by Carol Edwards
There are so many roses, how do you choose? In this article I will share some of my personal favorites.
When deciding which roses to try, do your homework. Look through catalogs. Go to garden centers in May, when most of the roses are stocked. Browse the web. Ask your neighbors. Attend rose exhibitions in our area.
To discover which roses do well in the mid-Atlantic, check out rose displays in public gardens several times over the growing season. We are fortunate to have three rose gardens almost within spitting distance, the Smithsonian rose display near the Arts and Industry Building, the U.S. Botanic National Garden, and the U.S. National Arboretum. There are also several more in and around Washington.
Of course all the usual steps for selecting the “right plant for the right place” apply. Know how much sunlight you receive at the planting site. (Roses like to sunbathe.) Improve your soil. Improve it again. (Roses are heavy feeders.) Make sure that water is accessible. Drip irrigation is helpful. (Roses are heavy drinkers.) Acquire good pruners, a wide-brimmed sun hat, and stout gloves.
Take note of your preferences. What colors do you like? How important is fragrance to you? Do you want lots of blooms? Do you want roses primarily for cut flowers? Do you like the flower forms of old garden roses? How ruthless are you willing to be? (With the amount of deadheading, pruning, and plant removal required, rose cultivation is not for the faint of heart!)
Although I may not always choose the perfect roses for our climate, I try to make selections that will do well on Capitol Hill without heroic effort. I use organic fertilizer and practice integrated pest management, which means I tolerate some black spot and partially munched foliage. I must sometimes cut off buds or young blooms that are malformed by rose pests. All of that goes with the territory. (If you demand exhibition quality roses, you will need to use toxic chemicals.) I like fragrance, although I am willing to choose beauty over fragrance on occasion. My taste in form is eclectic. I adore the high-centered, ovoid buds of some hybrid teas and grandifloras, but I also love the cupped, quartered, and expanded forms of old garden rose blooms. I like both single and double flowers.
When it comes to color, I favor pale shades—light pink, mauve, and pale yellow. I also like strong colors—copper, red/yellow, and dark purple. I prefer dark green, glossy foliage with red-tipped new growth but, truthfully, if the flowers are spectacular and the foliage is ugly, I’ll still take the plant. Although I fancy recurrent (repeat blooming) roses, I find myself charmed by several old garden roses that bloom only once a year. I do not like miniature or mini-flora roses, although they are appropriate for row houses and patio gardens. Space limitations have guided me away from climbers and ramblers, and, indeed, vigorous growers in general. (Again, do your homework, before you purchase.)
As I name my favorites, I will include a bit of a primer on how roses are classified. To prevent boring you, I will only include enough information to help my rose selections make sense. If you want further background, information abounds on the Internet and in print.
There are three major categories of roses: species, modern, and old garden roses. My roses fall in the latter two categories.
Old garden roses are those that were know to gardeners prior to 1867. Among the old garden roses I grow are Bourbons, and Gallicas, but there are an additional thirteen major classes. Most old garden roses only bloom once a year and many are vigorous growers. Old garden roses are among the most fragrant. Many are pest resistant. Their blooms have more variety in shape but are generally smaller than modern roses. Their color palette tends to vary from white to many shades of pink.
The modern roses in my garden, four of the eight major classes, include hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and shrubs. My shrub roses are a hybrid musk and several English roses, often called David Austin™ roses for their primary breeder. The latter are repeat bloomers that mimic the old garden roses in form, fragrance, and disease resistance—some, more successfully than others in my experience.
Hybrid teas are distinguished by large flowers that grow individually on long stems. Grandifloras have a similar growth habit, but their blooms may be smaller and tend more toward sprays. Floribunda roses often have smaller flowers and stems than hybrid teas and their flowers grow in clusters. In general, floribunda roses will flower more prolifically season long than hybrid tea roses, but hybrid tea blooms will be more spectacular—closer to roses we find in florist shops as cut flowers. In rose competitions, a hybrid tea bloom is almost always selected as queen of the show, the highest honor. Breeding may have altered modern roses’ growth habits, but it has also increased susceptibility to pests and diseases and, in many instances, diminished fragrance.
With that background, I’ll cut to the chase. If I had to select my absolute favorite rose, well, I just couldn’t. I could probably pick my favorite five. One would be Granada (hybrid tea). This neon pink and orange bi-color is beautiful, fragrant, and very showy. Another favorite hybrid tea is Brandy, a fragrant, cognac-colored rose. Sheer Bliss (light pink), Moonstone™ (white with pale pink picotee), and Elina® (pale yellow) are more hybrid teas I grow fondly. Dainty Bess (hybrid tea) is a beautiful pale pink single rose with dark pink and yellow stamens. I find its flowers fragile—one good rain or stiff breeze can denude it of petals, but it’s so endearing that I overlook its ephemeral nature.
If you are looking for a red rose, try Legends™ (hybrid tea), or the classic Olympiad (hybrid tea). Of course, Mister Lincoln’s (hybrid tea) large fragrant crimson flowers are hard to beat. My only red is Veterans’ Honor®, a hybrid tea that begins as a true red and matures to a dark fuchsia.
Hybrid teas may command the lion’s share of the attention, but I find that floribundas definitely have their charms. When properly tended, they provide consistent blooming during the height of the summer. My favorite is the lavender Blueberry Hill™. Apricot Nectar (light apricot) is fragrant and attractive. If you are after unusual colors that thrive in the mid-Atlantic, you will find them among the floribundas. Try Hot Cocoa™ (brown), Cinco de Mayo™ (orangey ocher), or Ebb Tide™ (deep royal purple). I do not grow any of the three, but see them happy in public gardens around town.
When last July’s heat and humidity caused my roses to take a vacation, Scarborough Fair®, an English rose, bloomed like a champ. This small bush with its sweet light pink cupped flowers is perfect for row house frontage. Try it on a townhouse patio in a large pot. Dead-heading by occasional sheering is an almost effortless way to keep it blooming all season.
Some of you are familiar with the spectacular show that my Pat Austin™ (copper) puts on every May. Wow! Unfortunately, it is not a prolific bloomer at any other time. Sharifa Asma™® (light pink) is a favorite English rose. If you like dark maroon and need a small bush, check out Munstead Wood. I have never grown it, but could easily be tempted. I do grow Dark Lady (dark fuchsia), which beautifies my vegetable patch admirably while occupying little of its precious real estate. One note of caution—I find that David Austin™ roses grow larger than forecasted, so plan your spacing accordingly.
For me, no garden would be complete without at least one old garden rose. My love of these roses goes back to childhood, and they were the first roses I planted in my own garden. One of my favorite old roses is planted smack in the middle of my perennial bed. Souvenir de la Malmaison, a light pink Bourbon that looks and smells great repeats well. If you prefer a darker pink try another Bourbon, Rose de Rescht. Both of these varieties will grace relatively small spaces. Next to Souvenir de la Malmaison, I grow the hybrid musk rose, Penelope. It has large clusters of small pale pinkish-yellow flowers. I find the two roses lovely in combination.
My Gallica roses bloom only once, but glorify the month of June and, thankfully, tolerate a bit of shade. They include the sublimely fragrant Belle Isis (light pink) and the temperamental Cardinal Richelieu (which I plan to replace with Tuscany Superb, another purple rose). If you want that quintessential old rose fragrance, try the Apothecary’s rose or one of cabbage roses (rosa centifolia).
For 2012, I’ve ordered two new roses to try. (Alas, one of the ways rose cultivation is for the ruthless, especially in a small garden, is that established loves must be yanked to accommodate new infatuations. Is this what they call progress?) A well established grandiflora, Love (hot pink and white bicolor), is taking a final bow so I can try the recently introduced Sugar Moon (white hybrid tea) and Ketchup and Mustard (red and yellow floribunda).
So there you have it—my favorite roses, at least for now. There are always more roses to discover and new introductions to consider. With a bit of diligence and luck, the reward will be worth the effort.
One final note, local garden centers have a limited variety of roses, particularly of old garden roses. Many of the roses in my garden were ordered through catalogs. Do not be afraid to order bare root roses for fall or early spring planting. I have been quite successful with them.
For more information on roses, contact the Potomac Rose Society, http://www.potomacrose.org/ and Arlington Rose Foundation, http://www.arlingtonrose.org/. These organizations offer a wealth of expertise through their meetings, consulting rosarians, field trips, and annual rose exhibitions.
I hope at least a few of you will be inspired to explore the charms of growing roses, beyond the popular Knockout™ cultivars. If so, please share information about your discoveries by posting comments on http://capitolhillgardenclub.blogspot.com/. Happy planting!