We are at the cusp of rose bloom. Tiny buds reach for the sunlight, but not many petals have unfurled during this chilly spring. Yesterday, a few blooms braved our roller coaster temperatures, starting to open. I still need to put alfalfa pellets around the bushes to give them a boost, but these blossoms won’t wait.
‘Archduke Charles’ in the photos (left and below) is a China rose. Chinas are credited with giving modern roses remontant (repeat) flowering. Before the Chinas became part of rose parentage and history, roses only bloomed once a season. I have several of these one-time Grand Dames, but they are still in bud and will be until May. The Chinas in my gardens begin blooming first, and usually close out the last of summer. The bottom photo isn’t a very good one because it shows both mottling on the open flower from cooler temps and diseased leaves. Once ‘Archduke Charles’ settles in, its lower petals will be dark and the center ones a light pink.
See the black spots on the leaves on the right? If you are new to rose growing and don’t know what blackspot looks like, now you do. Because of its location, this rose never loses its foliage in winter, thus encouraging early spring blackspot on its old leaves. I posted the photo because I wanted you to know that my garden is real. I’ll pull those diseased leaves off the plant when I get a chance. I’ll also fertilize as I go around the garden doing other chores. I don’t have a full time garden staff, and I figure you don’t either. So, sometimes, I’ll show you both the beauty and the reality of my garden. It’s only fair.
Before you run out to the local store and ask for China roses, know two things: first, you won’t find them there, and they need some protection. Some are hardy to USDA Zone 6, but others are only to Zone 7. Being located in USDA Zone 7a, I grow most of my Chinas near the house. ‘Archduke Charles’ is on the west side so he can soak up the early spring sunshine. He lives next door to ‘Cecile Bruner,’ a Polyantha. The lovely ‘Cecile’ is waiting for a warmer day.
Without fail, the first rose to bloom each spring is ‘Old Blush,’ also known as ‘Common Monthly,’ ‘Parsons Pink,’ Common Blush China and Old Pink Daily. ‘Old Blush’ has enough aliases that you would think it’s a member of the Italian mob. As some of the names suggest, it is another China.
There is nothing to growing ‘Old Blush.’ A five year old could do it. Once established, it needs very little water or food and is content to bloom like this with little of either. In spite of its ease, ‘Old Blush’ is famous and garners over half a page of information in my American Rose Society Encyclopedia of Roses.
“No rose has been so important in the development of our modern roses as ‘Old Blush.’ It is an old China rose which has been grown in China, and possibly Japan, for at least 1,000 years.”
This is the rose which was crossed with European ones to create the repeat flowering roses we know today. I also have the climbing form, a small section of which is shown at left. It grows on a trellis in my back garden where it commands our focus, especially in spring when it is covered in blooms. Again, the climbing form is extremely easy to grow. However, bloom form, once open, resembles a wadded up tissue.
Our last beauty of the day is a Polyantha, ‘Marie Pavie.’ Polyanthas are a separate class from the Chinas, and you see the difference in ‘Marie Pavie’s’ foliage, which is a little more leathery than the Chinas, and her bloom color, which is white. Few China roses are white. ‘Ducher’ is an exception.
Polyanthas were actually produced by a cross between two classes of climbing roses: the Mutiflora ramblers and the Wichurana ramblers. Surprisingly, some of their seedlings turned out to be small-statured shrubs, the Polyanthas.
This bush is eight years old and is at its mature height of two and a half feet. I remember, because it was given to the Diva in remembrance of her First Communion. Each of my children were given their own rose to celebrate this special occasion.
‘Marie Pavie’ needs little special care. Although she is sometimes bothered by blackspot, it doesn’t stop her from blooming, and I just remove the damaged leaves. ‘Old Blush’ has this same characteristic.
If you are interested in any of the older roses, I would suggest you request catalogs from both Chamblee’s Rose Nursery in Tyler, Texas and Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham and San Antonio, Texas. Mark Chamblee and his staff are very helpful. Over the years, I’ve bought a lot of roses from them. Michael Shoup, owner of Antique Rose Emporium, also wrote a book a few years ago, profiling older roses, Roses in the Southern Garden. I found it very readable and informative. As this one is out of print and only available from collectors, you might also look at Antique Roses for the South, by William C. Welch.