This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Hybrid Perpetual Roses are cultivated in every garden in these Islands, but in too many cases with but indifferent success. Being universal favourites, and having a very large number of admirers, it is no wonder that all owners of gardens should endeavour to produce as many Roses as possible, even though circumstances may be unfavourable to even fair success. One reason of many failures, especially in cold, late, or northern districts, is the extremely severe weather experienced in winter; and in not a few cases the low temperature of summer, from which we have suffered much in late years, has largely contributed to the dying out of the plants, because of the immature condition of the shoots consequent on the want of a temperature high enough to properly ripen them. These evils have been, we believe, in a large percentage of cases, aggravated by heavy mulchings of manure in winter, the digging of this manure into the ground in spring, and the liberal application of manure-water in summer.
The application of manure does not get the attention which the subject demands. Writers on gardening subjects, practising perhaps where there is a moderate rainfall, and where the days of sunshine and dry warm winds prevail, often give advice which is thoroughly good for those who garden under like conditions, but which proves disastrous when followed to the letter in other districts where the rainfall is great, the temperature low, and the climate damp. This is especially so in the case of the Rose. Most of our best and most extensive Rose-growers, and almost all of those who have produced books on the subject, reside south, some of them far south, of the Tweed, and even the Humber. Nevertheless the teachings of men in the sunny south are followed on "the bleak Northumbrian coast" and far north in Scotland with evil results.
This is not only the case with Roses, but with almost everything else. From Apple and Pear trees down to Strawberries and Onions, manure is applied in quantities which cause growths which ripen badly, and are unfruitful in proportion to the over manuring.
Almost all writers advise the liberal use of manure, and a good depth of soil of as good a description as possible, in the preparing of beds for Roses. We need hardly say anything here about this, as we thoroughly agree with those who advocate the proper preparation of the soil intended for Roses. To plant Roses on poor, thin, gravelly, unenriched soil is, not to court, but to insure failure. If H.P. Roses cannot stand on well-prepared soil, better plant the commonest, hardiest kinds, for no satisfaction will be derived from them otherwise. But while going thus far, we are certain that heavy mulchings in winter, when dug in in spring, and after-applications of manure-waterings, are disastrous evils in late, cold districts, and are sometimes not altogether an unmixed good even in what are considered fairly good climates. It may be, indeed it is, quite different in favoured localities; but we live in a very cold, late one, and we wish to give our experiences in this matter, for we know that there are many similarly situated to ourselves whose Roses suffer from mistaken kindness.
Wishing to excel in the cultivation of Roses, we, on the formation of what may be called our Rose-garden here, procured and studied the works of the authorities on Rose-growing. We prepared our soil by trenching and liberal manuring, and after the Roses were planted, mulched them heavily. This course secured splendid growth, fine Roses, and much satisfaction. For a year or two this went on, - winter mulchings dug in in spring, and heavy manure-waterings, securing ever-increasing strength and luxuriance. But a day of reckoning soon came. We had walked in the light of orthodox Rose-growing, instead of adapting our practice to our climate, and we suffered to the extent to which we erred. Dull, cold summers came, followed by arctic winters, and death thinned our Rose-beds fearfully. Even those which were spared grew wofully weak, and gradually became "beautifully less." This happened in our regular Rose-beds. In a mixed border the Rose-trees bade defiance to the elements, and waxed stronger and produced finer flowers than did those of robust growth.
This set us thinking, and the consequence was that we resolved that henceforth no manure, either liquid or solid, would be applied; and to give the system a fair trial, we lifted the whole - they were sadly needing rearrangement - trenched the ground, and replanted the Roses very deeply, in order to make sure of their not being killed even if they were frozen down to the ground-line. The following winter, '78-'79, proved exceptionally severe, so that our "new departure" was put to a severe test - indeed every plant was frozen to the ground-line. We would not have been surprised at the usual number of deaths, considering the circumstances, but as a matter of fact we lost not one. Instead of digging in manure in spring, as usual, we trod the ground firmly - it is rather light - and merely cut off the dead wood, and hoed and raked the ground. Although the summer and the autumn were the coldest and wettest on record, the plants made and ripened a fair growth. The following winter again cut them down; but as before, they came up - this time strongly. Again the ground was merely firmed and dressed. The summer and autumn ('80) were favourable, and we had a magnificent growth, and the best display we ever had.
Last winter also proved killing, the thermometer being again and again below zero, and again every bush was cut down to below the ground-line. This year they are again first-class and the growth magnificent - too much so, in fact, for nearly every shoot needs staking to prevent its being broken by the wind, to which we are much exposed. Near by these Roses are similar beds not under our charge, treated in orthodox style, and any one can see that the treatment is too good for the climate. Notwithstanding heavy mulchings, many of these Roses are annually killed by the severity of the winter. A number of the survivors are seriously crippled by the "coddling" and the weather, so that their growth in spring and summer is far from equal to ours. The heavy mulchings, which are dug in in spring, and the manure-waterings, make the soil richer, and the consequence is a strong growth at a season when growth should not be making but maturing, and which is always killed because it is always immature. The natural result is death and disablement. Any one looking on these beds in spring would fail to see much difference; 'both are generally cut down, the one to the manure, the other to the ground-line. A month later the difference is obvious.
Ours are growing stoutly, the others are growing weakly on account of the little vitality left in them - some indeed are past growing at all. Why the difference? The reason why ours grow strongly is because the growth is made early and matured early, and therefore the root-stock is strong and mature, and able to again throw up sturdy growths to bloom early and mature early. The others hang long and make little growth; but the rich soil, aided by liquid manure, acts by-and-by, and strong shoots at length appear, but appear too late, for the winter finds them in midsummer condition - and the whole plant being in an immature state, suffers accordingly. Were the season to last a month or so longer, these might mature, and consequently stand the winter; as it is, they are the innocent victims of "orthodox" treatment. We cannot make the climate fit us; but we ought to make our practice fit it. Without liberal supplies of manure, southern growers could not produce the grand Roses they do. It does not follow that the same treatment in cold or northern localities will produce equal results - often the very reverse will follow.
Many are delighted when they see trees making great strong growths; but the practical men among us know that unless we get fine dry summer and autumn weather to mature that grand wood, evil results will follow instead of good, in the case of fruiting and flowering trees. Better by far have only moderate growth that the climate will perfect - we then may confidently look for good results. The lesson is to adapt ourselves to our circumstances, and not mourn because they won't adapt themselves to us. To give manure or to withhold it, to apply it sparingly or liberally, depends not altogether on the state of the soil, nor yet on the crop to be raised; but if we are to reap the fullest good, we must regard the climate also. It is the same in the matter of digging. A loose open soil which will allow roots to run freely and retain moisture in as great quantity as possible when aided by mulching, may be proper in one case and disastrous in another. With a dull sky, a heavy rainfall, a damp soil, and a low temperature, a firm soil which will retain a minimum amount of water, and discourage strong, pumping roots, tending to produce fibry ones which produce firmer growth - such is the practice which should obtain. We have spoken generally.
It is impossible to do more, for no two localities, soils, or situations are the same, consequently each one must cut a path for himself.