The Rose, the aphids, and the Virgin Mary

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Last year we planted this David Austin Rose for a client. It was a special rose as it was a leaving gift from her place of employment and so I was asked to plant it. It’s one of those perks of being a landscape gardener I suppose: you get entrusted to plant and grow and manage plants and scrubs that are often of very great sentimental value to people. Woe be me if ever my green-fingers fail!

 

Fast forward a year, to our second spring with the rose and it looks to be doing extremely well. I judiciously cut it back in the winter, and the rose has thickened at the required height and more than a dozen buds are beginning to open.

 

Smiles all round from happy client. Cue Facebook updates to her old colleagues of their thoughtful gift that her highly talented landscape gardener has nurtured for her. Things were looking good in 2015 for Capability Dan and his team!

 

Until last week, when I returned to her garden for its regular maintenance. Catching a dry spell, I mowed the lawn, weeded the borders, and then inspected the yellow rose.

 

From a distance, all seemed fine. But closer in, I saw them. My heart ached as sudden fear froze the pit of my stomach – for what I saw endangered the single most prestigious plant in my client’s garden.

 

Tiny green blobs clung to the surface of many of the flower buds, giving the whole unbloomed flower a sinister rough surface. In slow motion they seemed to creep around, climbing over one another to find a better place to feed. Aphids. Greenfly. One of my precious rose’s deadliest enemies.

 

In all honesty, a few aphids won’t do too much damage to a plant – in fact, if it were mine, I would be tempted to let them live (I have done in the past, and the rose grew up quite well, but in that particular case I wasn’t too bothered with how it ended up looking). My client’s rose was a different matter however. Action was required. Capability Dan would not be found wanting.

 

There are a number of options a gardener can employ to get rid of aphids and greenfly on a rose. Firstly, if there are not too many or if they are concentrated in a particular place, then simply brushing them off is a good start. Easy to do, but it is not a very long term solution. At all.

 

The next thing I have tried is varying degrees of diluted Fairy Liquid in a spray. Again, this has mixed results, and it isn’t a long term strategy. In fact, even a well aimed torrent of water from a garden hose can be deployed to knock the critters off, but care must be taken not to damage the plant – it can very easily be a case of ‘the cure is worse than the kill’ if you get it wrong. (I did employ the Fairy Liquid approach this time, and when I returned the following week the aphids had gone!).

 

I have to admit to being more partial to a natural solution rather than washing up liquid. Nature has a way of taking care of population explosions via predation or starvation. And the natural predator to the aphid is the humble, red-caped Ladybird.

 

But it struck me then and there that, even toiling in the outside on a daily basis since April in my role as a landscape gardener, I have seen very few of these about in the wilds of Worcestershire. (Did you know where the name ‘Ladybird’ is supposed to originate from? It is believed that in Medieval France, a plague of aphids started to consume the crops, and the people prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. And when our red-cloaked friends arrived to eat up the infestation they eventually became known as Ladybirds!)

 

It is a shame when the affectionate creature of all our childhoods is missed. (Perhaps we ought to pray to the Virgin for their return? Or better still, ensure that our gardens have the right habitats for these lovely creatures to thrive).

 

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