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The Roses of Rough Point

Working in a garden makes you keep track of seasons and time in a different way than the calendar. As the Estate Gardener at the Newport Restoration Foundation, I watch for the year’s passing through the evolution of the grounds, what blooms and what fades, and I feel more in tune with the world through the looking glass of nature.  My anticipation for July starts when I begin to notice rose buds forming on our formal garden rose arbor. The American Heritage Pillar roses bloom only once a year, in a fantastic show of simple pink blooms, which serve as a kind of landmark for summer’s true beginning. Visitors stand in awestruck amazement at the display and walk through the arbor as if walking through a fairytale. For a brief two weeks we watch the roses as if listening to a well-constructed symphony- quietly they begin to bloom, then suddenly the flowering picks up its pace and crescendos to a loud explosion of color. It holds at that grandeur, almost too briefly, and then the petals begin to fall, colors begin to fade, and the rose arbor becomes silent again.

I am most excited for the roses to bloom this year because for the entirety of the cold month of February I labored over the vines; pruning out dead wood, cutting out last year’s rose hips, and re-tying the vines to the arbor. After a few late fall windstorms last year, the rose arbor needed much reinforcement- whole sections of the vines fell from the structure and needed to be pulled back into place over the arches and sides. This was a difficult, lengthy, and painful task. In order to pull the vines up I had to separate sections of them out from each other, untangling years’ worth of growth, while trying not to damage too much of the vine as to not lose rose buds for the summer. Using soft wire around a section of vines I would pull them into place, attaching it as close to the arbor as possible, then do the same over again, readjusting the tightness of each wire as I went. Slowly, piece by piece, the vines would be brought back into place, and secured back to the arbor in several places to ensure that it would stay in place during future windstorms. For good measure, I tied new wire around all of the sections of the rose arbor, as the old wire put in place years before was starting to break and sag under the sheer weight of the vines. I stood on the ladder, face turned to the February sun and smiled knowing that all the work would be worth it when I could see the flowers bloom in July.

For the first few weeks of June I kept checking in on the roses every week, looking, almost frantically, for the buds- as if, all the work I had done to keep the plant healthy might have actually resulted in an absence of buds and a year without flowers. Finally the buds began to emerge, and with the buds came aphids. Four years ago when I first started working in the gardens at Rough Point, I was seriously alarmed when I noticed them. There were so many aphids they seemed to almost drip from the buds. Using an organic pest control method, I sprayed the aphids out of fear of them damaging the blooms by sucking the sweet sap from the rose buds. I would check on the aphids every day until finally I noticed lady bugs, in all stages of their life cycle appearing to feast on them. Looking closely through a loupe I spotted aphids that had been parasitized by tiny parasitizing wasps. With a sigh of relief I realized that nature takes care of itself. I no longer fret over the aphids on the roses, and they continue to bloom spectacularly regardless of the alarming numbers the aphids that suddenly show up year after year.

After the rose arbor blooms and fades there is still so much to look forward to in our gardens. The Kitchen Garden will soon be producing a plentiful summer bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, and peppers. Summer flowers will be blooming on their tall stalks reaching for the sun, the dahlias will grow taller and push out their first blooms.

As mid-summer approaches, we prepare for the heat and the promise of beach days, ice cream cones, longer days, and fantastic sunsets. As a gardener, I prepare for the great crescendo of a symphony of color and my immense feeling of gratitude and wonderment as I watch the world around me unfold in spectacular beauty. I gather everything that I have learned in these gardens together and begin to wonder what else can I add to this symphony of growth and color? How can we draw out summer a little longer through the progression of colors that rise and fall in our gardens with the ticking of time?  The answer comes slowly, with patience and understanding. It comes with experimentation, new ideas about plantings or growing methods that either fail or succeed. Most importantly it comes with the recognition that gardens are all around us and will always be there to provide inspiration. The world needs more gardens, so that we can all look around ourselves and experience the joy of the summer in the vibrant colors of blooms that only get the chance to arrive but once a year.

By Tessa Young, Estate Gardener, Newport Restoration Foundation

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