The Cottage Gardener 6: 254-255 (July 24, 1851)


Donald Beaton

No sooner do we get the flower-garden up to the full standard of our ideas of perfection, as they now are, or ought to be, than we begin to think of how we can improve it, or, at any rate, provide for it the year following. Every one who can afford an extra bed next year, cannot do better than go to work immediately with the cream of all the new roses. Geant des Battailles, the best one in every respect for planting by itself in groups, or in beds. For such a purpose, if the soil is light and rich, it will do as well, if not better, on its own roots as if worked on the dog-rose; and cuttings of it put in now, under a hand-glass, or even without a glass behind a wall, will be ready to plant out in the beds next February, and be ready to bloom abundantly next summer. There is no way of showing off this most splendid rose half so well as having it entirely by itself. It should never be disgraced by working it rampant-mop fashion, as a standard. Tall standard roses are getting less fashionable every year, and I rejoice at the change. Nothing above three-feet stems are now admitted into first-rate gardens, with people of good taste; and for rose-beds, if they are budded just out of the ground, it is better than anything higher. At the present moment, I would bud every rose sucker that I could find, all over the garden, instead of pulling them up as we usually do; and, for the first two or three years, I would let them take their chance. If the suckers were from some old standard, the new rose, or, indeed, any roses budded on them, would help to hide the ugly, naked stems, and by that time, or sooner, some good genius of the rosary might kill or injure the head, leaving a full bottom and a choicer sort or sorts behind. This is the only way I know of for reconciling us to part with an old favourite standard rose, which we ourselves, or some one dear to us, had budded years ago. This is an experiment I have over and over again indulged in, and I always found it as I say. About seven or eight years since, I had a beautiful little rose, a perpetual, on a tallish standard. It did not seem quite at home, and the standard was prone to make suckers. I budded some of the strongest of the suckers, about a foot from the ground, with Gloire de Rosamene, which we did not know then to be so loath to grow on any but its own roots. I also budded about a hundred of it on different stocks that same season, all of which have been dead long since, except the one on the sucker; but that one grew away famously, and soon hid the naked stem, and sucked the juices from the roots, so as to hasten the downfall of the little favourite rose, which was cut away at last, leaving one-half of the stem for a stake to the Rosamene, and there it is to this day, and, perhaps, the only real good-worked plant of the sort, and of the same age, in the country.

But there are top as well as bottom suckers to be dealt with, when one is short of stocks. Many old standards, when they get hide-bound, and also some young ones that are not vigorous enough to take up the sap as fast as it comes to them, cause the stock to push out a strong shoot or two just below where the top was budded on; and nine persons out of ten snap off such as soon as they can see them, but that is very bad practice. What they cut them off for is, as they say, because they rob the lawful head of the portion of the sap which flows to their own wild, luxuriant leaves,— a plausible theory, certainly, but it is founded in error, and it is most certainly against the laws of nature to cut out such suckers at all the first season, and more so, if the head has been languishing for the last year or two. The right way to deal with wildings issuing from just below the head of a standard rose, is to see that they do not get above the head, by stopping them. There is no question about these shoots being able to rob the head, and ultimately to kill it, perhaps, if they were allowed to grow on in their own way; but it is equally true that, in a few months, two or three wild shoots, if not allowed to gain more strength than those forming the head, would be capable of renewing the health and strength of both stem and head of an unhealthy rose-tree. Practice, in a thousand instances, has proved this theory to be the true solution of what we gardeners call "robber-shoots," and few things can be more easily explained than how all this is brought about.

Take a standard rose of any age or size in any garden in England, and unless the head is one of the climbing sorts, or what we call weeping-roses, it is two to one if the stem is healthy. A dog-rose will fight its way in a rough hedge for twenty or thirty years, and be the most vigorous plant, in spite of all opposition from neighbouring trees; the same planted in a rich flower-garden-bed, without a twig to dispute its sway, would grow away in that time to double or treble the size and strength of the one in the hedge, provided that it was allowed its own way, and never pruned or disturbed. This is its nature; but no sooner do we cut its head off, and put on a less vigorous one, than the natural law which governs its growth is violated; the new head cannot appropriate all the store which is natural for the roots and stem to provide, and sooner or later the stem gets hard and dry, or hide-bound, and thus a sure foundation is had for the future attacks of insects, disease, and all the other incidents peculiar to a bad rose season. It is not, however, for the purpose of explaining more particularly, on this occasion, how all this is brought about, that I have mentioned the subject, but to tell of the way in which I have myself dealt with rose-trees having a propensity for breaking out into top-suckers, either from the wild stock, or from the collar of the union where the first bud was inserted; for I look on both kinds of shoots as proceeding from the same cause — the pent-up energy of the flowering-sap, through some defect in the head. Let us take the wild shoot to illustrate my meaning; to rub it off with a view of letting some sap or more strength into the head is just the reverse of the good intention; you might just as well open a canal or railroad to an old out-of-the-way-town to increase its traffic, and then lock up the passage. My plan is to build a new town at the end of the passage, and let the old one take its chance. I would bud the wild shoot by all means, and never stop it till October, even if I used a bud from the old head itself. By the end of the season, the wild shoot will have made a direct and free passage between itself and the roots — a free communication between the extremities, which was wanting for years past. Next winter the wild shoot would be cut three inches above the bud in the usual way, the old head would be left entirely unpruned, so as to receive as much as it could of the rising sap, until such time as the new bud had expanded into a fresh head, capable of drawing up all that the roots could muster for its wants. I have seen so much of the renovating effects of this plan on roses and other plants that had I never heard of such a thing as vegetable physiology at all, I could lay it down as a sound theory, that robber-shoots from the upper part of a plant were occasioned by some stoppage of the sap in the neighbouring parts; that in certain cases, as in that of the rose-tree, it is best to let the robber rob away to the end of the season, but in other cases, as when the adjoining shoots are to be cared for in another season, the secret way is to stop the luxuriant shoot as soon as it has made a dozen or so of leaves, and that in neither case should the strong shoot be rubbed off until the season's growth was ripe and finished, and for this simple reason, that the shoot itself, or rather let us say, the formation of it, can only open an upward passage; that two distinct passages are essential to a perfect circulation in plants, and that the leaves only, and leaves of a ripe age too, are capable of opening a downward passage. Therefore it follows that rubbing off these strong shoots cannot tend to any good, and may cause a good deal of harm.

On the other hand, strong suckers from the bottom of a rose, or any other plant, can never add to its strength, but the contrary, and such ought always to be removed; further, side-shoots almost always issue from newly-planted rose-stocks, because the head is so much cut in that it cannot appropriate all the rising sap which must overflow, as it were, in these side-shoots. It is very foolish, therefore, to rub off these side openings, because that can only bring the circulation — I mean the upward move — to a dead lock; and it would be just as improper to let the side-shoots grow away as they would, because the whole strength or sap from below might flow into them at the expense of the upper parts — hence it follows again, as we must not rub them off, nor allow them to grow onwards, the only course left for us is to stop them, and that is most certainly the true way of dealing with them, but it does not matter much whether we stop them at the fourth, sixth, or tenth leaf — any thing between these will do just as well. It is customary with all of us gardeners, nurserymen and all, to stop, or cut back a little, the wild shoots on a rose-tree as soon as the buds have taken, as we say, for two reasons: to keep the wild heads within bounds, so that we can get among them, if we want; and by cutting them short, their own weight, "when stormy winds do blow," will not cause them to snap off just at the top of the inserted bud, as they often do where the cross-cut was made to let in the bud. Now the two reasons are very good, but the plan itself is just the reverse; and although we think very little of it, it is not too much to say, that nine-tenths of all the diseases incident to standard-roses take their origin from these very cuts. According to the strict laws of vegetable growth, as far as we understand them, rose-shoots that are budded after this time should not be cut before the end of September, and all of them should then be cut to different lengths from the bud, according to their strength, or say from four inches to a foot; but, if the buds have grown, those that have been budded early, as all Perpetuals are sure to be, the wild shoots ought to be stopped — but not cut back — as soon as the shoot from the bud is six inches long. By merely breaking off the point of the wilding you stop the onward flow in that direction, which must then run into the next open channel which is in the young shoot from your bud. The effect of cutting back the wild shoot too near the budded part, before the new shoot itself is strong enough, is to cause a stagnation in the flow, and here is the key of the whole story, and which the youngest tyro who reads this letter may prove in one week. He may go to the nearest bush or tree, select a leading, or any stout shoot of this season's growth, and if is two feet long, let him cut off sixteen inches: that is, cut off two-thirds of its length, which is about equivalent to our term "cut back;" then after a few days let him try and bud on the stump, and, if the bark will rise, I shall never be a philosopher. But, apart from reasoning and physiology, whoever will take my advice, and plant a bed of the Geant des Battailles rose, let him or her be further advised, and plant a row or ring round it of the rose Souvenir de Malmaison.

Beaton Bibliography