Sunday afternoon was one of those exquisitely beautiful days here in Atlanta.  Nearly seventy degrees, sunny, the ground still soft from all winter precipitation but not muddy, birds and cats and kids and dogs and runners out en masse to enjoy the day. 

I spent the afternoon drastically cutting back my rosebushes.  

The bushes attacked me as they always do, snagging my jacket, my shirt, my pants as I tried to squeeze by, clippers in hand.   The roses are glorious in bloom, but they are overgrown, and there were dead canes in several shrubs that will be impossible to remove once they leaf out.  The thorns worked through my gloves, too - not the big ones (they are easy to avoid) but the little ones that just slip in through the seam to tear at the skin.  It is clearly time this year to do the serious surgery I have avoided for the last six or so - old garden roses do not need to be pruned the way hybrid teas must be every year.   I even cut one bush back to the ground, even though it is a lovely shrub, because it is now nearly completely overshadowed by the bushes on either side of it.  To leave it is to invite disease to all three.  If it leafs out, I'll dig it up and find a new spot for it.  If the shock was too much, I'll pull out the roots and that will be that.

This is an act of faith.  Even though I am a knowledgeable enough gardener, and I know that pruning stimulates plants to put out new branches and blooms and that old and dead canes need to be thinned out to allow for air to circulate and all that, I still hate cutting off the canes that I see are already full of tiny red leaf buds.  I hate cutting off the leaves that are already on the bush (most of them having hung on throughout the winter) even though I know that they are old and need to go.  I hate the look of the bare canes poking up like match sticks stuck in a pot.  It is hard to imagine that in six weeks, they all will be in full leaf and in eight weeks the yard will be in full bloom.  But it will.  It always does.

Most of us would prefer to keep our protective outer layer on, intact, even when it is old and tattered and not going to produce much in the future.  We probably find ways to fight back, too, when someone comes too close with the shears.  We think - we beg:  "Let me keep my three ragged, yellowing leaves at least until a new glossy green one sprouts forth; don't leave me naked to the elements even though a wonderful mystery is happening inside me.  Because I'm afraid it won't sprout and I'll be left a group of chopped off sticks, my deficits out there for everyone to see while my potential growth is somehow trapped inside."

It's hard to have faith.  But that mysterious quickening happens again and again, just as it always does.


Ray Barnes said…
Really nice analogy. As a once very keen, latterly less so, gardener, I know exactly what you mean and yes the miracle of new growth is always to be depended on. My faith is fairly new but will get all the nurturing I can manage and who knows, may eventually show some result.

As far as pruning the roses goes, I fine the best way is to tackle it all in one go, and try to ignore the scratches, bruises and other damage until it disappears courtesy of arnical,tcp, any other salve availablo and a hefty dose of moisturiser.
Good luck!
Yes. I did it all at once, although the disposal of all that I cut off is still no finished. All must be cut into small pieces to put in leaf bags that the city will pick up and grind into mulch. Lotion is my best friend.
June Butler said…
Tom, my husband, is the gardener in my family. He finds pruning difficult, although he realizes that it must be done.

We have not had luck growing roses where we live, but for a couple of old rose bushes, not hybrids, and a tiny red climbing rose. The others required so much care with treating for diseases, mainly blackspot, that Tom gave up. The few varieties of rose now growing take care of themselves, but for the pruning.
Yes, the old garden roses are the only ones that really do well in humid climates. All of mine are OGRs of some sort - china, bourbon, hybrid musks, old teas - and they really do take care of themselves. So well that in the last year there was no way to walk through the yard to get to them!