Monday, 26 May 2008

On the thorns of a dilemma

I'm always interested in what people choose to comment on. In a recent post, where I ranged far and wide over topics as diverse as what I ate for lunch and the Yemeni population explosion, several of you picked up on my stymied efforts to order roses from the David Austin website.

For weeks I had pored over my David Austin catalogue, finally settling on a short list: Penelope for the hedge, Malvern Hills to arch above it as a climber, The Generous Gardener as a climber for either side of the porch, Jubilee Celebration for the small bed that I can see from the laundry room, and William Shakespeare for the large "cottage-style" bed at the foot of the garden. As I needed a fairly large quantity of roses, it only made sense to order them off the website; and I will admit to feeling rather pleased with myself as I (more or less) quickly dispatched this task.

But then, to my dismay . . . I received the dreaded email receipt, informing me that my roses would arrive in November. NOVEMBER?? Apparently, I've missed this year's bare root season -- otherwise known as the most economical way to buy roses. A phone call to the David Austin premises in Shropshire yielded even more distressing information. I could buy POTTED roses at twice the price (and packaging), but many of my requests weren't even available.

Sinking heart . . . thwarted gardening ambitions . . . what to do?
Philosophical Question: Is it better to wait for what you really want? Or to compromise, and learn to like something else that you can get immediately?

Sadly, patience is a virtue in short supply around here. Once I had made up my mind, I wanted there to be a very short time gap between ordering these roses and seeing them bloom in my garden. So I decided to shop around. I visited three garden centres and one proper nursery, but didn't manage to procure much. I picked up three Penelopes, but I needed six more. I saw a few less than stellar specimens of William Shakespeare, and a few others of Falstaff -- who closely resembles his maker -- but still felt hesitant. I thought about mixing in some of The Dark Lady, but was put off by her liking for a more mediteranean-type climate. I didn't want my dark lady to languish in this clammy land of the hit-and-miss sun.

Happily, obstinance is a quality that I can summon at will and I refused to be defeated by the slim pickings in West Berkshire. I decided that I wouldn't give up my rose quest without first making the pilgrimage to Burford Garden Company -- garden centre nonpareil.

The fact that Burford is a favorite little village of mine was neither here nor there, of course. About 20 miles west of Oxford, Burford is just on the outer edge of the Cotswolds -- and about an hour's drive from where we live. My family has been going there for more than 10 years, and we have established a ritual something along these lines: feed the ducks on the Windrush river, eat lunch at Huffkins, visit the old-fashioned sweet shop, and perhaps a bit of shopping if the children are willing. Burford is good for country-style clothing, antiques, and the sort of decorative item that no one really needs. (Frankly, it is probably only the tourists who shop there.) We go to Burford to soak up the atmosphere -- the steep streets, the ancient leaning stone buildings, the glimpses of beautiful private gardens. Burford looks the way that England is supposed to look, and I suppose that I'm still susceptible to that kind of charm.

Here is a glimpse into my modus operandi: Not wanting to plant-shop on an empty stomach, I decided to visit Huffkins for some fortification. Not having brought something to read, I decided to make a quick detour to the Red Lion Bookshop. (I don't mind eating alone, but only if I have reading material!) Not having enough cash to buy a book and lunch, I decided to get three books -- you know, in order to justify putting it on the credit card. Also, I always like to support an independent bookshop. By the by, isn't it lovely when self-interest and altruism have a common goal?

Since I was in a quintessential English town, I decided to match subject to environment: and thus departed with The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson, Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, and The Bolter by Frances Osborne. I dipped into The Bolter during lunch, and it is delicious, gossipy stuff. Licentious English aristocrats running amok. Thank goodness I am nearly finished with my long liason with Atwood, because I'm ready for a quick fling.

My justification is this: Even if I didn't find my roses, at least I didn't waste my day, right?

But as luck and Ethel Merman would have it, "Everything's coming up roses . . ."
I actually managed to find ALL of the roses I wanted at the Burford Garden Company. I suppose that's why, if you believe your Wikipedia, all of the *stars* shop there.

Once again, that vital combination of impatience and persistence has been rewarded. Nor was I put off by the bad weather . . . so determined was I to get my roses into the ground where they could really start flourishing.

Now does anyone have any tips for getting roses to grow faster?


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Hurray for you! And you had time for lunch and a bookstore jaunt as well. A day well spent :-)

Alyson said...

Congratulations on your finds! I'm learning so much from your blog. I'd never heard of bare root season in all my life. Interesting.

Burford sounds lovely! It reminds me of how I like to head over to the little village of Cornwall now and again and I have my little routine too.

JaneyV said...

Wow! you are determined! I too am not great when it comes to delayed gratification. Well short delays I'm fine with but "wait for 6 months" - now that's asking a bit too much! Burford sounds really lovely. I'm not too familiar with that part of the country. And good on you for supporting the independents!

Bee said...


Yes, I do have a gift for making my "errands" fun!


Believe me, I didn't know anything about "bare root season" either. I would say that two weeks of reading can make anyone an "expert," but when it comes to roses, you realize that your meager knowledge is just the tip of the iceberg (rose). That's a rose joke! Iceberg roses are probably the most commonly planted white roses. If you start reading about gardens you will notice them. We have 4 or 5 of them in our long borders in front of the house.

I'd love to know about your Cornwall routine . . . also, you often allude to your English years. Please fill us in on that!


I am somewhat lazy, and yet I will go to great lengths if I really want something.

I know that you are in West Sussex -- close to what?

Brave Sir Robin said...

Philosophical Question: Is it better to wait for what you really want? Or to compromise, and learn to like something else that you can get immediately?

That sounds like the topic of an entire post!!

As for bare root season, I'm guessing it's different over there. I can't help you with that one, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the rose cane going into dormancy. (but don't quote me on that - It was my Dad's garden, not mine)

I love your rational for buying three books! Only makes sense, right?

Bee said...

Answer to philosophical question: Best of all is when you can get what you want AND have the instant gratification.

Sadly, this will not always be possible. And yes, that could DEFINITELY be the subject for a post.

What was your Dad's favorite rose?

Alyson said...

It's odd, but I just realized that I hardly ever see rose bushes in CT. I did all the time in CA and in UT, but not here. I don't know why that is. There's more rhodendrons here.

I think I will blog a little about my time in England, once I scan my old pictures. By the way, I lived in Sutton Coldfield, a suburb of Birmingham. Not the prettiest part of England, but still was a great experience and I traveled all around the country.

Brave Sir Robin said...

My Dad always liked Oklahoma, Chrysler Imperial, and Peace.

debski beat said...

I agree with Sir Robin, the question of the day is going to be a huge one, might take up a whole month !

I have some fab roses around my little door right now, massive white ones and smelling wonderful although they are attracting a lot of bees (no pun intended ;)

Bee said...


We have lots of rhododendrens, too -- and they are in bloom right now! I wonder why you don't have roses?

Would love to hear about your UK time.

classic hybrid teas, for sure! I like an old-fashioned peony-like rose, myself.


I'm jealous that you have roses blooming!! Ours are all late-starters. Must put some early-bloomers in now, methinks. Went for horrid 15 mile walk today, but saw some lovely roses.

Anonymous said...

You've reminded me of another David Austin devotee. I used to read a blogger who lived on the peninsula, south of San Francisco. She was one of my first blogs, ah sweet memories. I read her online journal while employed at Ask Jeeves in 2000ish. She was a former punk travel agent finishing her undergraduate degree in the evenings. She was an avid gardener and described how her flowers did on their hilly yard in the the foggy climate. She also obsessed over the David Austin catalog. I remember her eagerly anticipating its arrival and planning ahead for future roseate glories. She doesn’t blog any more, boo, but keeps a flicker account with lots of plant photos.

But wait! I find that she is updating her livejournal account now as well as her (award-winning) photos .

Bee said...


Thanks! I will check that out!

I have a an old favorite book called "The Egg and I" by Betty Macdonald -- and I vividly remember a bit in which the narrator, stuck on a chicken farm in gray, damp winter -- feasts on flower catalogs.

bakerina said...

And here comes another comment with a whimsical topic: Of course it makes perfect sense that you love The Egg and I. Of course. :) I bought my copy the summer I lived in northwest Arkansas on an American Egg Board Fellowship. There is a wealth of goodness and hilarity there. I loved how Betty would chase her weather blues away with the seed catalogs, but I loved even more her accounting of how she tried to make cream puffs in the deep fryer, doubling the eggs in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook recipe ("Now, Mrs. Lincoln, let's not be *frugal*!"). heeee.

(I'm still here, and still reading. Lurky and taciturn, but still reading, and still dazzled. :)

Lucy said...

In fact I was genuinely interested in the Yemeni population explosion etc but the roses were the only thing I felt qualified to comment on! I did mean to recommend Golden Celebration, if you like yellow roses. Awful name but lovely character.

Re light relief reading, I think you would enjoy 'Gone with the Windsors'. I can't remember by whom it is, but it's a novel about the abdication told from the POV of a fictitious American friend of Wallis Simpson. Huge amount of historical detail but remains rivetting and hilairious all the way through, somehow I can see you enjoying it...

Lucy said...

Meant to say, I used to love Burford too, though it's rather conflated in my mind now with Bourton-on-the-Water.

Bee said...

I just found this comment! I can't tell you how much I LOVE the fact that you have read The Egg and I. (Yes, I remember the cream puffs! But I probably remember all of it, because I tended to reread that book every time I got sick say, from ages 10 - 18.)

So why lurky?

Yes, I know "Golden Celebrations" -- a name only slightly better than "Golden Showers."

Thanks for the book rec. I'm sure that I would like it.

I know what you mean about the "Cotswoldyness" of it all. I dip in selectively, and that particular town retains the glow of nostalgia for me.