Learning About Roses
I don’t have any roses growing in my garden. This is odd because I love fragrant flowers, and roses are the iconic fragrant flower. I also love to bring cut flowers from the garden into the house, and roses are the quintessential cut flower. But I grew up in an era when roses in the garden meant hybrid tea roses and a whole garage full of chemicals to keep them “healthy.” I was always intimidated by the chemical arsenal that seemed to be part of growing roses. And as I developed a no-chemicals approach to gardening, I was intimidated by the idea of trying to grow roses without all those chemicals.
But as I think about the new front garden that I will create after an addition is built on the front of my house next year, I am planning at least two flower beds devoted to fragrance. It’s time to include roses in my garden, and that means getting over my fear of growing roses. So, as a first step in this direction, on a sultry Sunday afternoon in late June, I drove up to the beautiful garden of Xuan Xanh Laurie in Norway, Maine for a program sponsored by the McLaughlin Garden about growing roses in Maine.
The afternoon provided an opportunity to stroll through Xuan Xanh’s beautiful garden and to eat refreshments chosen from the rose family (including strawberries dipped in delicious chocolate from a chocolate fountain). But for the main part of the program, we gathered in a part of of Xuan Xanh’s barn with windows through which afternoon breezes flowed and from which we could see the roses beyond, for a presentation by Maine rosarian Dan Stevens.
As part of his presentation, Dan circulated both books and cut roses through the audience. My favorite resources, however, were the handouts that each person received. These included an outline of different types of roses (species roses, old garden roses, modern shrub roses, and hybrid rugosa roses), with a discussion of general characteristics and specific varieties of each type. From this outline, I learned that the old garden roses are likely to be strongly fragrant, that the Alba and Gallica roses are very cold hardy, and that the Bourbon roses are not likely to be hardy in my garden. I also learned that the David Austin roses have been bred to combine the virtues of old garden roses with repeat blooming but that they vary in fragrance, and that the Canadian Explorer and Parkland roses, bred to be hardy in conditions much colder than mine, are not generally fragrant. Additional handouts provided a diagram of rose anatomy, tips for establishing a rose garden, instructions for planting roses and for removing suckers, and a list of common rose problems and solutions.
By the end of Dan’s presentation, I was feeling much more relaxed about the possibility of growing roses. David Austin catalogs were handed out at the end of the presentation, providing further fuel for rose-growing daydreams. In addition to the hours I’ve spent perusing the catalog, I’ve also been looking at the website of North Creek Farm in Phippsburg, Maine, where Suzy Verrier specializes in roses for the Maine climate, and at a very reassuring discussion of growing roses without chemicals at the Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardeners website.
Thanks to the McLaughlin Garden program and all these resources, my new front garden will almost certainly include several roses. Before long, I will be enjoying fragrant roses both out in the garden and inside the house.