Are you a bit of a ruthless control-freak in the garden or do you just twiddle about? If you ask any gardening acquaintances they will readily jump (or tiptoe hesitantly) into one or other camp.
I have just been rescuing a Twiddler friend’s climbing roses from years of indecisive mismanagement. You know the picture: horrid gnarled undercarriage staggering jaggedly up to a just-out-of-reach 10 ft or so, the hips from last year’s sparse flowers clonking on the bedroom window when the wind blows. There are no leaves or flowers and precious little new green growth visible down below, and the lone shoot that started to make its way into the world last summer was shamefully cut off because it was either a ‘a sucker wasn’t it?’, or had ‘started going the wrong way’.
When invited to do so, I let my inner Control Freak out of the shed and go to it with all guns blazing. In this case as usual, the hapless owner acted as my skivvy, chopping the debris into a big bag while hopping from foot to foot, in obvious pain and anguish (OK, so my friend is still recovering from a foot operation…) as I sawed out a limb or two from the old rose, one from the base, one from a few feet up, in so doing reduced the grotesque ancient, bare and unproductive old wood by at least half. I then then messed around with loppers and secateurs, cutting back the hips and what greenery there was left in, as far as was possible, in the proscribed, text-book manner.
My friend’s unpromising rose has thus been liberated from years of passive tyranny, and will undoubtedly now produce trainable new growth lower down on which it will flower in years to come. We went on to tidy up three younger climbers that were slightly less awful, removing an old shoot from each, spreading out the best and youngest stems to form a framework that covered the allotted space, tying them in to their support wires as horizontally as possible (which makes them flower better). Side shoots from these that had borne flowers were cut back to within a couple of buds of each main stem.
Then I bossed my poor friend about mercilessly: Gently de-compact the soil around the roses where I have been treading, feed and mulch them, I told her. The aim is to get some action out of them in their lower regions. And please, please when the new growth appears, before it goes rigid as it ages, start to bend it and tie it gently into position so that it can eventually replace any other old shoot that has become unproductive.
It may surprise you to hear that my friend is still my friend – and was furthermore stunned at how much better her climbing roses looked, even in all their naked orderliness. She made us a great lunch and she tells me that when this Control Freak had departed, she enjoyed a a really good, Grade ‘A’ Twiddle, clearing up the rest of the debris, loosening compacted soil etc. etc.
Once a Twiddler, always a Twiddler.