This month, at Gardening Gone Wild, the subject is roses.
Roses, those beauties of the herbaceous garden, those thorny queens with special needs. Some roses are like pampered celebrities. In the catalogs, they splash their pretty faces across the glossy pages promising so much and yet, once carefully planted, they deliver so little. You know what I’m talking about; they’re like overindulged actors, who want sparkling water, found only in the Swiss Alps. Then, when we plunk our money down for their new movie, they give us schlock.
So, why do I own over 90 rose bushes?
Just look at these sweet faces. It’s easy to look this good in May, but some roses like ‘Carefree Beauty’, or dare I write, the Knockout family, look this good all summer long. Then, in the fall, ‘Carefree Beauty’ presents me with giant, bird lovin’ rosehips.
In all fairness, we ask a lot of our roses. We wish they didn’t have thorns, or diseases, or attract bugs like Japanese Beetles, or become deer fodder. It’s a lot to ask of a shrub, isn’t it?
It’s the same with Angelina Jolie or Gwen Stefani. We want them to entertain us and let us gaze upon their beauty without all the fallout.
Perhaps, it is because they are so beautiful. Humans love beauty, and just to touch it, to hold a piece of starlight in one’s hand, is to touch a bit of heaven.
I hate to break the magic, but roses are shrubs, and stars are people no matter how beautiful. I can’t help with people, but I do know roses. For every attribute that they have, you must sacrifice something else.
For example, perfume and disease resistance. In theory, it should be easy to hybridize a disease resistant rose which is also extremely fragrant. It isn’t. At the GWA Symposium, I spoke to two of the cutting edge companies about this very matter. They are working on it, and one of them wants me to test a rose this spring and summer to see if I think it fits the bill. When that little rose comes, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I hope it’s a triumph for them.
How about thorns? My friend, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, mentioned to me on Plurk that she wished roses weren’t so thorny. In the spring, when I weed and feed (by hand) everyone, my arms do too. I am constantly covered in scratches. It’s so bad that people accuse me of cat fighting. I promise, rose tending is much worse. I wish I could help MMD, but she lives in Chicago which is USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Many of my China and Noisette roses are nearly thornless, but they only thrive in Zone 7 and warmer climes. Some don’t even like Zone 7. My first suggestion for her is Zephirine Droughin who likes the colder weather and is thornless. According to EveryRose.com, ‘Basye’s Blueberry’ is hardy to Zone 6 and with protection, Zone 5. BB is thornless and grows well in my garden.
We want constant flowering and cold hardiness. Again, Chinas and Noisettes bloom all the time. In fact, it was by crossing Chinas with other roses that we got the repeat flowering we love today. However, Chinas and Noisettes like their soil warm, and they aren’t the classic Hybrid Tea form. Hybrid Teas, although beautiful, are an anomoly. In my opinion, roses weren’t meant to bloom that way, so Hybrid Teas usually need a structured spray regimen. I only own two or three.
Most of my roses fall into supporting roles. I get the most amazing show in May, sporadic blooming throughout the summer and a renewed bloom in fall. In the midst of summer, they are putting their energy into survival. This is fine. I live in Oklahoma, not England, and I understand their needs. During this time, they are the backdrops for my beds. I grow a lot of old roses and new, modern, disease resistant shrubs.
In his book, Roses in the Southern Garden, Mike Shoup writes:
“Old roses have a diversity of forms [that] lends them very well to the garden where underplanting with perennials, annuals and existing shrubs is desired. Thus the rose is not required to be the sole provider of color, fragrance and form when used in that manner. It becomes just one of a variety of plants in the overall palate [sic] that the gardener uses to create his garden masterpiece.”
All I can add is this: I think people fall out of love with roses because they are planting the wrong type, or because they have unrealistic expectations. My advice is to do your research. This is a long term commitment. Read about roses as much as you can. I can suggest great rose books for the southern plains and the rest of the south in another post if you’d like. Then, visit public gardens in your area during the height of rose season. Talk to their caretakers. They love their jobs and will tell you which roses perform best (and which ones they have to constantly spray). Another method is to talk to the rosarian at your local nursery. We have a very good one at TLC Nursery in Oklahoma City. His name is Pat, and he will tell which ones perform best.
With your new found knowledge, you’ll be able to plant your new rose, and then, you can expect to fall in love again. I know I did.