Discovering Roses


There must be very few gardens worthy of the name in Western Europe which do not attempt to grow a rose or two. It is this same addiction to roses that still manifests itself in every ex-colonial hill station throughout the tropics. Roses spell home as much now as ever they did in the past. It is sad therefore that the way in which they are used in most gardens of the smaller size is so unimaginative. The reason for this, no doubt, is the usually small appreciation, not of the charms of roses — this is a part of our folklore, legend and literature —but of the diversity of types that is available. This diversity has never been so great; it seems a pity not to look beyond the first marvellous ‘Peace’ that meets the eye.


Hybrid Tea Roses

Hybrid Tea Roses Discussion of roses is apt to begin with wild species and the early forms and crosses before coming to those most commonly seen and therefore known. In many ways it seems more convenient, if historically illogical, to start with these. We are referring to the bush roses which are more correctly called hybrid teas (HT’s). Their ability to leap into leaf and flower within a few months of planting makes them the darlings of the new garden. Flowers are luxuriantly large, of exquisite form, often scented (the dusky, musky fruitiness of ‘Fragrant Cloud’ on a warm summer evening is a positive incitement to bad behaviour: it compares very favourably with the more highly regarded old-fashioned roses and the flowering season continues from the end of June until the hard frosts come).

It is very often possible to pick a few end of season flowers for a Christmas dinner table. The range of colours is remarkable: proof of the hybridists’ art, but the brightest are not necessarily the best. Floribunda roses, with crowded heads of usually smaller flowers have similar attributes to Hybrid Tea’s.


Using Roses in the Garden

In the heady atmosphere of such a plethora of choice too little attention is paid to the way in which these modern roses are used in the garden scene. Where a garden is enviably big enough to boast a separate, enclosed, rose garden the problems are minimal. In most cases, like the washing line and the proverbial poor, roses are always with us. For it must be admitted that from December until early April conventional rose beds are nothing but a mess of miserable prickly sticks. They need, where possible, to be integrated into the garden so that the months of their disarray are passed over without any thought that the ground could be better used.

Firstly a group or two, each of five plants perhaps, of hybrid teas or floribundas can give summer interest to a mainly spring shrub border. In such a position with tones of green as a backing up, clear bright colours are effective. Groups can also be used with herbaceous plants in conscious combinations of complementary colours; such as the rosy-red ‘Rosemary Rose’ with Artemisia ‘Lambrook Silver’ or the pale blue flowers of Salvia haematodes for instance. Where a bed of roses is required at the end of a terrace, there is again no reason why the bushes should not share the ground. Underplanting with polyanthus and grape hyacinths gives spring interest as does the encouraging of the seedlings of small annuals such as the lovely little ‘Johnny Jump Up’ violas.

Although the recommendation sounds dangerously purist and pedantic it really is wise, if the garden is considered as a carefully furnished room, to keep the numbers of varieties to be used very small indeed. A dozen ‘Whisky Mac’, with their lovely foliage and bronze-orange flowers will look better than a dozen different varieties in the same bed. If this sort of range is wanted for cut flowers, a row in the kitchen garden is the best answer. Standard roses, incidentally, are usually HT varieties budded onto a stock stem some 1.25m (4ft) high: such a bush on a stick is very difficult to use except perhaps to give height in the centre of large rose beds where it can look well.


Species Roses

Whereas HT’s and floribundas are best in the more formal parts of the garden, the wild species from which they are ultimately derived are, not surprisingly, plants for more natural positions. Flowers are inevitably single, with typical dog-rose grace and elegance. With some they are tiny like the little pink threepenny-bit rose R. farreri persetosa or the golden R. ecae; with others such as R. rubrifolia it is leaf and flower in combination that gives the peculiar attraction. Many are aggressively vigorous climbers — small gardens should beware of the lovely Kiftsgate form of R. filipes if they wish to have room for any other plant at all.

Indeed, it is to be doubted if it is really wise to plant small courtyard walls with roses at all; invariably they get to the top and hang out their beauties for next door to enjoy. Yet temptation is usually too much. Again, with climbers as with bush roses the range is enormous. Amongst the species R. bracteata, evergreen and wickedly armed, has pure white single flowers of great substance, and R. banksiae, evergreen yet thornless with yellow or white flowers, are both warm high-wall plants. Others will scramble through an old apple tree in unpromising conditions.

Many HT’s have produced climbing sports and these are admirable for house walls as they flower for such a long period, often opening as early as May in a warm spot. Rambler roses—hybrids especially of the Chinese R. wichuraiana — have one glorious season of flower and are best for pergolas or they can be used to tumble down a steep bank.


Old-Fashioned Roses

In recent years the so-called old-fashioned roses have been enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. The current national summer sport of garden visiting has no doubt helped here; for to see these plants billowing about with their spicily scented flowers like Redouté prints come to life at such famous gardens as Sissinghurst, sends admirers rushing for the catalogues immediately they reach home. Early historical types such as the apothecaries’ rose (Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’ or the striped York and Lancaster (R. damascena variegata) never lack fascination but the recurrent flowering (or remontancy) we so take for granted with modern roses is not one of their attributes. That did not come into cultivated roses in Europe until the introduction of Rosa chinensis semperfiorens in the early 19th century.

Nonetheless the moss roses and their precursors, of which many old named varieties still exist amongst the Gallicas, Damasks, Albas and Musks, will always have their adherents even for that one short flush of flower. Other groups, notably forms of Rosa rugosa, add to their fine flowering season a long period of ornamental fruits which start to colour in August and, birds willing, hang on for three months or so. Particularly fine is ‘Roseriae de l’Hay’ which has a superb scent and relatively long flowering period.


Other Uses

Uses of roses apart from conventional garden decoration in formal beds has been hinted at. The climbers can be trained up walls and over pergolas or allowed to scramble up a tree. The bushy wild species and their modern shrub counterparts (such as ‘Nevada’ and ‘Uncle Walter’) can take normal mixed shrub planting. Many of the old-fashioned varieties have idealised cottage garden use in association with spring bulbs and summer flowers. Even raised beds and window boxes can now contain the little miniatures. Find any site and a rose will follow to fill it — beautifully.


11. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Plants, Roses | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Discovering Roses


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