Pruning is Rewarding by Sheenagh Harris

Pruning is Rewarding by Sheenagh HarrisSheenagh Harris Pruning

Pruning is rewarding wherever you are for several reasons, but most of all for the benefit of the rose. Here is an article on the lighter side of pruning -

About 40 yeas ago, Jack and Mary Wise (deceased members of the Rose Society of South Africa) in an effort to spread the knowledge of roses, started showing people in their own gardens how to prune, working with them and encouraging them to put their secateurs to good use. A passerby seeing rose pruners in her friends garden yelled "when the pruning woman is finished there send her to me", little realising just who the pruning woman was! Thereafter the demand for specialised pruning became so great that a team of rosarians in Johannesburg, took on the task of pruning roses for rose garden owners, unable or unwilling to do their own pruning. Ann Walters and Sheenagh Harris recruited a knowledgeable team of friends/housewives from elegant homes and beautiful gardens of their own to prune in some of the loveliest gardens in Johannesburg. They set off in their patched jeans and scruffy jackets but never remove their earrings of pearl and diamond rings. Sheenagh and Marge Hughes have been known to leave pruning in haste, and cover the scruffy pruning garb with their choir robes to sing for a wedding at their parish church and return to pruning an hour or so later! For approximately 8 hours a day we prune, at the same time, catching up on the years news - non-stop chatter and laughter whether teetering 3 metres up a ladder or crawling on aching knees to get to the bud union ! Usually the gardener, having been instructed by the 'madam' to prepare for the pruning ladies due to arrive the next day, has manured and flooded the beds so it isn't just mud on our knees! We often think "What if our friends could see us now?"

Despite the new trends in pruning we stick to a happy medium of off with the old growth to encourage the new. Heaven help us if we ever arrived with hedge clippers! This group of happy pruners is so heavily booked that if jobs are not completed on the day allocated some have been known to work to car headlights so as not to get behind.

Some clients smother us with kindness and food - coffee and rusks available all morning followed by a delicious lunch. Others are not as thoughtful but we have learnt to identify these and take our own picnic to those gardens to replenish our energy. At times we have even adapted to drinking our tea from tin mugs. Then there is the conference centre where we work in magnificent grounds and are able to order from a menu for a lunch set at the poolside under large shady trees. Our favourite is the Mayfair Mosque where Fatima sends hot coffee with samoosas and oriental sweet meats to us in the windswept mosque garden - so welcome on one of the more unusually cold Winter days. This garden takes 130 hours to prune usually spread over a number of days and on the last day we are treated to a 3 course, sometimes 4 course Moslem meal indoors. After 5 years working in this garden we never fail to enjoy the Muessin calling the Adhaan for his followers to come to prayer time. At the end of the pruning season there is always a gift for each member of the team - fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm and always something special like a china rose mug or a beautiful piece of linen. What generous rewards. The owner of one particularly stunning and large garden is always overseas at pruning time, but the domestic staff are well trained and most kind. Refreshments come to the garden on a starched linen tray cloth - silver coffeepot and Coleport china plus dainty pastries and never without parsley. To this same garden, a pet service comes twice a day to exercise and play with the dogs. Many of the clients are abroad for the worst of the Winter and the lonely dogs give us a great welcome. We don't always work as a team, and one of the gardens where I work on my own (this is a 9 hour day!) the man of the house insists that I stop at lunch and come indoors for a meal. Last year I found myself dining in style on my own in the beautiful dining room with the cook waiting at table - he came in just like a matre d' and said "I have gooseberries, strawberries, peach jelly and custard for pudding ……" No hope of losing weight in pruning time!

Ablution facilities can sometimes be a problem especially when the house owner is abroad and the house is locked and then at the conference centre quite often the men's is the only one available but the mosque facilities are the most interesting of all!

We try to start work at 9 but it isn't easy knowing we won't be home until after 6 thus giving us 8 hours on the job. I find in order to include as many gardens as possible and not disappoint clients I have to work 8/9 weeks each winter, 8 hours a day and 7 days a week. I love it all, specially the climbers, but couldn't carry on at this rate for longer. At the end of the season Marge and I go to two farms in the North Eastern Cape where the Winters are colder and Spring comes later and here we are well remunerated! A whole lamb beautifully cut and packed ready for the freezer, a leg of venison, farm butter and eggs are the order of the day! Most rewarding. I know a couple in Australia who are flown to a large rose garden for the weekend where they prune all weekend while being well fed with prawns and other such delicacies!

I was once asked to prune some very old and gnarled roses that hadn't been pruned for years and required a great deal of sawing. The family came home to find very little left on the bush. The daughter of the house was heard to say " Do you really think Mrs Harris knows what she is doing - she has turned the garden into a lunar landscape! They were all pleasantly surprised in the Summer!

In Johannesburg it is cold first thing in the morning but we are soon pealing off the layers of clothing and it can be quite hot at midday but soon after 4 the layers of clothing have to be returned. Most mornings in July bird baths are frozen over, but not for long and in a very cold winter I have worked beside a frozen swimming pool!

Most of us enjoy the climbers most and do some very complicated training over arches, round obelisks, up 10 foot walls, and up poles and along garlands tying horizontal canes wherever possible to get the maximum number of blooms. We are very strict and only allow our teams to use old pantyhose which we have cut during the summer months in preparation for the hours of pruning in the winter. Discarded pantyhose are at a premium and we beg, borrow and steal from all in sundry! I have offered to give a free slide show at an old age home in exchange for their old pantyhose - washed or unwashed! My latest source is a girls boarding school in Grahamstown!

Our clients become our friends and I never lose an opportunity of recruiting society members among the clients! They show their gratitude in wonderful ways not experienced in other business transactions. I have one client who brings me his first picking of the season from his very small garden - about 50 long stemmed Just Joey - quite magnificent, but if only he knew how it hurts me to think of the denuded bush, specially those long stems! It is wonderful to be introduced as the rose lady at the local supermarket while the client describes her gorgeously productive roses, giving me all the credit! Most of the clients would like me to visit their gardens at the height of the season and I must say it is most rewarding to see the results of our very hard and often extremely tiring work.

contact personSheenagh Harris - President of the Federation of Rose Societies of South Africatelephone012 348 2739
mobile cellphonefax012 348 2739
street addresspostal addressPO Box 95738, WATERKLOOF, 0145
website urlemail address
skypemessenger address Federation of Rose Societies of South Africa is the umbrella society for the 13 societies situated in different parts of South Africa. The total membership throughout South Africa is about 1,550.

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