Dead-heading Roses: An Unnatural History | Buzz Blog
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Dead-heading Roses: An Unnatural History


Our rosebushes bloomed like crazy all spring -- due possibly to the damp weather, but most likely because of a quickie, "just shear off the whole top of the bush" pruning job last autumn by a beloved member of the household who shall remain nameless.---

Now, I'm no hardcore rosarian -- I can't tell a Hybrid Tea from a Fairy Shrub. But I do know that pruning a rosebush requires a series of calculations involving complicated factors such as "leaf nodes," "canes," "bud eyes" and "45-degree angles."

As it turns out, blindly lopping off the plant's top branches in the fall results in a whole shitload of blooms the following spring. But, as it also turns out, this is not as desirable as it sounds -- especially when a wonderfully rainy spring and a brisk south wind conspire to topple the overloaded branches, blow rose petals all over the garden and leave sad, untidy-looking bushes in their wake.

"Dead-heading" is the removal of faded blossoms -- either to improve the appearance of the plant or to encourage the development of new buds. There are several different theories about how this is properly done, but evidently the simplest method -- snipping off the blooms just below the ... er, "peduncle" (which is either the part that never gets invited to family reunions, or the thingy that one would most logically determine as the place where the flower ends and the stem begins) is now preferred.

So that is how I spent the day. And, as forbiddingly tedious as it may sound, painstakingly snipping hundreds of spent blooms is an unexpectedly pleasant way to spend a Summer Solstice.

It's an exercise in patience, and it forced me to shift my attention from the overall appearance of each rosebush to its intimate and minute details. Snip. I noticed plant structures that, normally, I never pay attention to. Snip. And, as time passed, the experience really became sort of meditative. Snip. Freed of the day-to-day concerns of my online existence and ordinary domestic concerns, my mind began to wander. Snip.

I thought up a new camp-drag name ("Floribunda Blight"), and wondered whether or not it would work if I ever audition to become a Cyber Slut. A startled male ladybug landed on my shears and I froze until he jumped back, unharmed, onto a leaf (ladybugs are always a good omen). I accidentally cut one rose in its prime -- since it was too beautiful to discard, I developed a half-baked plan to present it as a reward for friendliness to the next stranger who walked by and said "hello." But then our big neutered tom, Pippin, suddenly went into el gato peligroso mode and wrestled the damned thing away from me (Pippin is kind of nuts, actually).

As I was really starting to get into it -- snip snip snippity-snip! -- I heard an unmistakable buzzing noise emanating from a neighboring bush. It was a bumblebee, assiduously browsing among the inflorescences.

Now, I love bees, and I'm convinced that if I'm not afraid of them, they won't freak out and commit kamikaze suicide by inserting a barbed, single-use stinger into my face. (Unlike honeybees, though, bumblebees are capable of multiple stings -- fortunately, they're gentle, placid creatures.)

As much as I would love to cuddle a big, plump, fuzzy bumblebee -- so cute! -- there's something about that sound. It makes me instantly wary and sets every nerve on edge.

So -- mostly to calm myself -- I began speaking softly to her, offering encouragement and probably alarming the neighbors ("Hey, great job!" "Wow, you've got a lot of pollen!" "So, do you think rose nectar tastes better than other kinds?")

And this was how the bumblebee and I spent a companionable afternoon together. In fact, as I snip-snipped and she buzz-buzzed, I got a little cocky -- imagining that she and I were both employed in the same field, although in different departments. "So, you like working with flowers, too, eh?"

It was then that she abruptly left the premises. As she flew off, I could have sworn I heard her disdainful taunt: "You're such an amateur!"

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