It’s cold outside and it has just started to snow – the second time since June! We are more than half way through winter. That time of year when everything is dead and one cannot imagine how things will ever come alive again in the spring.
Yesterday I bought some frost cover at the local nursery to protect my tiny broad bean shoots from the ice. While there, I asked when the right time is to start pruning my roses. I was told that we have a two week window period in our area – from the last week in July to the first week of August. Any sooner and the new shoots will frost out, any later and the sap will be too far up the shoots (or something like that!) Looking at my travel schedule for the next while it seems it will have to be the first week in August for me.
This winter is the first anniversary of my rose garden. A labour of love that I hope will leave my personal mark on the Vastrap garden as it prospers and matures in the years to come. Telling the story of how the garden came about will cheer me up on this cold day.
Every single rose in the garden is special to me. They were given to me by friends as a going-away gift when I left the city to move to the farm. At my farewell party in October 2010, everyone was asked to bring a rose plant of their choice for my new farm garden. My sister hosted the tea at her beautiful guest house called Ilali. Some of the roses were chosen for their names like “Brides Dream”, “True Love”, “Forever Friends”, “South Africa” and “Madiba”. Others for their brilliant colour and scent like “Rina Hugo”, “Papa Meilland” and “Double Delight”. Whatever the motivation, I was so touched by the care that everyone took and the fact that each one had its own special message written on gorgeous personalised gift tags from Macaroon.
When the day finally arrived, I drove to the farm with a car loaded full of clothes, office equipment and a boot filled with 40 rose plants. The front seat was piled with a crate of books from the office. Along the way I was stopped twice by traffic cops for speeding (only a little bit). They asked me where I was going and why my car was so full of books and things. Without skipping a beat I said that I was on my way to the Free State to marry a farmer. They took one look at this woman in a black BMW wearing fancy office clothes on her way to marry a farmer and laughed… the story sounded so far-fetched that they waved me on without a fine!
The roses were duly unloaded at Vastrap, but I soon realised that there was nowhere to plant them. A lot of work would have to be done to create the right space for a rose garden. My wonderful husband came to the party and suggested adding a section to the top level of our garden using old sandstone blocks from an underground circular well behind the house. Construction started that December, but took almost 6 months to complete because things were so busy on the farm. It took a huge amount of man power just to load enough sand to fill the hole! It was like watching paint dry and I became more and more impatient as winter drew near.
We eventually planted the roses on the last day of May. My gardener, Tsidiso was a star in getting everything organised, but he probably thought I was mad as I kept changing my mind about how they should be arranged. Some of the roses I had not even seen in bloom so I had to go on the description on the tag and Ludwig’s rose catalogue to imagine what they would look like. Even then some of the tags had been swapped so it was very confusing! In the end we arranged them in two mirror image semi-circles as I had received many duplicates. We also created special places in other parts of the garden for the roses that did not fit in the main section like the climbers.
Then we could do nothing but wait and hope that they would survive the winter. I mulched and fertilised in the spring and they eventually started flowering in October. To finish it all off we added two bird baths, planted purple irises between the roses and violets around the outside. Later we added some pink daisies to bring colour in winter. Creeping jenny was planted between the paving, which has a gorgeous minty fragrance when you walk over it.
Everything was going well until I convinced Quentin that we needed to cut down the 80-year-old pine tree standing next to the house. It was casting a large shadow over the garden and posed a risk to the house. It was a touchy subject, because the tree had been planted by Quentin’s grandparents around the time that his dad was born. I bided my time and eventually got the go-ahead from Bill and Karine. A tree feller from town arrived one morning, but disaster struck soon after. While I was watching one of the main branches came crashing down on my precious rose garden! That was totally not the plan!!
Miraculously only one rose was fatally damaged. The rest all survived! And the removal of the tree was a resounding success as it let in so much more light to the garden and the house. Everyone agreed that it was the right thing to do. Plus we gained an instant supply of fire wood for the coming winter.
The plants are still young and when I look at some of the really old rose bushes in the rest of the garden – some planted by Quentin’s grandmother – I can see that there is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, the whole project has already provided me with immense joy and been part of making Vastrap my home. Every time I pick a rose I think of the person that gave it to me. It is my special personal space and I can’t wait to see it grow!
The dogs also love drinking out of the bird baths. And of course, there is nothing better than a house filled with beautiful bright blooms straight from the garden. My pruning shears are sharpened and ready for August – bring on summer!