Cemetery Gleanings on a Rare Sunny Day

red chrysanthemums

Historic Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

December 29, 2018

I did not make the deadline for the last Saturday of 2018 “Six on Saturday” postings. However, I did make it outdoors on what may have been the only sunny day between Christmas and 2019. I spent at least two unplanned hours tweezing tree seedlings and English ivy from the “lawn” in my tiny backyard with my bare fingers; hours I feel certain were absolutely necessary for my mental health. My hands are worse for the wear, and the yard looks exactly as it did before. But I felt so much better. Weeding is perhaps my favorite pastime; whenever I indulge in it at the expense of other things that I should be doing instead, I remind myself that if I spent just an hour – or two – weeding every day, my yard and garden would look meticulously kept, and I would feel happier and more peaceful. I know this to be true, in fact, because years ago I actually lived like this.

As the barrel filled with tiny tree seedlings (I think that most of them were baby camellia sasanquas) and my hands became very raw, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking in a nearby park rather than working in the garden. But on the way there, I was sidetracked by noticing many cars pulling into the Oakland Cemetery parking lot. Sometimes the cemetery has plant sales, so . . .

No plant sale! Just, apparently, a crowd of people who all decided, at the same time, to take advantage of the sun and walk through the park-like cemetery. Because this particular historic cemetery is supported by a gardening club, it has the appearance of a small botanical garden. For those of us who don’t mind the residents, it’s a wonderful place to spend some time.

And here are a few of the things I saw there yesterday:

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I don’t know what the little orange-leaved bush was, but there was a row of them growing as a hedge. They were very pretty. I assume the camellias were camellia sasanqua because of the time of year. Again, beautiful! Don’t know what kind of holly it was, but it was not sharp. And the chrysanthemums (are they called something else now?) were not marked that I noticed. Still beautiful, I thought, even the ones whose blossoms were dead and dried up. We have had so much rain; all the evergreen leaves are plump and green, which is not always the case here where drought is the common condition.

I took the card of the garden manager from the gift shop attendant. Unfortunately I will need to make a call about the Rose Rosette Disease, a/k/a witches’ broom, that I noticed on a couple of rose bushes. Oakland Cemetery grows only heirloom, own-root roses, and I do, too. I had never heard of witches’ broom or seen it until it came to my own backyard a few years ago. It began on a beautiful rose I had growing on a fence, called Climbing Pinkie, from the 1950s. In its early stages, the disease often presents itself through deep red branches and leaves, and disfigured or missing leaves or flowers on that branch. But many roses also have red or purplish stems early in the season or new stem and leaf growth that is red. So it took me at least a year to realize that the deep red-colored branches and leaves on my Climbing Pinkie were unusual and might indicate a problem rather than just a “sport” branch or two of some kind. In fact, it was only when the growth on those red branches changed to the typical “witches broom” form – the curling, clustered, and yet stunted growth, with no flowers whatsoever and few fully formed leaves – that I went to the Internet to research. And then I was in denial – I couldn’t believe that an heirloom plant, growing on its own roots, in a completely organic environment, could possibly have the problem described on the Internet. But by the next year, most of the plant was involved, and there were very few normal branches with the beautiful pink scented flowers I loved so much. At that point, I cut the rose back severely, to the ground in fact, bagging and carrying the cut branches away from my garden. But the new growth was the same, and I ended up having to destroy the entire rose.

Climbing pinkie roses with native bee
Climbing Pinkie Rose

Meanwhile, a rose planted nearby, a favorite called Work of Art, quickly succumbed. Work of Art was a climbing miniature rose introduced by Ralph Moore of Sequoia Nurseries in 1989. Not so very old, but very, very beautiful. And I can no longer find it in the rose market.

I also lost, around the same time, another beautiful and intoxicatingly scented rose, David Austin’s ‘Heritage.’ As it was growing in my front yard and showed no signs of Rose Rosette disease, however, I’m not sure that’s what killed it. Could have been drought, even though it was a mature and healthy bush growing on its own roots. And oddly, at the same time I lost a mature heirloom shrub, Kolkwitzia amabilis or Beauty Bush, that had been growing immediately between the Climbing Pinkie and the Work of Art roses.  I don’t believe that the Beauty Bush is related to roses at all, and it’s an heirloom that is particularly immune to disease and pests, so it’s hard to believe it was affected by the Rose Rosette Disease. But it did suddenly die for no other apparent reason, at the same time that disease was obviously killing two of my favorite roses. The backyard is lower lying and has more moisture-retentive soil and a semishady microclimate, so I think it’s unlikely that drought would have been a contributing factor.

Well, I didn’t intend for this post to be an ode to lost but well-loved plants. I don’t usually tend to mourn lost plants, since there are so many waiting in the wings to take their places. I’m glad I searched out the old pictures of these favorites, though. They were beautiful, and I miss them all.


3 thoughts on “Cemetery Gleanings on a Rare Sunny Day”

    1. That would make sense. I was hoping that if I simply didn’t plant more roses in the same place, perhaps ever, it would be sufficient. Although I read in one article that after a year it would be okay to replant a rose in the same place, I wouldn’t personally be willing to risk that. When I removed my climbing pinkie, I didn’t make a special attempt to remove the surrounding soil, but plenty of soil came up with it, and I certainly didn’t shake it off back onto the ground. I dumped it right into the garbage bag for disposal with the plant material. The Work of Art, being a miniature form, although it had a six foot vine, did not have much of a root system. I really miss that rose. I have other pink roses but Work of Art was my only orange rose, and garnered many compliments every year. It was growing by my back gate with a pale purple clematis.

      Maybe if I had dug up the Climbing Pinkie immediately, along with the surrounding soil, the virus wouldn’t have spread. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. It was definitely a learning experience.


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