Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gardening: A Plant Wardrobe, Plant Two - Dr. Huey Rose

I'm not supposed to like Dr. Huey.

In case you don't know, I should explain that Dr. Huey is primarily a rootstock. When those self-important primadonna hybrid teas...


... when gardeners want to grow a fine and attractive rose that has limited tolerance for cold or other issues, that rose will often be grafted onto a rootstock that can tolerate those issues. Dr. Huey is one of the most commonly used rootstocks. So when you buy a hybrid tea rose, the rose above the ground will be the hybrid tea, and the roots below the ground will, most of the time, be Dr. Huey.

But Dr. Huey is rarely content to just leave it at that. His roots will merrily send up branches from below the ground, or from bits of the rootstock that may not be altogether buried. The whole Frankenstein-like rose structure is then said to be "suckering". The branches, or suckers, grow eagerly into long arches, since Dr. Huey is a climber, and the arches are covered, for a few weeks in spring, with lovely semi-double red roses. After that, Dr. Huey subsides into foliage and, um, blackspot.

At the very first signs of this process, proper rose growers descend on the rose with various investigative tools, trace the suckers down below the ground, and rip them right off the roots.

Me? I celebrate. Why? Because I normally can't grow hybrid teas, at all. They don't like me, probably because I fail to give them all of the things - like fungicides and pesticides and, well, regular feeding - that they demand. I normally get two or three grudging blossoms per year from hybrid teas.

Until Dr. Huey breaks ground. When that happens, not only do I get lots and lots of Dr. Huey foliage and flowers, I get lots more blossoms from the original hybrid tea. My theory, perhaps expressed in this blog before, is that all of that enthusiastic Dr. Huey foliage manufactures extra food that the good Doctor generously shares with the hybrid tea. Unlike hybrid teas, Dr. Huey seems to be able to feed itself from prosaic substances like, um, dirt.

But I don't love Dr. Huey primarily for its kindly food-distribution ways. I love Dr. Huey because I love Dr. Huey. Spring isn't spring without those sprays of red flowers. I can see them all over town, because when a hybrid tea dies, Dr. Huey usually survives. But I still need my very own Dr. Huey - or two or three.

In fact (go ahead, laugh) I ordered, and paid real money for, a custom root plant of Dr Huey - an action not unlike paying money for dandelions or crabgrass.  When we moved to our present house and garden, the one hybrid tea was slow to sucker, and I feared that I'd have to live with no Huey. So I panicked and submitted my order. Of course, the hybrid tea started suckering before the custom plant arrived, so now I have two. And that's just fine with me, even taking the blackspot into account.

Image: Mine. A bad shot, but look at all those flowers!


  1. "I fact (go ahead, laugh) I ordered, and paid real money for, a custom root plant of Dr Huey - an action not unlike paying money for dandelions or crabgrass"

    People do pay money for dandelions! In Europe it's considered a delicacy I think. You can even buy dandelion seeds so that you can intentionally grow them in your garden!

  2. Howdy, Fern! Cool! Y'know, I think I once knew that - it may have been in _Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties that the author was sending off for nicer and nicer dandelions. And that the deer had the good taste to ignore the ordinary dandelions and eat the fancy ones. Or I may be imagining it all. :)