“Thou perceivest the flowers put forth their precious odours,
And none can tell how from so small a center comes such sweets.”
— William Blake, “The Odours of Flowers,” c.a. 1810
Sharing William Blake’s enthusiasm for fragrance, Eagle Point resident Dennis Godfrey told me whenever he looks for roses for his heirloom garden, the “precious odour” put forth by the flowers is first and foremost on his mind.
Dennis’s nostalgic flower and vegetable gardens are part of the upcoming annual garden tour hosted by the Medford chapter of the AAUW from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 9. Two additional gardens in Eagle Point are featured on the tour, along with two gardens in Medford. See https://medford-or.aauw.net/ for details.
About 14 years ago, Dennis began collecting and planting heirloom roses at his home because he liked the idea of plants being handed down from one generation of gardeners to the next. He was intrigued that heirloom roses grow on their own rootstock, rather than being grafted onto other rootstock. This means heirloom offspring are identical to the parent plant, unlike rootstock suckers thrown by grafted roses.
Over time, Dennis has added to his collection and now grows 60 varieties of heirloom roses. Each generation thrives because the roses have inherited their parents’ adaptations to the unique microclimates of Dennis’s garden.
Dennis said he finds most of his heirloom roses online, particularly at Heirloom Roses in St. Paul, Oregon, and he buys them as 10-inch starts. Although it takes a few years to catch up to the size of grafted roses, Dennis said he’s found that heirlooms bloom more profusely, are disease resistant and more winter hardy. He just wishes his roses were deer resistant, too.
Dennis has large trees in his landscape, so some of his favorite roses are those that smell wonderful and bloom profusely even with a bit of shade. ‘Lyda Rose’ (named after the song in “The Music Man), for example, is exceptionally fragrant with small, light pink flowers, and it grows well with only 4-5 hours of sunlight. ‘Rosa Glauca’ is another shade-tolerant rose with fuchsia-colored single-petal flowers, waxy blue-green leaves and purplish stems.
One of Dennis’s favorite sun-loving roses is ‘Jude the Obscure,’ named after a novel written by Thomas Hardy. It’s a hardy English rose (bred by David Austin) with large, cup-shaped flowers in a creamy peach color that give off a heavenly, award-winning fragrance.
Now that his roses are showing off their first flush of blooms, Dennis takes care to deadhead so the plant will direct its energy toward producing more (some of Dennis’s heirlooms are repeat bloomers and others bloom only once a season). He fertilizes every 5-6 weeks and keeps the soil moist with morning watering from a drip hose and supplemental watering during hot, dry periods.
In the fall, Dennis lightly prunes the roses and then gives most of them a deeper pruning during dormancy in January or February. However, he keeps some of the bushes he uses for background pruned a little higher, such as the ‘Carefree Beauty’ he uses as a vivid pink backdrop for a drift of peonies. Dennis said he doesn’t mulch around overwintering rose bushes to avoid pests from lingering, and he’s meticulous about cleaning up weeds and plant debris around the rose bushes.
Dennis is excited about sharing his heirloom roses and other garden plants with others during the AAUW Spring Garden Tour. For pictures of Dennis’s beautiful, nostalgic gardens, see my blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/. When you’re in Dennis’s garden, take a deep breath of the heady fragrance and be reminded of William Blake’s poetry: “And flower and herb soon fill the air with an innumerable dance/Yet all in order sweet and lovely.”
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.