In Memoriam: Buffy the (almost) Invincible

We killed Buffy today.  Part of me thinks that I tempted fate once too often by saying: “Buffy is unkillable.” But that was why we named her “Buffy” after all.  She was here when we moved in.  That first winter killed two of the four roses in our new garden.  The process of putting the patio in killed Buffy’s companion rose, but through it all Buffy remained solid, reliable, beautiful.  She was also prickly and would not hesitate to take a bite out of anyone foolish enough to approach her without gloves.  For five years she rewarded us with hundreds of lovely apricot-pink buds that opened to single white roses.

She was like the Lernaean Hydra; if a cane was cut down or broken, two would grow up in its place.  Every growing season we’d have to try to tie her back, and every year she’d spring free.  She weathered record heatwaves, cold summers, Japanese Beetles, black spot, powdery mildew, and ravenous bunnies.  She was a survivor.  We had begun to talk about building an arbor over the sidewalk to allow her to climb up and trail across the top.  It would have been beautiful.  We thought she’d be with us forever.

Until today.

Early this afternoon, Glinda and I were coming back from taking an orchid to Aunt Louise who is recuperating from a bad fall.  As we passed Buffy, I looked up to see where we could tie off the canes that were swinging over the sidewalk and I noticed that some of the canes looked wrong.  They had pinkish, spidery-looking growth where there should have been leaves and buds.  The growth looked like pink Witch Hazel blossoms, and it was not something I’d ever seen on a rose before.  So I decided to go inside and look it up.

 Buffy had rose rosette disease, a fairly new virus that is carried by microscopic mites that chow down on tenderest part of the rose, the new shoots and leaves. It’s also called “Witch’s Broom.” Rose rosette disease is incurable.  It’s also highly contagious.  If left untreated, it would spread to our other roses. It also isn’t common up here; it’s more a disease of zone 6 and higher.  Hotter areas.  Yet another gift from climate change, eh?
I looked for a way to save her.  I googled for an hour but there was nothing.  There are things that might work if you catch the disease early, which we hadn’t.  We were at the point of hoping that Cordy, Willow and Tara wouldn’t be affected.  Every page I found gave the same basic advice: Pull out the rose and get as much of the root system as you can.  The mites can live in the  root nodes.  In other words, rip it out and do not plant another rose in the same spot.

I went out with trash bags, gloves and pruning shears.  I cut down every cane and bagged it.  (Infected plants can’t be composted.) I cut and she bit me.

I told her that I was sorry, that she had to understand that it was to save the others.  Buffy had to die to save her friends.  She stopped biting then and let me cut her down.  Glinda came out and dug up as much of the root system as she could find.  She swept up the debris and I washed all the tools, the trellises and even the gloves in bleach water.

It hurt my heart to kill Buffy; she was our first rose. She meant a lot to both of us  I can’t really express how much we’ll miss her.

Buffy with her old friends
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