On Chemistry

We are asked – fairly frequently – what do we do to make our gardens grow so lusciously? – What do we use for fertilizer? Our answer “not much” is hard for fellow Rhode Islanders and New Englanders to believe. When we really want to push plants along, we use Neptune’s Harvest Fish Fertilizer which is OMRI listed organic. We also add Electra to the potting soil we use for our container plants and we feed the Rose and North Garden roses with Electra once a year. We’re lucky because our gardens are blessed with dreamy dark fluffy cake mix soil – only a mile and a half down the road at my own house, I can’t jump on a digging fork without a teeth rattling bounce against a pile of rocks embedded in clay. These gardens though, have been under cultivation – ornamental and otherwise – for almost 100 years – just think if your own garden had been annually ammended with compost and an arboretum’s worth of leaves…

The plight of the honey bee has been all over the news lately (Colony Collapse Disorder) and with garden chemicals being one of the possible causes, we all (I’m editorializing) should really think long and hard about how our choices impact the eco-system. For years now, Gail and I have refused to use chemistry on our infested rosesBlack spot on rose leaves – not only would our visitors and volunteers be in constant contact with it, but the beneficial insects and organisms would suffer. So we have plucked spotty yellow leaves and squished aphids and drowned Japanese beetles in soapy water. Last fall, Dan (one of our groundsmen) applied Milky Spore to several patches of lawn for beetle grub control. We’re crossing our fingers that that works! And instead of fighting a losing battle with blackspot – if the only way to win is with destructive chemistry or a weekly regiment of organic solutions that we haven’t got the time to apply – we’re raising the white flag, taking out some of the most disease prone roses and starting to interplant the rest with a healthy-garden mix of shrubs, perennials and annuals. Why fight it? (and don’t get me wrong – I love roses!)

In a nutshell (and there’s so much more to say but the greenhouse beckons – there’s a plant somewhere in there rasping, “waaater… cough.. cough … I’m thiiiiirsty…”), I think Blithewold’s gardens are gorgeous because we try to make sure our choices are healthy for everyone – creepy crawly or otherwise.

If I’ve raised more questions – please ask them!The Rock Garden 5-14-07

4 thoughts on “On Chemistry

  1. I envy you your soil! I have rocks everywhere! If I can dig a hole, I can plant it though! I love this garden shot with the light coming through. I am a big fan of Electra although it is not entirely organic. It does work well. Also, I use the fish emulsion quite often with good results. I know that spraying is a chore but I am trying Neem Oil as it is OMRI approved for many diseases and insects. Stay tuned on that one!

  2. Layanee, definitely let us know how the neem works for you. I’m still not sure we can work a spraying regimen into our schedule but if it really works… I wonder what kind of roses you have — any favorites?

  3. Kris:

    I have The Fairy rose which is pretty easy care. I have, on my list, Rosa hugonis. Father Hugo Rose, which is a beautiful species rose with single yellow flowers and rather delicate looking foliage. I think it has few problems. I would imagine that the ocean mist can cause problems for you there at Blithewold.

  4. Those are great roses! Tough as nails. We have a couple of enormous Father Hugos presiding over the greenhouse – I tend to forget they’re there and it was great to be reminded because they’re all budded up! As for ocean mist, the Rose Garden is in a pretty protected spot – so protected that hot humid days can be a little oppressive in there! The Fairy rose definitely tends to not be as bothered by blackspot as some of the fussier ones and we’re, once again, trying new (to us) roses – planting them today – and time will tell!

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