The Cottage Gardener 11: 22-24
(Oct 13, 1853)
EVER since I described the extraordinary specimens of Pillar Roses at Bank Grove, near Kingston, and learned myself, from the living facts before me, how Pillar Roses ought to be begun, carried on, and finished to perfection, I felt both the necessity of spreading a knowledge of the whole process among amateurs, and that I should be called on to do so when the time of planting and pruning came round; so that I have been repeating or rehearsing to myself, for the lest two or three months, the substance of this communication, but without anticipating the rise of the curtain so early in the season; and if I am too early, the first glance from behind the curtain must be my only apology and excuse, and that glance revealed a stag's head with "branching horns," and this motto all round, Labor omnia vincit, which, in the instance before us, means that diligence will overcome all difficulties about Pillar Roses and other things. Under this motto are three initial letters, and the person they represent begins by saying, "I have a Pillar Rose, Blairii, No. 2. It is eight feet high. Last year it was covered with bloom. This year it bloomed only at the top. This Rose is now (Sept. 28) almost leafless; the long branches are thin and scraggy; there is not a leaf as high as I can reach, but at the top it is green enough. It had no summer-pruning, nor any manure that I know of since it was planted. Can you tell me what is the matter with it, and what I ought to do with it?" There is no question at all as to what is the matter with it, neither is there much difficulty about a decision as to what ought to be done with it Whether the late Sir John Broughton, or his gardener, was the first person who thought of growing Pillar Roses, or whether the Roses formed by them into pillars are the oldest Pillar Roses in the world, or not, I cannot make out, but I am almost sure there are now more Pillar Roses at Bank Grove, in the highest degree of perfection, than can be found in any other garden of equal extent in any part of the globe.
Now, when we take into consideration that no treatise, nor even the most commonplace directions, were in print for many years after these Roses wore being formed into pillars, it is not to be wondered at to find one or two (only so many) failures in the then unexampled experiment, and the most conspicuous of the two failures is No. 2, Blairii, a magnificent tree, rather than a pillar, full sixteen feet high; but now the first ten feet from the bottom are rather scanty of wood.
I recollect, as if it were but yesterday, going over to the Clapton Nursery, to see Mr. Low, on the evening of the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill in the House of Lords, and there met Mr. Blair, who was then gardener in that neighbourhood, and who told us of his success in raising a much better Rose than the one called after him. This is our Blairii, No. 2, and I should suppose that Sir John Broughton would have planted it either in the autumn of 1831, or in the spring of 1832. From these dates, it is open to any one to correct my statements, if I am wrong about the want of a guide for making Pillar Roses before the passing of the Reform Bill.
There must be something peculiar in the habit of Blairii No. 2, when it so far deceived the gardeners at Bank Grove as to become leggy, after they managed to get up the common Moss Rose to eleven feet high on its own roots, and clothed to the very grass with abundance of flowering shoots in the utmost health, and that, too, in a garden with the natural soil as poor and sandy as any in this kingdom. When a really good Rose "comes out," more especially in those days, they could not afford to make cuttings of it; every bud must tell for a plant; and so it was that this plant was worked on the Dog Rose, and that alone accounts for the nakedness complained of. This Rose is naturally more vigorous than the Dog Rose; but, for the first seven years after planting, the stock and the head progressed more on an equality than they have done since. The roots of the Dog Rose, by this time, reached the outside of the bed, and stuck into a moist, sandy bottom, and the head drew more, or would have drawn more sap, if it could, than roots in such unfavourable circumstances could gather and send up. The head soon told the tale about the poor soil below; the gardener took the hint, root-pruned, and enlarged the bed for a fresh start; by this time the equality or equilibrium between the roots and the head was gone, and, like all trained trees,— whether they be Rose-trees, or Pear-trees, or any other trees,—the topmost shoots came the strongest, and the more strong they, the weaker those at the bottom became, till at last there is hardly such a thing as a healthy shoot as high as one can reach. The Peach-tree, trained against a wall, is the next best exemplification of this condition of things.
When we want a fine specimen of a Portugal Laurel, or Laurustinus, or of a pyramidal fruit-tree, as a Pear or Apple, we must begin, and always continue, to allow the bottom tier of branches to be the longest, and every successive tier above that must be a little shorter than the one below it; as long as this goes on, it matters not if the top is so high that a swallow could not fly over it, it will never get top-heavy, and the top shoots can never starve the bottom ones by over suction. It is not exactly on this very plan that Pillar Roses are brought up in perfection, but the principle is just the same: the strongest part of the Pillar Rose, or of the specimen plant or tree, must always be the bottom part. Roses, in general, and particularly those of them that are naturally beet fitted for being made into pillars, have that kind of habit which is easiest to manage and mould into the form of a pillar than into any other form whatever, that is, their habit of throwing up strong suckers from the collar of the plant, so that we should always have more wood at the bottom than we needed, instead of bare wood, were it not that such Roses are budded and made to grow on other roots than their own, thus depriving them, in a great measure, of their natural propensity of throwing up suckers. According to our present mode, the suckers must come from the Dog Rose collar, and these we must battle against; instead of their coming in so handy as they would do, were they natural suckers to that particular Pillar Rose, we are compelled to witness the nakedness at the bottom become more naked, year after year, and still are obliged to rub off suckers as fast as they rise; surely, then, we are not yet on the best road to easy success with Blairii, No. 2, and many more such Roses. Let us, therefore, turn to a new leaf, and from this season never plant another Rose which is intended for a pillar, except it be on its own roots, and not budded on any other stock whatever. Ten feet is a good height for most of the strong Pillar Roses; and when we have the proof of the practice before our eyes, in that several varieties of the Moss Rose are higher than ten feet on their own roots, and also that Moss Roses require the very best soil, we need not doubt for one moment that all and every one of the Hybrid Chinas and Hybrid perpetuals, above the medium-sized kinds, as Duchess of Sutherland, will do for Pillar Roses much easier, and in a worse soil, than any of the Mosses, if they are on their own roots.
It is more from prejudice, and for the mere convenience of the dealers in Roses, that Roses are budded at all; at any rate, it is not from any good budding can possibly be to the Rose itself, unless, perhaps, to the very weakest; and what is more strange than all, the weakest Roses, and those of most tender constitutions, as some Chinas, and Tea Roses, are left to shift on their own roots entirely. If I was young again, and with my present experience, I would make up my mind never again to plant any Rose whatever, except standard Roses, but on its own roots. I would than get rid of all the bother and disappointment caused by unsuitable socks. and want, or supposed want, of Rose soils. All our best Pillar Roses ought certainly to be propagated from cuttings and layers, instead of from buds, but they never will, in a regular way of business, until the public have sufficient. time to prove that many Roses can hardly be made into decent pillars, after the first few years, and that, under all circumstances, it is far more difficult to manage a worked Rose pillar, than one on its own root.
This settled, let us now suppose a case in which a gentleman has bought or built a new house, the garden, and all the rest of the land being also new to planting, and that he read of the splendid Pillar Roses at Bank Grove, in THE COTTAGE GARDENER; if he has any taste at all for gardening, and if he has not, let us hope he is not married, he would surely wish to have one Pillar Rose, if only one, but having heard that Blairii No. 2, one of the finest for pillars, is so apt to get bare below, and turn shabby, after a few years, he would wish for it, but still fears the trouble, and much more the disappointment, and makes up his mind for Coupe d'Hebe, or Madame Laffay, or some such easy-to-manage kind. Here THE COTTAGE GARDENER steps in, and thinks, if he can make it out., as plain as can be, that Blairii No. 2 can be so managed, that. nothing but sheer inattention to the simplest rule can cause any one to fail with it, all other Pillar Roses may be taken in band with a certainty. It is more than likely, that any of the large growers can supply plants of this Rose from cuttings, as it comes from cuttings in the spring as easily as a Verbena, that is, if the old plant is forced, and cuttings made of the young shoots; at all events, we must have a good, healthy, young plant of it, on its own roots, to begin the pillar, and good fresh loam, with a spadeful or two of solid rotten dung to plant it in, and then we must prune it on the close system, down to three or four eyes, and water it occasionally through the first summer.
It is at the next pruning, this time next. year, that one is apt to make the first mistake with it.. I am persuaded that Pillar Roses ought certainly to be pruned for the first six or seven years, by the end of October, unless the season is very mild indeed, such as we had this time last year. In that case, the end of November, or any time before the new year, would be early enough for the pruning. We shall take it for granted, that our young Pillar Rose made three shoots the first season, one of them being stronger than the other two put together, and considering that the form is to be that of a pillar, nothing seems more natural than that the strongest shoot should be cut down to one-half its length—say to three feet, as a foundation to the pillar, and that the other two were cut to within a few inches of the bottom, to make sure of a succession of wood, and that plan would do very well with a great number of Roses, but not with Blairii, and a few others that are equally strong; so sure as you are alive, if that Rose was cut so at that age, or as any time during the first ten years, so sure the attempt to make a fine balanced pillar of it would fail, the strong shoot would keep the lead, and get. stronger and stronger every year, and the young idea might be thinking, all the time, that nothing could be more promising, but by-and-by, the bottom begins to get bare of shoots and leaves, and the tale ends like that of our correspondent's.
There is not an amateur out of a score who could explain the first mistake of cutting the strongest shoot to three feet only, which was the sole and entire cause of the present failure. An experienced Rose grower can see it at once. If this Rose gets away in the head while the plant is young, it is not disposed to make suckers in after years, therefore it must be a very great mistake to allow it, while it is young, to make one shoot stronger than another; but the first year that could not be helped; at the second pruning, instead of leaving the strongest shoot three feet long, it ought to have been out down to six inches, and the two weaker ones, instead of being out into a few buds, ought to have been left at half their length; just the very opposite of what we supposed would be the case, and that which is done in nine cases out of tee. Trees and bushes, however, which are trained for particular purposes, and into particular forms, must be managed and set off at first rather by particular modes of pruning than by any fanciful training; and here is an example—the weaker shoots of this Rose are left longer than the stronger one, in order to get three, four, or five shoots direct from the bottom, and each of them of as near the same strength as possible.
Thus, in one small sentence, we have the whole art and mystery of keeping Pillar Roses in health and beauty for an indefinite period explained; get a certain number of shoots from the very bottom, not. less than three, and it is only bail management, or very bad soil and late spring frosts, that can ever do them much harm afterwards. But, with the best management, and under favourable circumstances, some of these strong Roses have already failed under the more ordinary practice of the gardener, therefore it is not now necessary to repeat the experiment to prove the fact. Very many of the best Pillar Roses throw up such a quantity of suckers, if they are grown on their own roots, that the difficulty is to know how to dispose of them for the first few years; yet, to such as do not thoroughly understand the rules for pruning different Roses, I would advise the plan of not allowing any Rose intended for. a pillar to grow up with one strong stem in the middle, but always with five shoots, if possible, of the same strength; and after that, whenever a shoot much stronger than the rest appears, instead of encouraging it on, and making use of it as a centre, it ought to be stopped before it gets more than a foot or eighteen inches long. I would insist, on this rule, particularly after reaching the height of seven feet. It is just as treacherous to allow robber: above that height in a Pillar Rose, as it would beat the top of a full-spreading Peach; and we all recollect. the earnestness with which Mr. Errington bids no to be careful of them whenever or wheresoever they may appear in fruit. trees.
To sum up in a few words—Use strong, young plants on their own roots for Pillar Roses; prune them the first. two years, so as to encourage a few healthy and equally strong shoots from the very bottom; continue at least three shoots of equal length for a centre, the other shoots to be cut to different lengths, to keep up s succession of young wood, and form the outline of the pillar; never allow one shoot to get much stronger than the average strength of the principals or centre shoots; never attempt to get up a Pillar Rose with only one shoot for a centre, until you have mastered the mysteries of the art of pruning; and never lose sight of the fact, that all the pruning in the world will not save a few Roses from ultimate failure, if they are first brought up with only one strong shoot in the centre, and Blairii No. 2 is one of them. Hybrid Chinas, and all other summer Roses, ought to have the principal pruning for the year when the flowering is over; and all the winter pruning they need, is to thin out shoots where they are too crowded, to cut out very weak ones altogether, and to cut off the points of the rest so as to keep the symmetry of the pillar. Summer-pruning is the grand secret; winter-pruning the bane of this class. But for Hybrid Perpetuals, it is in the winter-pruning alone that we must look for beauty and success in the following season.
And now, as to how to deal with the bare Pillar Rose, Blairii No. 2. There are only two ways to deal effectually with such an extreme case. I have seen palliatives enough tried and fail with such instances. It is of no use to beat about the bush in such cases; the first of the two remedies is the most effective, but goes hardest against the grain—it is to cut down the whole pillar to within one foot of the ground, to renew the bed, and to water frequently with strong manure-water for the next half-dozen years, when this very pillar would be ten feet high, and in the highest possible health, providing the roots are good. The second plan is, to bend down the pillar very carefully, as low as possible, next February; to keep it down in that position, tied to stakes, for a season, and perhaps two seasons, until suckers were forced from the bottom, then to cover the naked parts with them, and ultimately, the old rose to be only a mere centre piece to the renewed pillar.