“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.”

As I began to grow roses I gained initial advice from books on garden greats in history, the locals in the country town where I lived, and various rose nurseries and horticulturalists. I followed their advice and I noticed I had considerable knowledge of plant species and names even though I didn’t know I knew these things. There was an inherent understanding of plants, soil, and roses that was just there within me. When I viewed nurseries and other gardens, they appeared on demand as if from nowhere. I put this down to my upbringing, as my parents were avid gardeners, and my brother was a horticulturist. As children growing up, we lived and played in a beautiful garden. It has always been natural for me to be amongst plants, to be potting them up or moving them around and tending to a garden, even though I was never considered a gardener in my family.

La Jago Rose

So, is this innate knowledge a ”green thumb” that has developed through association or is a person with a green thumb born with a special gift or talent for making plants grow that only some people are lucky enough to have?  Are some people more intuitive and adept with plants that others. Or is a ‘green thumb’ merely someone who has spent so much time with plants that their fingers (and thumbs) have become green?

“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart”

Russell Page

“There are no green thumbs or black thumbs, there are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises.”

Henry Mitchell
Dublin Bay Climbing first bloom.

The notion of a ‘green thumb’ is a myth, anyone can garden. Raising a prolific healthy garden is a skill like any other that can be acquired by study or self-taught. Many famous gardeners have agreed.

Ask any gardener or farmer what he thinks of it, and you will be rewarded as you deserve by a slow cynical grin and no verbal answer at all, except possibly ‘Green fingers, my foot!

Vita Sackville West 20th century authour and gardener.

Another modern name for a green thumb is a ‘garden guru’ or a ‘plantsman or ‘plantswoman’,

Noun, plural plants·wom·en – a nursery woman, a horticulturist, a woman with a keen interest in plants and their cultivation.

Blue Moon Climber – first bloom slightly rain damaged

However, there is no special secret ingredient for the ability to grow a successful garden. Being at one with the plant world does not have to be second nature. It is gained through experience, as Monty Don is quoted as saying.

Gardening is easy. Stick it in the ground the right way up and most plants will grow perfectly well.

Pink Knockout Rose

“Whether I am making a landscape or a garden or arranging a window-box I first address the problem as an artist composing a picture ; my pre-occupation is with the relationship between objects whether I am dealing with woods, fields or water, rocks or trees, shrubs and plants or groups of plants.”

Russell Page

Don’t give up if you think you do not have a green thumb; it is a fallacy. Although many people disagree, like English born garden designer Russell Page ( 1906-1985), one of the most legendary gardeners and landscapers of the last century. He has designed gardens in England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and even Persia and the USA. His gardens were from small window boxes to cottage gardens to factory and housing estate gardens to larger estates for industrialists and wealthy landowners. His clients included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lady Bird Johnson, and Oscar de la Renta. He was an exceptional rare plantsman and garden architect with a thorough understanding of colour, form and structure. His book ” The Education Of A Gardener “is one of my favourite books and well worth a read. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to view one f his famous U S gardens in the courtyard of the Frick Museum on East 70th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, New York.

To have green fingers or a green thumb is an old expression which describes the art of communicating the subtle energies of love to prosper a living plant. Gradually I came to recognise the idiosyncrasies of colour, texture, shape and habit the origin of a plant, and its cultural needs.

Russell Page

This is an entirely different sentiment to our understanding of the term ‘Green thumb’ today. Russell Page’s thoughts from his book ‘The Education of a Gardener’ describe so well the accumulation of experience that developed his knowledge and abilities from the early age of seventeen.

“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense. ‘Green fingers’ are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

Russell Page

It may be prudent advice to spend more time nurturing plants, working with nature, not against her and planting things at the right time that suit our climate and soil; add sunlight and water, then a garden will flourish. Gardening brings a sense of promise, too. After planting out in the garden we hope nature comes to the party and our garden choices grow and thrive. These ten basic garden tips may help.

Ten Garden Tips

  • Consider the region you live in and the conditions of the garden- light, shade, humidity, sea air or dry, hot or windy. What is the garden like as the seasons change ? Is it wet, cold, temperate, or do you have frost or snow ? Choose plants that suit the area and tolerate the conditions?
  • Choose plants that suit your lifestyle and what amount of time is available to nurture plants. It may be better to focus on indoor plants and succulents if few hours in the week are available or to grow plants that require little maintenance.
  • Do some weeding every day even ten minutes will help keep the garden weeds at bay.
  • Buy the right tools to make it easier to plant, water, weed, prune and test the soil.
  • Start simply with a simple easy-care plant palette. Start with tried and true rather than rare plants.
  • Always Mulch
  • Observe plants daily for pests or diseases, and any unusual foliage or plant behaviour. Take action quickly.
  • Don’t forget pots and containers these are a great way to ensure a healthy garden display especially for herbs, vegetables, annuals and a continual pop of colour.
  • Water and feed plants regularly.
  • Enjoy the vista, view and bounty of the garden

“A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won’t come true.”

Ray Evans

October 2023 Golden Beauty

Another myth worth debunking is that plants do not love sun or love shade. They are not sun-lovers or shade-lovers as many articles describe. Rather, they tolerate sun or they are tolerant of shade. All plants tolerate and thrive in morning sun and some can be intolerant of harsh afternoon sun. So when choosing new plants or roses rather than asking ” does this plant love sun or shade” think of the word ‘tolerate’ instead. Roses need six to eight hours of sun a day. Even the roses described as shade-tolerant will flower more if more sun is available.

Ashram Rose a very disease resistant rose that tolerates afternoon sun.

The afternoon sun can be severe where I garden because, unlike a suburban garden with other houses and buildings adjacent that create shade at certain times of the day, a rural garden can be quite exposed and out in the open. Many rose varieties tolerate intense sun and are bred to withstand the Australian conditions of a hot, dry climate. Generally, I look for roses with thick, dark green leaves, indicating a robust, healthy rose that will not burn in the afternoon sun.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Roses such as Altissimo, Carmagnole, Golden Beauty, Double Delight, Elina, Gold Bunny, Golden Celebration, Ebb Tide, Iceberg , In Appreciation, Kardinal, La Sevillana, Many Happy Returns, Margaret Merril , Meg, Parole, Sally Holmes, Scentimental, Tuscan Sun, Valencia, Westerland, Dark Desire, Fruity Parfuma, Fresia Rose, Gallipoli, Lion’s Rose, Impala, The Peace Rose, Shirley’s Rose, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Heaven Scent, Freycinet, Suffragette, Tequila Sunrise, Wedding Day, Ballerina, Cecile Brunner, Crepuscule, Elysium Fields, Kathleen Harrop, Lamarque, Outback Angel, Mn Alfred Carriere, Slim Dusty, and new release Bruce’s Dream.

Golden Beauty July 2023

Roses that are tolerant of humidity can thrive in the tropical climate of northern Australia. Consider roses with strong disease resistance because humidity usually brings fungal diseases, so roses with high resistance to blackspot and mildew. Roses like the Brindabella roses, Bruce Brundrett roses, and the Knockout range of roses.

Dark Desire Rose, a stunning trouble-free rose for humidity and disease resistance.

Also, these varieties will tolerate high levels of humidity and heat and are more resistant to disease such as; Just Joey, Mandarin, Mary Rose, Munstead Wood, Purple Rain, Peach Profusion, Mango Tango, Merrymaker, My Yellow, Novalis, Parole, Perfume Passion Soul Mate, Summer Romance, Quicksilver, Summer Sun, Soul Mate, The Fairy, Poets Wife, Fire Opal, Wedding Day, Jane McGrath, Windermere, Adorable, Addictive Lure, Aspirin, Ashram, Bengali, Black Caviar, Bonica, Bordeaux, Cinderella, Buff Beauty, Charles Darwin, Comtes de Champagne, Crepuscule, Cayenne Coconut Ice, Cubana Daybreak, Dark Desire, Dusky Moon, Desdemona, Eiffel Tower, Dublin Bay, Earth Angel, Eliza, Fresia, First Crush, Gold Medal, Heaven on Earth, Grand Amore, Herkules, Kiss me Kate, Jubilee, Little Sunset, Madame Anisette, Mandarin, Fearless Florentina and many more.

September was very dry this year with little to no rain, and my hard prune this year has resulted in a slow start to the blooms. A few roses have opened, and thousands of buds have formed, but I don’t expect a mass display until later in the month. One standout rose, though, is Golden Beauty, which was still flowering in early July and is already opening this week in October. What a remarkable rose with perfect flower heads in deep golden yellow against thick, healthy, glossy green leaves.

“Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary in gardening as rain and sunshine,” wrote the novelist 

Elizabeth von Arnim

The garden had a good dose of rain yesterday. Rain was predicted, yet all day wind storms, and dark skies brought no rain, only dust until the late afternoon. Thankfully, it poured into the early hours of this morning. It is so comforting to know rain was soaking into the garden and reviving everything even the weeds. Listening to the rain on the roof is such a superb sound when it is needed.

Fresia Rose first bloom new this year.

Fresia is a new rose for me this year, a Floribunda with glossy, healthy, green foliage, compact growth and, unusually for yellow roses -fragrance. Bred by Reimer Kordes in Germany in 1973. As the picture shows, Fresia has cheerful, bright yellow blooms and will grow to only 75 cm. Perfect for the troughs along the verandah at the back door planted with garden herbs as rose companions. Fresia is free-flowering in clusters with high-centred, ruffled bloom form that open from ovoid buds throughout the season.

Header Image Monsieur Tillier Rose in full bloom Spring 2023.

Title quote by Fred H Dale, American Garden Columnist and Photographer.

Content and Images Di Baker 2023

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