I drove to Milton one sunny Saturday morning to explore Peppers, a popular family-owned garden center known for its diverse selection of plants. There wasn’t anything in particular on my wish list that day and nothing I really needed. My garden is in great shape this summer, but like a scab I can’t keep from picking at it. Some of you who like to play in the yard know what I mean.
I was lazily pushing my cart up and down aisles waiting for something to catch my eye when I suddenly came upon a young guy squatting down among several dozen rose plants. His green Eagles baseball cap was on backwards and he was reading the names and the colors of the different roses to an attractive pregnant woman I could only assume was his wife. His t-shirt had risen up in the back and his jeans had slipped a bit. Naturally, I had to stop my cart to, um, check out the merchandise.
In order not to appear conspicuous, I too began looking at roses and soon found myself entangled in the thorny embrace of a New Dawn climbing rose, which, as luck would have it, is one of my favorites. It’s a very fragrant pale pink rose with double blooms that can climb as high as 20 feet.
The New Dawn in my garden is more than 20 years old. I planted it in 1997, the year it was named the most popular rose in the world. The young one, clinging to my clothing and licking my bare forearms and legs, was like a puppy at a rescue shelter. It wouldn’t leave me alone.
Forty-five minutes later I arrived home in Rehoboth, legs bleeding, with the young rose in my arms. “I wasn’t looking, it just happened.”
My partner Michael shook his head. “Another good idea I’m gonna have to rip out in a couple of years.” The sarcasm was so thick I could cut it with a knife.
“Rest assured I’ll keep it well trained and trimmed,” I responded tit for tat.
Then he laughed. “Remember Mr. Jefferson’s strawberries?”
I was at the plant store at Monticello, hell bent on bringing home a garden souvenir. I figured if Mr. Jefferson grew Alpine strawberries then I could too. And I had the perfect spot in one of my big wooden planting boxes that received semi-shade.
Well, in less than a year the plant took over the box. Strawberry runners were parachuting out into the yard like Marines on a mission. It is, however, nowhere near as invasive as the English ivy I planted as a groundcover in a couple of shady areas. Twice a year I pull it out by the bushel from my fence, off the pine trees, from around the hydrangeas, and even from my basement. Yes, you read that correctly. The goddamn ivy actually grew through the dryer vent!
Are you familiar with sweet autumn clematis? You’ve probably seen and smelled it around town in the fall. It’s a vine that covers bushes and trees in blankets of small sweet-smelling flowers. Like kudzu, it was brought over from Asia in the 1880s and has since run rampant. I dug some up and planted it in the back yard. Now, despite a weekly pruning, our fence is starting to sag under its weight. But the scent is heavenly.
There’s more, a lot more. And not all of them appear on Delaware Natural Resources invasive species list. Who knew crepe myrtle blossoms and berries could clog a car’s air conditioner or that figs attract wasps and mice love cherry tomatoes? I didn’t know until after I planted several hundred naturalizing daffodils that I was highly allergic to them.
Okay, so maybe my great garden ideas don’t all work out. “The New Dawn rose has been nothing but spectacular over the decades,” I reminded my skeptical companion.
“It almost killed you!”
Hmm, that’s not exactly how I remember it. But at one point I was training the rose to climb up the side of the cottage and onto the roof. The little white house looked positively Nantucket quaint when hundreds of pink flowers were in bloom. The rest of the time the rose destroyed my shingles and sliced up my awnings.
One afternoon I was on my knees up on the roof giving it a good prune when an awkward reach for my Bloody Mary caused me to lose my balance. I’m convinced I would have slid off the roof but for that rose. I grabbed its thorny canes and steadied myself. Barehanded I might add. It’s since been hacked back to a more manageable size.
As I slipped on my gardening flip flops and grabbed my shovel to go plant the new rose, I reminded myself there are no bad ideas when it comes to gardening, only good ideas that go horribly wrong. And if that happens you can always dig it up.