eyes over root and branch as searchingly, as deliberately, as fondly as a connoisseur surveys his uplifted glass of wine. It is not a mere casual glance, remember. It is a soul-stirring, epoch-making survey. As the lover gazes on his inamorata when he discovers her in the conservatory with her last partner, so I gaze on my Rose - adoringly, jealously, appealingly, threateningly - love and menace and exquisite pain all commingled.
This examination tells me all I want to know about my Rose.
I have, so to say, got its balance. Seeing what it is, I also see if it is what I want it to be. A bit of dead root is seen here - it is snipped off; a broken piece shows there - it goes likewise. No clean, healthy, unbroken root is ever touched, unless, perchance, it is a roystering fellow, threatening to get away into the lower regions of the earth; then it is trimmed back.