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Gardening with Gael - Every rose has its thorn


chaenomeles1-247The entrance to the Block is elevated. From the gate the drive descends to the right and squeezes between two massive old totaras. From there it drops quickly to the first flat paddock on the left where Box planted his first experimental grapes. I have been lining this part of the drive with nikaus over the last few years. To the right the hill is steep and Box has terraced the hill with two rows of grapes.

“You can put whatever you like on the banks,” he said.

I gave it some thought. Grapes and roses have always been associated and the banks seemed the perfect place to grow some rampant rambling roses. Last year I decided to plant some. Ces Adams at the market suggested some vigorous plants that he declared would fill the area. The roses flourished, beating their way through rampant weeds. On the lower bank it was fine but on the bank between the rows they sent out arching branches which captured Box as he tried to mow. Several shirts sport tears across the back. I could tell by the things he was muttering that his relationship with the roses was less than harmonious. 

The lower bank borders a dam and the roses arch towards the dam away from the grapes, a much happier arrangement. This year I decided to rescue both Box and the roses before their relationship deteriorated too much. The sensible plan was to transplant all the roses to the lower bank where they happily arched towards the sun and the dam.

It is not easy digging on a slope in wet weather even with little footholds dug into the bank for balance . A couple of gaps in the finished bank sent me scurrying back to Ces who fortunately remembers better than me the roses I have already and suggested Alchemist and Cherokee rose for the gaps. I planted them in the rain yesterday teetering above a very full dam. I knew that one slip would send me rolling down into it and at one point a couple of thorns caught my trousers and had me stuck precariously above the water. At that moment my sympathies were with Box.

This left the bank between the rows of grapes empty.

The plants required need to adhere to quite strict criteria: 

1. They must be hardy. This area is an ‘attention a couple of times a year’ area.

2. Drought resistant. There is a dam but it doesn’t hold water too well and it’s too far for me to bucket water.

3. They need to be narrow, in fact almost espaliered.

4. Flowers, in my mind I could still picture the roses

5. Enjoy full sun.

On my way to the Block one day I spied what may well be the perfect plant growing in an old garden north of Devich Rd. Chaenomeles are also known as Japonica or flowering quince. The flowers borne late winter or early spring are greatly sought after by florists specialising in ikebana. Finding the actual plants was quite difficult. Good old Sciadopitys in Whangarei had some and the rest I located here and there. They are a really old fashioned plant so not popular at the moment.

They meet all my criteria and imagine my delight when I read on the label ‘Easy to espalier’. I will be rigorous with my pruning. They do have thorns and errant branches will need to be curtailed.

QUINCE: Chaenomeles are a thorny shrub, growing to about a metre in height. 

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