Thursday, April 28, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Our vacation in the great Smoky Mountains was wonderful!  The Husband, our two dogs, and I spent five days with six of our dearest friends, and we all thoroughly loved our time away.  I only have a minute right now to leave this short note ... to let you know that I missed all of you and I'm anxious to get back here on a more consistent basis, but it will be a few days until I can fill you in on everything we did in the Smokies.  In the meantime, here's a little taste.

We stayed in this cabin ...

... spent a lot of time on the back porch,

... and saw the most beautiful scenery.

I have tons and tons of photos to share our vacation with you, and I'll be back to do that this weekend.  Who would have thought that we'd have so much fun with eight people and seven dogs in a cabin.

This is all I can do right now.  It's time for me to grab my list, gather all my stuff, and pack my truck for the 3-day plant sale at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  If you're local, and you come to the sale, please stop by my booth and say Hi.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Catching My Breath

This week, so far, has been a LOT about accomplishments and not so much about blogging, I'm sorry to say.  I have a spare few minutes right now, so let's see what I can do to get all of you caught up on the happenings here in Hartwood.

The Husband and I are taking a trip with friends this weekend.  In preparation for this, I have a huge list of things that MUST be finished before we leave. 

Early Monday morning, before the breeze came up, I was out with my sprayer of herbicide, killing the weeds and grass that have sprouted in the area that is to become the new gardens by the barn.  This is my version of multi-tasking, because the herbicide can be working its magic on the weeds while I am busy with other things for the next week.  (I will show you more about this in a later post.)

This area will look a LOT different, once the herbicide has done its thing.

In preparation for the plant sale at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, I have to have ALL of the roses in the greenhouse potted into their final, big boy containers before we leave .  I finished this on Monday ... spending all day with my hands in dirt, potting and arranging roses on the benches in the greenhouse.  The big pots take up SOOO much more space, and there isn't a spare square inch of room left in there for anything.  Everywhere you look is wall-to-wall green, with a few flowers thrown in for accent.  The fragrance is a lovely combination of humidity and rose perfume.

As The Husband was updating the calendar on the Hartwood Roses web site, adding a notice there about the plant sale, we noticed that the photo they use on that page is a photo of ME.  I didn't believe it at first, but The Husband wisely said, "I think I know my own WIFE!"  I had no idea that anyone was taking my picture.

I was gone all day Tuesday, hostessing at a house on the Virginia Garden Week tour.  I dressed up in my finest pseudo-19th Century day dress, complete with a swishy slip and a garden hat with flowers.  The house belongs to rose friends of mine, and I was honored that they thought to invite me to be one of their hostesses.  We had a beautiful day, with light overcast and warm temperatures.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am a storyteller at heart, and I love doing stuff like this.  (I probably should have had someone use my camera and take my picture, because I looked really cute!)

The plant selections throughout this garden are SUPERB!

This vignette is on the patio, off the sunroom ... which would be a beautiful spot to have morning coffee.

I found the quote on the plaque to be particularly appropriate for me right now.

Speaking of storytelling ... yesterday evening I gave a presentation to the monthly meeting of the Rappahannock Area Master Gardeners Association.  This is a great group of knowledgeable folks who were eager to learn more about roses that are well-suited for growing in our area.  I always start this particular program by assuring everyone that the combination of "easy care" and "roses" is not an oxymoron.

Mutabilis is one of my most favorite, easy-care roses.

While I have been working on nursery business, hostessing tours, and giving presentations, The Husband and our daughter have been quietly working behind the scenes making the gardens look beautiful.  Monday, he took delivery of a dumptruck-load of mulch ... it's good to have friends with access to a dumptruck.

This ten-yard load of mulch will not be nearly enough mulch to do the whole garden ... but it's a good start.

For the past two days, after work hours, the two of them have been weeding beds and spreading mulch.  What is love, you ask?  I think it looks a lot like this:

The Daughter, pulling weeds in the Rose Field.

A freshly-mulched bed in our front yard.

and a close up of the dogwood tree ... it's particularly lovely this year!

As people get spring fever and look out into their gardens, I guess they have decided that they need some roses because orders have been coming in pretty steadily ... thank you for this, if you are someone who has placed an order.  Receiving orders means that I have to spend a bit of admin time here at the computer, which gives me a nice break from outside work each day. 

'Dr. W. Van Fleet' was the first rose to sell out this year.  Most folks remember it from their grandparents' gardens, and they want to grow it for themselves.

Today will be spent on final preparations for our trip.  We are taking the dogs with us, and this means we have to pack all sorts of extra things for them.  Our new hitch-mounted cargo carrier should hold most of our gear, leaving more room inside my Jeep for the dogs' comfort ... it's all about the dogs, we all understand.

HOLD THE PRESSES!!!!  I just got a call from a blogger whose blog I follow but I have never met in person, and she's on her way over for a drop-in visit!  How cool is that!!!!  Gotta go now, 'cause I have company coming.

Anyway, I will be unplugged until next week.  Please enjoy whatever spring weather you have where you live, and I will see all of you when I get back.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Snapshot -- The Approaching Storm

As I was working outside the other morning, I looked up and saw the most beautiful colors in the landscape.  The approaching storm, with its dark clouds, provided a dramatic background to the trees, with their multiple colors of emerging leaves, lit by the perfect angle of the sun peeking out from the clouds.

Folks, this is not Photoshop ... it is the beauty of creation and Mother Nature herself at work.  All I had to do was take my camera out of my pocket and capture her results.

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

P.S.  (Monday evening edit) I just was told by our dear Professor Roush that the theme of the "Picture This" photo contest at Gardening Gone Wild this month is .... Light!  The photo in this post is all about light, so I'm off to enter the contest.  Wish me luck!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Read All About It!

A writer and a photographer from the local newspaper visited here last week.  They wanted to do a story about me and my nursery, to help shake the winter doldrums off of their readers.  I'm not shy, so I gladly agreed.  The story is in today's Free Lance-Star.

The three of us walked the gardens, which are still looking pretty awful after this winter, and we chatted for over an hour ... discussing things like how I decided to start the nursery, why I chose roses, and (my most dreaded question) which roses are my favorites.  I even let the photographer take my picture, though I was dressed in work clothes and my hair was pulled back in a really unflattering ponytail.  (Two friends have already told me that it doesn't really look like me.)

Since there are no roses blooming in the garden now, the photographer asked if he could fill in the story with some of MY photos.  He browsed the blog, choosing photos that he liked, and I sent him high-resolution files without my watermark.  It's so cool to have a mosaic of my photos published like this!

clockwise:  Mutabilis, Leontine Gervais, Mr. Lincoln, Leontine Gervais wide shot.

I was very pleased to see that the writer accurately captured my motivation behind building my gardens and starting this nursery.  I want to show people that it doesn't take superhuman effort to have a rose garden you love and are proud of.  There ARE roses that require more work than others ... and you don't have to grow these unless you choose to.

The newspaper article on their web site is HERE.  I have also reprinted it below, so you don't have to click back and forth.


Her Business is Blooming
Stafford woman building her heirloom rose nursery business
Date published: 4/15/2011


It's a busy time of year at Hartwood Roses, but the pruning, propagating, potting and planting going on now will pay off in the coming months. The grounds of the property will explode with the colorful blooms of hundreds of heirloom and historic varieties of roses, while many others will find homes in gardens near and far.

Connie Hilker has run this one-woman operation at 335 Hartwood Road, with some help from her husband, Steve, for three years now. They bought the property known as Hartwood Manor, a rare Southern example of Gothic Revival architecture, in 2002, and promptly took on a five-year renovation of the house.

"The rose garden was always part of the plan," she said. "How could you not with all this space and sun?"

She said this area's weather is perfect for roses, and the property is right next door to Hartwood Winery.

"Grapes and roses like the same conditions of weather and water," she said, and they can suffer from the same diseases, such as the dreaded black spot.

In fact, vintners often place rosebushes at the end of rows in the vineyard because the roses will indicate ahead of time if there could be an issue with the grapes. "Sort of like the canary in the coal mine," she said. "Roses blend with any plant that likes the same conditions, and they'll need at least six hours of good light during the growing season."

Hilker said areas with clay soil like ours often need infusions of organic materials such as compost for best rose-garden results.

She pointed to a tiny bush she planted in the fall, confident that it would survive the winter.

"There's an old adage that you only plant roses in the spring," she said. "But you can plant in the fall, or any time of year, and they'll do fine."

An exception would be bare-root roses.


Hilker provides a wealth of information through her website and blog. Pay a visit to, whether you're looking to learn or shop. She also offers presentations for novices and veterans on rose gardening and propagating.

In her garden, Hilker has 600 plants of many varieties, with 200 more ready to go into the ground.

For people who are looking for an easy rose to care for that will look pretty in a landscape, the Knockout varieties found in area home-improvement stores are good choices. They might even turn you into a rose lover in search of more interesting varieties.

"Heirloom roses are the kinds that your grandmother and great-grandmother grew," she said.

These "old garden roses" date to between 1867 and 1949, the ones that have large, voluptuous blooms and thinner, less rigid stems. There are many other classic and unique varieties that have come along since then that are referred to as "florist roses," with straight stems and tighter blooms, the sort that are delivered by the millions to sweethearts on Valentine's Day.

"There have been changes in fashion in roses over time like there is with everything else," she said.


Asking Hilker to name a favorite rose is like asking a parent to name a favorite child. Pressed on the issue, she comes up with a few:

Mutabilis is a simple, five-petal, single-layer rose. A variety of China rose, it is among the garden's first bloomers, and the bush can grow to "about the size of a Volkswagen Bug." It is a "changeable" variety, in that it initially blooms white, then turns a peach color, then pink and deep pink.

Peggy Martin is a thornless variety, something many people like. It's also quite hardy, with plants found in New Orleans that survived Katrina despite having been underwater--in salt water.

The polyantha class of roses are low-maintenance varieties that grow relatively low to the ground and have clusters of beautiful blooms continuously throughout the season.

The gallica roses are known for their fragrance and many colors, including a deep purple.

The list goes on and on, of course, with varieties that do whatever gardeners want them to do. There are climbers--repeat bloomers that are great for a wall or trellis--and ramblers, usually single-bloomers that are ideal for running horizontally along a fence. Plus there are many kinds of tea roses, known for their array of colors and fragrances, and their "definition of rose" blooms.


Still in the throes of designing new rose gardens, Hilker is planning areas with particular themes. One will be called the Cemetery Garden, with the many varieties she has found in cemeteries.

"Cemeteries are a great place to find heirloom roses because they were planted long ago," she said.

Another garden will feature famed David Austin roses from Great Britain, and there will be cottage rose varieties in another.

She designs the gardens on paper, then lays down plastic that will become the pathways. Landscape timbers define the beds and walkways and help block weeds. The pathway plastic is then covered with gravel.

Hilker knows that the rose garden will eventually stop expanding. What won't stop expanding is her love for roses of every sort.


For The Love of Roses
Connie Hilker has always loved roses, a pursuit encouraged by her grandmother, who tended a year-round rose garden in Southern California. She tells the story in her blog, 

"My grandmother grew roses. She grew Hybrid Tea roses with Hall of Fame names 'Peace,' 'Mr. Lincoln,' and 'Mirandy' were some of her favorites that come to mind. Her southern California garden was an ideal place to grow these roses to perfection. When I was a newlywed in our first house in the early 1980s, I wanted to grow roses my grandmother's kind of roses."

Hilker recalled her mixed success in growing roses at every home she and her husband have shared since then. It wasn't until they settled into their house in Hartwood that she had the perfect combination of time, sun and fertile soil to get serious about growing roses, and then to get really serious about opening Hartwood Roses, her heirloom and old-garden rose nursery.

The key piece of sage advice given her by a Master Gardener was all the encouragement she needed: "If you think you can't grow roses, you are probably trying to grow the wrong ones."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Flowers on Friday ... Pink Roses in the Greenhouse

The roses in the garden are responding to the increased daylight and warmer temperatures that spring is finally bringing by leafing out nicely.  Some are even setting buds ... which means beautiful flowers begin to open by the middle of next month.  I'm so excited!!

For now, as I wait for garden roses, I can enjoy a few flowers on some of the roses in the greenhouse.  These pink roses are a very welcome sight ... soothing my restlessness and bringing a huge smile to my face.  I took my camera to the greenhouse this evening ... to share the flowers with you, hoping to make you smile, too.

This one is "Portland from Glendora", one of the few roses I love enough to have a duplicate in the garden.  The color is a perfect medium pink, and the fragrance is over-powering.

A small Carefree Beauty in a 3 1/2" pot produced this FOUR-INCH flower!  Amazing!!

It's a little past peak, and not exactly perfect for such a tight close up, but I had to share it.

Most people who know me know that Ralph Moore is one of my very favorite rose hybridizers.  He produced an incredibly imaginative assortment of roses in his long career.  This one, Little Buckaroo, is a beautiful miniature rose from 1956.

Hybrid China roses were first introduced in the late 18th Century, when European rose breeders crossed Gallica and Centifolia roses with the 'new' ever-blooming roses that had recently been introduced from China.  There are two Hybrid Chinas blooming in the greenhouse right now ... this one is "The Bishop" ...

... and the other one is Shailer's Provence ... another rose that I love enough to have two of them in the garden.  Shailer's Provence is among the first roses to bloom in my garden, and one of the last spring-blooming OGRs to finish.  It also hold the distinction of being the first rose I ever rustled from an endangered site. 

The tag on this next rose says "Unknown".  The original tag from last year is lost, and I retagged it to remind me that I have to try to figure out its true identity when it bloomed.  It's blooming ... and I still don't know.  Whatever it is, it's something that I have left over from last year's stock.  This should help narrow it down a bit. 

This last rose is one that I am growing for myself, from cuttings sent to me by a friend in California.  It's called 'Puanani', and it's a lilac pink sport of 'Playgirl' a hot pink floribunda introduced by Ralph Moore.  I love the simplicity of single roses ... five perfect petals and beautiful yellow stamens. 

Here's what the whole little plant looks like.  The flowers are about 3 inches across, and the plant is only about a foot high right now. 

As I finished up and turned to leave the greenhouse to go inside to cook dinner, I saw a lovely little vignette to use to finish this post.  What a perfect way to end the day ... fragrant roses, and a tall, cold one.

I'm sharing this post on the following sites:
Fertilizer Friday at Tootsie Time
Garden Blogger's Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens
Photo Feature Friday at A Rosy Note
(Share the love, and go visit some more blooming gardens.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Words of Comfort

Amy went to Heaven yesterday.  Dr. Stamp was wonderful, crying right along with us.  Amy slipped away, peacefully and relaxed ... finally free.

I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of comfort that my friends have offered. The phone calls and the emails have really helped. My favorite came from Karen. She said, "You are giving Amy a peaceful end. She won't know what you know. Feel the peace you are giving her." This is what I do for my critters. They love me unconditionally, and I sacrifice myself to give them peace.

Let me tell you the story of how Amy got her name.  When we found her in the barn as a tiny kitten, she was too young for us to bring her home.  We had to leave her there, but I was afraid that she would turn feral like her mom.  Every few days for three weeks, I visited the barn where she lived.  I would catch her and sit in my car with her, and pet her and talk to her, and she would scream and cry almost the whole time.  I remembered when our oldest daughter was in preschool, there was a little girl named Amy who cried at school every morning ... what a perfect name for a little kitten who also cried.

There is a beautiful new cat angel in Heaven today.

Hug your fur-kids. 

(Click HERE if you didn't see my post from last week, to learn what a special kitty Amy was.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Something's Gotta Give

This post has nothing to do with the movie that stars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson and the fabulous house ... I'm talking about me.  I am juggling more than I can handle right now, and something has to be done ... but I am the only one who can decide what that is, and I don't have a clue.

This is an arrangement of containers that I saw and liked at the Anne Spencer garden in Lynchburg.

My To Do list is approaching unmanageable proportions, and the drain on my physical and emotional energy is becoming unbearable.  Today is a particularly bad day ... I am overwhelmed.

Another beautiful sunrise in my front yard.

Our daughter's wedding is 8 weeks away.  There is a lot left to be done, and I hear the clock ticking loudly in my head.  Since the wedding is here at our house and garden, I have to make sure that the grounds and gardens look as good as they can.  After last summer's hot, dry weather, and the attack of the killer weeds, this spring's clean up is taking more effort than usual.  Her wedding ceremony will be in our pavilion, and it will require a few modifications to the structure (that I'll show you later), which has meant two days spent on construction and another day or two yet to be spent on landscaping. 

We're making subtle changes to this area for the wedding ceremony.

Rose season is almost here, and this is my busiest time of the year.  I have baby roses to care for and ready for their new homes, advance orders to process and stage for shipping in May, and plans to make for opening the nursery to visitors next month.  Rose season also means that there are individuals and groups who want to visit the garden.  It will be an almost non-stop parade of people from mid-May and into June.  Everyone who comes wants a personal tour, which I am honored to provide ... but there is only so much of ME to go around.  Add to this the programs that I present to garden clubs and other groups, and a three-day plant sale to prepare for ... I'm sure there's something else that I'm forgetting.

The Rose Tunnel doesn't look anything like this right now.

Even though our Greyhounds Rock fundraiser event is seven months away, those of us who organize it have a crushing workload right now.  My main job is merchandising, and I have been working to plan inventory and make collars for smaller events in April and May where we have a booth to advertise our event and sell our wares, and for our Etsy store.  The Husband is the web master for everything Internet for Greyhounds Rock, so I end up consulting on web site decisions, and every day there is at least one email conversation about something that goes on among all of us organizers.  Above all of this, I have to remember that we do this to raise money for canine cancer research, a cause that is near and dear to all of us, and my efforts may one day be rewarded with real progress.

My friend Kim's dog TJ, our Greyhounds Rock poster dog ... and that's one of my collars that he's wearing.

The pressure of having older pets is weighing heavily on me right now.  Emma is 14, and she is doing really well right now ... thank Heaven.  Kimba, our outdoor cat, is at least 18 and she's slowing down, but she is also healthy.  Amy ... sweet Amy ... will not be with us much longer.  I have to call my vet and talk to her about it.  I can't think about this right now.

My house is a mess!  I have not put any time into controlling the accumulation clutter, so the piles of papers and supplies and tools are everywhere.  I would love to have a place for everything, and I will one day, but I do not have the energy or time to devote to get there right now.  If it wasn't for my cleaning lady, I don't know what I'd do.  Every other Tuesday, she comes and my house sparkles afterward.  In preparation for her arrival, I usually spend a frenzied couple of hours clearing what clutter I can manage and trying to organize what I can.  I have faked myself into believing that every little bit helps.

Here is a photo of our tidied up family room.  You didn't think I was going to show you the mess, did you?

This morning, I was presented with the proverbial straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back ... my Mustang is probably more broken that we thought it was.  Remember when it overheated last fall?  The Husband tried to change the thermostat this weekend, and he thinks there's a crack somewhere, and it won't hold water.  I have to talk to my mechanic this afternoon.  Now that I say this out loud, a broken car is really minor when compared to everything else that's going on ... it's more of a contributing element to a cumulative accumulation of stress.

Why am I sitting here blogging about this instead of taking care of it, you ask?  This morning has become a time of reflection and recharging ... trying to gather my energy for another push toward my goal of reducing my responsibilities and streamlining my life.  I doubt it's going to work.  What I really need to do is say No ... but to what? 

Alice and Dorothy are doing what they can to help.

Thanks for listening and reading this post this far.  I know it's not the usual light-spirited, informative, positive vibe that I try to keep here.  I don't have a lot of positive inside me right now.  I'm tired.

Now that I got this off my chest, I'm going to go outside and work. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Snapshot ... Cooking for the Dogs

Right now, there are two pots simmering on the stove and the house is filled with a delicious aroma.  Much to the disappointment of The Husband and our daughter, all this cooking isn't for the humans.  Every Sunday, I whip up a batch of what we call Dog Stew, and this supplements our dogs' meals for the next week.  I started doing this a few months ago, at the insistence of Emma's holistic veterinarian.  Dr. Tran wanted Emma to eat more 'real food' and less kibble. 

The pot on the left contains vegetables (peas, carrots, lima beans, green beans, kale, etc.), green beans, and kale.  The pot on the right contains ground turkey, lean ground beef, and brown rice.  This simmers for about an hour, until the rice is cooked ... then I stir it together, put it in the fridge, and I'm done until next month.

Meals for Emma now consist of a tiny bit of kibble, half a can of dog food (Kirkland brand from Costco), two generous scoops of Dog Stew ... stirred together and topped with either a blob of cottage cheese or canned pumpkin, with her Chinese herb tablets on top.  Daniel gets a bit more kibble, a spoonful of dog food, one scoop of Stew with cottage cheese or pumpkin, and no herbs.  Sometimes, if Emma has overdone herself or appears to be more painful than usual, I will add Rimadyl to the 'topping' for a period of time.

This new diet, along with monthly accupuncture treatments, has made a huge difference in Emma.  Her fur is shiny, her attitude is good, and she is obviously a lot more comfortable and mobile.  (Emma is 14 years old and she has two calcified discs in her lower back.)    This little bit of effort is really not too much to do for a valuable member of the family.

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What a Beautiful Day ... and an Announcement

Yesterday, the sky was blue, the clouds were puffy, and temperatures were warm (but not too warm) ... a perfect day for working outside.

A huge oak tree on one side of our front yard ...

... and a large wild cherry tree on the other side.

Our cooler-than-average temperatures for the past week or so have preserved the blooming daffodils, so their spring show seems to be going on a bit longer than usual. 

These are an old fashioned variety that is called Butter and Eggs.  All of these were rescued from old house sites that no longer exist.

The daffodil bulbs that I planted by our front fence three years ago are growing really well.  It's easy to tell which part of the fence has the sunniest, best growing conditions.

I worked in the greenhouse for a few hours while the morning was cool, continuing to pot the roses into their larger pots.  It feels really good to slide a rose out of its little pot and see roots like this.

And now for the announcement ... Mark your calendar and plan to attend Hartwood Roses' Spring Open House.  I'm planning to open the garden on Saturday, May 14 (rain date, Sunday, May 15).  I have lots of details to attend to before then, so take this as a preliminary announcement.  I will announce a complete schedule of activities here soon, and email it to everyone on my mailing list, so stay tuned.

Spring is finally here, and I can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why You Should Adopt Kittens in Pairs

If you adopt two kittens at once, things like this are less likely to happen to your older cats.

I have shared with you many adorable images of Dorothy and Alice, snuggled up sleeping.  Yesterday, with Alice nowhere to be found, Dorothy decided that Maggie would make a suitable sleeping partner.  The look on Maggie's face says it all.

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