Mother’s Day, 2014

rose-garden-in-May.jpgWe have had enough warm weather for any gardener to begin to sort out the landscape disaster at hand, courtesy of our 2013-2014 winter.  As the weather warms, it becomes clearer what is surviving, and what will not.  Evergreens pruned after August 1 show plenty of damage.  Late season pruning may look smart, but it is an invitation to trouble.  I would advise, if you have formally pruned yews, boxwood or arborvitae, quit cutting August 1.   As for my roses, I quit dead heading them in mid August.  In the interest that they might so better over the winter, intact.

winter-damage-on-roses.jpgThe spring version of the state of the roses was alarming.  The cold came so quick they did not shed their leaves in November. But I had hope. Even though I know that there is no negotiating with nature.  The winter was what it was.  No matter what I hoped it would be.  \winter-2014.jpgIn February, I was buried in snow, and enduring below zero temperatures-for days on end. Now I really understand the winter we just had was incredibly hard. The damage to the landscape is impossible to ignore. I am still worried about my parrotias, and my dogwoods. Given a certain level and length of cold, treasured plants can fail.  The end of a hundred miles of really bad garden road-devastating.

carefree-beauty-roses.jpgMy rose garden is not large or elaborate. It is not perfectly maintained.  In a good year, it delivers thousands of blooms.  The perfume is exquisite.  It has taken 7 years to get the climbers to represent high on my south facing wall.  Never mind the time it took to attach each cane to that wall.  I was living large, given my wall of roses.  My shrub roses were 7 feet tall.  Not so shapely, but beautiful in bloom.  I treasured them.

rose-garden.jpgEvery night in June Buck and I go to the rose garden.  To talk about the day, and to admire the roses. This is a ritual that helps bring order to my busy work life. For the past week, I have been studying the current situation.  Today I am quite sure most of my roses are dead.  The climbing roses are leafing out 8 inches above ground level. The Sally Holmes shrub roses are all dead, but for 2 lone shrubs who have shoots emerging from the bottom. The tops of the Carefree Beauty roses are leafing only intermittently. All of their 7 feet of height has died back to within 6 inches of the ground.

rose-garden.jpgI will say the winter devastation to my roses is very tough to take.  I know I need to prune every rose down hard.  I hope the climbers will respond to my pruning call with gusto, and grow like crazy. As for my shrub roses, I am warming up the idea that they will need to be replaced.  And that I will need to start fresh, and design a new garden. I won’t do a new garden tomorrow-I am still in the shock stage.

garden-roses.jpgI lost my Mom in 2002.  I think about her most every day.  If she were still here, she would encourage me to get over my troubles, and move on. She would never dream of making fun of my disaster.  She would feel for my loss-genuinely.   That’s what Mom’s do.  They help make their children grow.  But she would nudge me in a new direction.  I know I would be so grateful for her concern and counsel.  A Mom-there is no one else quite like her.

garden-roses.jpgMy good friend Joey Randall posted on her facebook page this week that a Mom’s hug lasts long after she lets go. Her words are so much comfort to me today.  If you have had treasured plants that have disaster written all over them, call on your heart.  If your Mom had a lot to do with the length, width, breadth and capacity of your heart, consider yourself blessed. Consult her in any way you can. I cannot really explain this, but my memory of Julia will make my loss of the roses easier.  A Mom is a delight, and a steadfast and most dear friend. A Mom is an ally of the most important sort.

Thinking of you today, Julia.




  1. Erica McKoane says

    What a lovely tribute to your mother. I lost mine in 1997; this year at her grave I brought her a pot of bright pink and purple petunias, colors that she loved. She is in my heart always, I think of her every day. Begin anew, roses for remembrance.

  2. Lovely words of wisdom for Mother’s Day. My mom has been gone a long time. I have vinca and ivy from her garden, which was her parents’ before that. Even those hardy souls are looking ratty. But they will make it through, and I will keep that connection to home and family.

  3. Your post touched me greatly. My mother is almost 96 and in assisted living but lived with me for ten years. She was an avid gardener and faced many trials and losses in her gardens. She grieved with me over the loss of plants and urged me not to give up but to try again. To this day I too am an avid gardener, always trying something new. I feel your loss, but know you have the strength to continue to enhance your life with your gardens, not a loss but a challenge. Best of luck to you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Wilma, you and I have very similar backgrounds. As daughters,and as gardeners. We will both try again. Not a loss but a challenge-I will hold that thought of yours. Thanks, Devborah

  4. Yes. It’s been a tough year for the roses. We’ve experienced the same devastation, here in Connecticut. New roses have arrived from Pickering Nurseries, in Ontario, and they are in and being coddled. Our cherished Pierre de Ronsard rose is most probably perished, and Honorine de Brabant, another of our favorites, will take another 3 years to get back on her feet. Last year, our vegetable garden was exceptionally productive (as in too much produce for us to ever consume), and my husband, an RHS horticulturist and a former farmer from Northern England, remarked that it signalled a very tough winter ahead. At the time, I passed it off as fuzzy logic and weird, magical, Farmer’s Almanac thinking. Well. Perhaps he was on to something. It will be interesting to see what the insect population will be for this growing season. Gardener’s are innately optimistic. Plant growth of any kind, with the exception of weeds, stirs our souls, charges our batteries and inspires us to jump right back into the game with nature. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, we always learn and we always keep at it. Mother Earth calls the shots and we rise to the occasion!
    Happy Mother;s Day.

    • Nicely said! As a fellow New Englander, I know almost anything can happen to a garden. Here the extensive winter sent voles out in search of bark; a neighboring gardner had the bark entirely removed from her roses, and they are quite dead. Apparently the voles also wrecked havoc on some local apple orchards – removing the bark of even mature trees. And many plants are marginal here (MA). Dogwoods need a protective spot to grow; butterfly bush is expected to completely die off every 2 or 3 winters. The same appears to be true for roses. Still, tons of daisies, primrose, bee balm, iris, day lilies, phlox, coneflower, asparagus, rhubarb just zip through these cold winters and are up just rootin’ to go each spring! Cheers to all those robust plants!

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Mary, robust plants have a lot about them to love. This winter, I had plants entirely robust for 20 years wiped out. There is another way to look at it. The roses I had for 15 years provided 15 early summer seasons with all roses they could muster. I can’t complain. Thanks, Deborah

    • Whenever someone used to talk to me about the Farmer’s Almanac, I thought hogwash…hocus pocus…hooey. No more. My garden mother Deborah has taught me many things (or is she my older sister?) and one of those lessons is “listen to the Farmer’s Almanac. It is a mystery to me…but I now embrace the mystery.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michelle, gardeners are an optimistic lot. Your letter is all about the optimism that marks a true gardener. Just seeing the landscape green up takes my mind off my troubles. You are clearly a serious rosarian. And a thoughtful gardener. Jumping right back into the game-thanks for your counsel. I appreciate it. Happy Mother’s Day to you too. All my best, Deborah

  5. Kathleen Emery says


    I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful roses. The pictures you have posted are glorious. The comments of your Mom remind me of my Grandma- she was my biggest fan for as long as I can remember, and the first gardener in my life. I remember digging her callas in the fall, dragging pots of Tropicals in for the winter, and the smell of her prairie meadow.
    Mostly, I remember the talking and laughing together. She preferred digging in the garden to keeping house. She would always say’ there will be dirt when I’m dead!’ She was a jewel and I was fortunate to have had her in my life, just as your Julia.

    A new garden, another chance.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Kathleen, like your grandmother, my Mom vastly preferred digging in the dirt to house keeping. My Mom always told me that I would have to eat a peck of dirt before I would die. She taught me that a love of dirt was a right way of thinking. Your jewel sounds a lot like mine. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  6. You bring tears to my eyes, after a morning in my own garden today & all the wringing-of-hands I’ve had waiting to see what has survived this winter in my yard, here in the West Chicago suburbs. So many of my plants & trees have special meaning to me and were planted in honor of someone special. The Wisteria in honor of a best friend’s child has flourished in the 5 yrs. since i planted but i believe is lost….my Dad’s Dogwood shows life, but is struggling….I pulled out the 2 new rose bushes – dead as door nails, & my gigantic butterfly bushes…dead I think…Your roses were beautiful….and you are right to draw on your Mother’s spirit….redirect and plant again, perhaps something new. We are nothing, if not hopeful…the gardening sort.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Leanne, we are the gardening sort. So we will will sort out what nature saw fit to dish out. Lots of trouble in yours and my garden this spring. But good will come after all of the bad. I believe this to be true. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  7. I know your Mom is very proud of you. What a remarkable woman you are. Perhaps like my mom, she would say about the roses, “Chin up, dear.”
    Happy Mothers day to you Deborah,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jen, “chin up” is the perfect description of a gardener. Thanks for writing me. Best, Deborah

  8. John mccarley says

    Every bad winter is unique in the way it damages plants. This last one was a brute. We try not to take it personally, and look at it as an opportunity for new and better. But seeing old friends ravaged leaves us feeling low.
    Sorry for your losses.
    John and Marcia
    Cashiers, NC

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear John, the loss of my roses is a blow. I will admit I cried over it. And I don’t do tears very often. That is where I am at right now. Later in the summer, once I have sorted out what I want to do, and get a new plan going on, I will feel better. Thanks for your concern. This laid me low, too. Best, Deborah

  9. The roses are beautiful and must make you smile! Happy Mother’s Day

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lauren, I took these pictures last September-than heavens that I did. I am not sure if I will replant the roses-I am still thinking it over. Happy Mother’s Day to you too! best, Deborah

  10. Julia Hofley says

    I still haven’t given up hope yet. I’m giving them all a little more time. You remind me of just how hard this winter was with your snow pix~on our gardens, on us all! We’re like the plants in our gardens, shell-shocked by the winter and very slowing believing that warm weather is truly here! I was in Traverse City last weekend and they are behind us and still had snow bergs in spots and it was cold. It reminded me of a month ago here and how far we’ve come. I’m still hoping the losses are low… You are right about wanting to kibbutz with our gardening soul mates after a winter like this. That was my Mom and she’s been gone since 2001. I talk to her especially when I’m in the garden feeling her right over my shoulder~

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Julia, I gave everything a lot of time, but I know dead when I see it. That said, shell shocked is a very good description of how I feel. I call on the memory of my Mom when I am faced with trouble that makes the earth under my feet rumble. She was always happy to oblige. I suspect that invoking her memory would please her. Best, Deborah

  11. What a touching and heartfelt tribute to your mother.

    I lost my 90 yr old mother a week ago. Her favorite flower was a pink rose and we made sure they were everywhere for her services. So coming home last night to your post and photos of pink roses brought tears to my eyes.

    One of the pleasures she had in her nursing home was listening to me read out loud some of the parts of your blogs. Like you, my mom was a dedicated gardener. Back in the 20’s, she and her grandmother picked all 275 acres of cotton on their farm in rural Texas. She had a devotion to fresh vegetables and pink roses. Everywhere we lived, she insisted on a garden for her family even in the city. As a kid, I was embarrassed by her digging in the dirt (and making us kids help her) when she wasn’t at work and instead dreamed of the day I’d be rich enough to only have canned vegetables at my dinner table — thinking that that was how wealthy people ate. How times change.

    Thanks for your eloquent post and sharing the gift of your mother. Pink roses for Julia!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Love this story, Terry. Thanks for telling it. I am so so sorry for your loss. There is never a good time to loose a Mom. I know. Best, Deborah

  12. Dear Deborah,
    What a remarkably touching post. Thank you for such a personal reflection on nurturing, loss, connection, perseverance and our collective fleetingness. I know deep down that the act of gardening is, for me, philosophy in action….and an existential act. And it has everything to do with going to the past to look at that tree that was planted in another time…with another clan…in another context. At standing back, in the present, and simply basking in the marvel of it all. I guess it is the most immediate way of trying to unlock the mystery. Your post got at that for me. Thanks. m.

  13. Pam Markle says

    May 11th is my father’s birthday, so sometimes the family does a joint celebration; like this mother’s day. My parents live in PA, and they have such good soil that I swear they could plant a Popsicle stick and it would grow. Needless to say their flower garden output has come to be shared with all their seven children. This mother’s day was no different. Hostas were split, daffodil’s bulbs already pulled, and bleeding heart plants dug up for all of us, and you can’t determine the spot of extraction as their own are so full of little pink drops. These are all put into Red Folgers coffee cans saved by my dad for this purpose. My favorite plant I have received is growing in a strip along the side of my house in Virginia, where nothing else I have planted thrives. Our family calls it the “Alaska” plant. This is because it came from a cousin who lives in Alaska, who brought some home to his mother, my aunt, who shared it with my mother. Someday I’ll figure out its real name, but for now its part of the tradition, and a memory to savor as my father turns 88, and my mom, frail but still able to celebrate with us still.

  14. Dear Deborah, I read your post with tears in my eyes. As images of your gardens touch my senses, the eloquence of your words touches my heart. I’m left with the thought that Julia’s love of dirt, gardens and pink roses lives in you and through you to many of us who admire your work. My garden, as others are I’m sure, is styled and inspired by you….Therefore Julia’s garden is vast and grows stronger every year.

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