Gardener Takes Own Advice, Shocked To Find It Helpful

Piece of Eden

About five minutes after you start gardening for the very first time, someone asks you for advice. This is because after five minutes, when it comes to plants, you are already vastly more experienced than most of the rest of America.

If you think Americans are ignorant about how their government works, it's even worse where plants are concerned. Ask a non-gardener the name of any plant. Sometimes they will be able to tell the difference between a Pine and a Palm, but not always. A lady told me she asked a group of children where carrots came from, and they answered, "From a can." How very sad.

I remember some previous neighbors always referred to my roses as "sticker bushes", apparently not realizing that roses exist other than those imported from Columbia by their neighborhood florist shop. Come to think of it, the number of Americans who could find Columbia on a map added to the number of Americans who know most florist roses are imported from South America may be about as small as the number of Americans who can identify a tree. But I digress.

Sticker bushes:
Belinda's Dream and friends

I've read national gardening forums to learn about the scourges of Black Spot (barely exists here) and Japanese beetles (not here yet, thankfully), read books from England about how they garden over there (gravel gardens! double digging!), and compared vastly different results on plants grown a few miles inland and a few miles closer to the ocean from my own garden. So any advice I actually give comes with considerable caution and restraint, because gardening and plants are complex systems, meaning there are a lot of variables to account for, even more variables that can be accounted for.

And because, really--what do I know? Your run-of-the-mill California gardener (me) isn't all that skilled because she doesn't have to be. The climate is so mild, the pests so modest, the disease pressure so minor, the range of plants that can be grown here so staggering, that it's fairly difficult to kill a plant unless you make a genuine effort.

It is the truly skilled gardener who successfully grows Agaves in Minnesota, or Peonies in Miami. Wow would I love to meet gardeners like this--though--what could they tell me about gardening in Southern California? It's not the same. Too many variables. Undoubtedly they could tell me something, which I could then translate into something useful in my own garden. But translation required.

There are a few things that can be considered standard tips for any garden, anywhere. When it comes to pruning climbing roses, I can say:

1. Remove any damaged, diseased, or dead material
2. Except for 1.), leave the main canes growing from the base untouched from base to tip
3. Shorten the laterals coming off of the main canes
4. On fully mature plants, remove one or two of the oldest canes every year to stimulate new canes which will replace the old ones
5. Retie, rearrange, readjust the canes on their support

This is decent general advice. There are assorted other, smaller details, but those five things are the essence.

Yesterday I was faced with my real mess of a climber, the 'Sombreuil' over the front door.

"What climber over the door," readers may wonder. "All those pictures and I don't remember seeing any pictures of a climber over the front door."

Exactly. It wasn't worth looking at. An embarrassment, a shame, a failure.

I got out the ladder yesterday and started working on it. It was a mass of canes going everywhere, tangled up. Old foliage, heads that needed deading. Disaster.


If you are eating spaghetti one strand at a time, which one do you fork up first? Perplexed on to where start, at a loss, I decided to take my own advice.

I started by shortening all the laterals I could reach. I removed all damaged and dead material. I stripped off old foliage. Now I could see more of the structure of what was left, and see what was good and what was bad. I took out a couple of the oldest canes right down to the base. A few more laterals to shorten, some cane re-arrangement, and the climber looked miraculously better. That was it. The five rules worked.

Piece of Eden

We can all give good advice about any number of things. It's easy to do something like that when you are on the outside looking in. It's more complicated when you actually have to do it. Overwhelmed, I clung to my rules, and it wasn't so complicated after all.

Piece of Eden

After taking my own advice about pruning the climbing rose, it seems taking my own advice, formed after thought and study, is something I should try more often.

After thought and study: education, education, education. Education matters. It starts with at least knowing what things are called, and going on from there. In the beginning was the word.

Kids, carrots come from the ground after adding seeds, water, and loving care. A can has nothing to do with it. And long-gone neighbors: they are roses, not "sticker bushes", you ignorant clowns.


  1. Nice "sticker bushes". In Albuquerque, the clowns here do not mind thorns on roses, but they sure mind them agaves, sotols or cacti! Great, great points you make - all of them.

    Fortunately, the clowns are being outnumbered as we grow up.

    Perhaps horticulture can be better promoted by showing Paris Hilton getting pierced or Kobe Bryant getting tattoed by some stickery roses or yuccas.....

  2. I am impressed you did all this thinking and working on a ladder. Ladders turn me into a frozen scaredy cat.

    I recently over heard a pair of guys talking about the way that the "cool tall stems with the big leaves comes from that cool short plant with the weird leaves"...they thought an Alocasia grew out of a Begonia because they were planted together in a pot.

  3. I trained a climber in lateral pretzels per the impeccable advice of Jon of Wessex from the ARF and it's still holding that shape, no big pruning this year. That Sombreuil is going to be freaking amazing this year. Can't wait to see photos! I had a weak strain of this climber long, long ago...


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