Gardening: Cuttings

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"Why do you have it in so for poor old Agnes?" asks Brian Glover, of London SW12. I wrote recently that I'd heaved my recalcitrant `Agnes' rose on to the bonfire when, after years and years of waiting, it had failed to give me a single flower.

"I planted a bush at least 15 years ago in my mother's garden in windswept Merseyside," he continues. "It's in rather a thankless part of the garden (I was younger then, and crueller), dank soil, competition from an ancient hawthorn hedge, not much sunlight and still, twice a year, it puts on a creditable show of blossom. As a passionate gardener without a garden, I travel up there almost every month and usually catch its flowering.

"Its first flowering is quite early (end of May, early June) and the most profuse. The flowers, though not large, are of the most beautiful colour and have a raspberryish scent which I have not met in any other rose. Its second blooming is usually in August to September, when the flowers are fewer, but bigger and just as scented.

"The shrub does indeed grow lankily (not helped by being sun-starved, I suspect) and it throws suckers. When it all gets too much I hack it right down like other rugosa roses and it springs back, maybe missing one of its bloomings, but never seriously bothered. It has probably been fed two or three times in its life (I must try to remember to do it this spring). It never gets any diseases (the rugosa blood, I dare say) so doesn't need spraying.

"All in all, I'd say `Agnes' has proved her worth. I got her from David Austin's nursery. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I felt I should write in defence of a much-maligned rose."

The latest edition of `Tree News' unravels a mystery that has puzzled Janeites for some time. It occurs in Emma, when, on the day before the fatal Box Hill picnic, Emma visits Donwell Abbey and finds the orchard in blossom. Nothing odd in that, you might think, except that Austen makes clear this was "almost midsummer". Euan Nisbet, professor of geology at the University of London, has discovered that this is not as strange as it seems. He checked weather records in an early book on meteorology, The Climate of London, by Luke Howard, and discovered that the spring of 1814, the year Austen started to write Emma, was exceptionally cold. In the late, cold spring of 1996, apple trees were still in bloom in early June. The spring of 1814, apparently, was even later and colder, so blossom may not have appeared until midsummer. Austen, always a stickler for accuracy, has not made a boob. Tree News is published twice a year by the Tree Council, 51 Catherine Place, London SW1E 6DY (0171-828 9928).

Coffee connects a series of events arranged by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, between Tuesday and Friday next week. A free exhibition in the Caledonian Hall (Tues-Fri, 11am-3.30pm) includes exhibits from coffee traders and importers, with tastings going on all day. In the lecture theatre on Tuesday, Harvey Grieve talks about the subtleties of growing and roasting the bean, while RBG guides are on hand to point out coffee plants growing in the botanic garden's glasshouse. This event starts at 3pm and tickets cost pounds 10. For information on "Coffee Connections", contact Sharon Kirk at the Royal Botanic Garden (0131-552 71871).

Kew's annual orchid festival opens today with thousands of spectacular orchids on display in the Princess of Wales conservatory. The theme of this year's display is "Islands of Enchantment", the title drawing attention to the many endangered orchids that grow in islands round the world and the work being done to ensure their survival. In the micropropagation laboratories at Kew, scientists have learnt how to clone rare orchids, to protect species from extinction. There are 25,000 different kinds of wild species orchid, and the Kew collection is recognised as the best in the world. The festival runs until 29 March, with study days for beginners on 17 and 26 March and flower-arranging demonstrations on 5 and 11 March.