A thriving shrub rose loaded with flowers is one of the best parts of my June garden. This June I had roses better than any other year I can remember; they were glorious. The shapes of the fragrant blooms are beautiful. The foliage was lustrous and healthy. But the real story of a rose is told over a period of months.
In the spring, warmer temperatures and longer days encourage my roses to send out new shoots. These new shoots grow, and form leaves. At a certain point, a point probably determined by day length, the leaves synthesize a certain protein. Once that protein reaches the tip of a growing shoot, it triggers the genes that govern and initiate blooming. This is a comic book version of the science, but have you not always loved the look of a rose budding, and wondered why it chose that particular day? The green casement around the bud is known as the calyx. It protects the bud from damage and insects prior to the bloom.
Once the rose bud is ready to open, the five modified leaves that form the calyx open, and lay flat. Once the bloom begins to open, the calyx folds back over what will become the seed pod. The tips of those special leaves hug the stem. This is a beautiful stage.
I love garden roses that open wide over a period of days. This Griffith Buck rose, Earthsong, is stunning when it is loaded with full blown blooms. This rose has my attention, and the attention of any pollinators who happen to be in the area.
The calyx that once shielded the bud from injury has a new job-protecting the seed that is yet to come. These leaf forms once so green turn frosty, and mature in this position. They have a job to do, which just happens to be very beautiful. The flip side of a rose can be just as beautiful as the front.
Petals are a modified leaf. The petals of a rose surround the reproductive part of a flower. They are brightly colored for one reason; the function of the petals is to attract pollinators. Gardeners are the lucky visual recipients of that mechanism that produces seed.
If you were a pollinating insect, this flower would attract your attention, and your visitation. This Earthsong rose has opened wide and flat enough to signal that pollination season is open. Some plants can self pollinate-some need to be cross pollinated to trigger the production of seeds. Knowing how plants have evolved to insure reproduction is part of the marvel that is nature. This process goes on all summer long with the roses.
OK, we are at that stage ripe for reproduction. The male stamens, that outer ring of pollen held aloft on fragile stems, surrounds the female pistil; fertilization, and the eventual production of seeds will insure the continuation of the species. Sexy this, but also entirely practical. The mechanism by which species survive has created no end of astonishing stories.
Once pollination has occurred, a seed pod begins to develop. I do not prune my roses much after the middle of August. I want the growth to harden off. My roses go to sleep ever so gradually. How they slow down over a period of months helps them to endure the winter. The green calyx bulges out at this stage-it has done its job. A seed pod is in the process of maturation.
This moment in the cycle of a rose is every bit as beautiful as its first spring gesture. I follow the entire life cycle of a rose not as a scientist, but as a gardener enchanted by the the process of life. Anyone who asks me how long my roses bloom-I tell them months.