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Learning About Roses

July 24, 2013

rose closeupI 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.Laurie rose garden

rose event refreshmentsThe 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.

climbing rosesAs 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.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2013 2:36 am

    Hi there Jean – glad you are going to give roses a go again – Old Roses and David Austen English Roses are the way to go – both as tough as old boots! My Old Roses you commented on in my last blog post are all Old varieties and absolutely thrive on utter neglect as I hardly get the chance to do anything down there! As you doubtless learned on your course Old Rose varieties have been found in England thriving in severely neglected houses seventy years after they were first planted – incredible plants, and no they don’t need any chemicals at all to flourish – just good planting and a load of manure once in a while. Happy rosarian ordering – I’ve bought from DA for years and his service and plants are excellent – all the fun of your bare root plants arriving in December – you can’t beat it! Kind regards Ursula

    • July 26, 2013 9:55 pm

      Ursula, Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t think I’ll have any bare root plants arriving in December here; usually in December, the ground is frozen solid and the garden is under a thick blanket of snow. I think people here usually buy rose plants potted; I remember noting at the presentation that the dates for planting bare root plants were times of the year when the garden is under snow.

  2. July 25, 2013 7:12 am

    Ahhh, Jean, a great and informational post. Thanks! I have a lot of the same ‘nerves’ about growing roses as you do. I wish you well in your quest for the right ones for you. Sometimes making the decision about which one to choose is the hardest part. I only have 4 shrub roses and am not so good at caring for them (because I, like you, don’t need a plant that going to need a disproportionate amount of attention). Ursula, above, has some good recommendations, but bare root plants arriving in December??? Hmmm…

    • July 26, 2013 9:57 pm

      Ginny, LOL, I had the same reaction to the idea of bare root plants arriving in December. Ursula’s in England with its mild maritime climate warmed by the Gulf Current — very different winter conditions than ours.

  3. July 25, 2013 7:45 am

    I have many roses throughout the borders, shrub mostly, a few David Austin, not too much care. Some do require pruning to flower, except the newer Home Run. I do feed them three times a season. It is nice to interplant them with some winter interest plants as they are sticks during the winter.


    • July 26, 2013 9:57 pm

      Eileen, Thanks for the encouragement and the tips — especially the advice about planting them with companions that will provide winter interest.

  4. July 25, 2013 8:18 pm

    It will be great to see how you incorporate roses into your landscape and which you choose. I inherited a number of roses with my current house. I’m generally happy with the shrub roses in my front border but the hybrid teas elsewhere drive me crazy for the very reasons you mentioned. At some point I expect to whittle out the most troublesome, although I’d like to fill in with a more manageable type where I can. I’ve considered David Austins but I’ve no experience with them so, if you elect to try them, I can learn from your experience (the differences in our climates aside).

    • July 26, 2013 9:59 pm

      Kris, I think I’ll probably go out to visit Suzy Verrier’s rose collection at North Creek Farm next June during rose season and make selections then. (Since the major point of roses for me is fragrance, I have to sniff them before I decide.)

  5. July 25, 2013 8:35 pm

    I can’t wait to see the new flower beds take shape, and to see which Roses you choose to add.

    • July 26, 2013 10:01 pm

      Bernie, I’m excited about creating new flower beds. I’m going to use the services of a landscape architect to help me with earth contours, retaining walls, hardscape and the general shape of flower beds, but then I’ll do the rest. I already find myself sitting with the house architect’s preliminary sketch of the addition and drawing in walkways and flower beds.

  6. July 26, 2013 8:33 am

    I love Roses and grow as many as I can but they have to fit within a herbaceous border as I don’t like growing them side by side. That’s only my preference because I think rose borders can tend to look straggly and also the closer they are grown together the more chance there is of disease spreading.
    I too used to think about all the chemicals needed but I can honestly say I use none of it. Ifa bush shows signs of Blackspot I remove the leaves, burn them and make sure that particular bush is cut right back in the winter – this appears to have cured Blackspot on 2 bushes.
    There are many Roses available now that are disease resistant which I would think would be a good place to start because if you have a bad experience with your first few bushes it may just put you off them.
    I have David austen Roses and Harkness roses and yes they’re fabulous but to be honest I have just as good results with roses bought early in the year from pound shops.
    All I do care wise is dead head throughout the year, feed a couple of times a year and prune every spring – so simple and such beautiful blooms.
    Can’t wait to see how you incorporate roses in your plan Jean, you won’t regret it.

    • July 26, 2013 10:08 pm

      Linda, I share your feelings about roses in groups. The truth is that I like roses better as individual flowers than as plants. I expect to begin with 3-4 roses, each in a different flower bed or mixed planting.

  7. July 26, 2013 12:03 pm

    Good luck with the roses. I know how much I love mine, although some are struggling this year with the heat. I always enjoy your pictures. Your garden looks wonderful. Maybe mine will be as nice some day!

    • July 26, 2013 10:09 pm

      Cathy, LOL, everyone’s garden looks wonderful in photos because we don’t photograph the parts that don’t look wonderful! As Saxon Holt says about garden photography, “The camera always lies.”

  8. July 27, 2013 4:22 pm

    I also love roses but am intimidated about growing them. I had a Knockout, and even that got rose rosette disease. Since then I’ve sworn off them. How nice for you to have discovered all these options. There is nothing so New England-ly as a beautiful rose bush in June.

    • July 30, 2013 7:35 pm

      Sarah, I’m hoping that if I stick with varieties that have declared tried and true by other Maine gardeners that I’ll be able to avoid big problems. Of course, as with anything in gardening, time will tell.

  9. July 28, 2013 9:46 am

    Jean how exciting that you will begin to grow fragrant roses…I adore roses and have added more and more including climbers that are finally coming into their own…I remember the chemicals my mom used in her garden for her roses…now I am glad I can grow them without all the chemicals.

    How nice to find so many gardens and resources for your dream.

    • July 30, 2013 7:54 pm

      Donna, I’ve known about North Creek Farm for years and have often thought about going out there, but this rose-growing presentation really got me moving to think about roses for real. The timing couldn’t be better, since I’ll be starting to plan the new garden to go with my new addition next summer.

  10. July 28, 2013 3:07 pm

    Hi Jean, I’m excited for you that you’re trying out roses. I only just “discovered” them proper last year when I planted the garden arches. This year they have been stunning and they will only get better. Mine are David Austin roses and they’re my favourite because their form and fragrance are outstanding. There are many other roses that I want to try, mainly climbers, but I simply haven’t the room in the garden to accommodate them all!

    • July 30, 2013 7:59 pm

      Sunil, I won’t have all the rose options you do because we have much harsher winters. (Low temps about -20F (about -30C) are not uncommon here.) Even as climate change makes our high temperatures higher, it also makes the cold-hardiness issue more problematic; we used to have pretty reliable insulating snow cover, but now we are having more “open winters” with bare ground more of the time. Even among the David Austin roses, relatively few are reliably cold-hardy here. (They recommend buying the ones that grow on their own root stock so that they can recover from the roots if everything above ground is killed by winter cold.) So I have a lot of research to do before I’m ready to make selections.

      • August 5, 2013 3:26 pm

        Hi Jean, gosh, that’s something that I took completely for granted. I don’t have to think about cold-hardiness with roses here as we simply don’t get get those kinds of winter temperatures. It just goes to show the great range of garden climates and their challenges.

  11. July 28, 2013 7:26 pm

    What a great idea attending this seminar. I too have steered clear of roses in the past due to their notorious picky nature. I’ve inadvertently found myself a fan though as roses came with our house purchase. These are old roses though that require zero care, I’m still a little leery of the new breeds.

    • July 30, 2013 8:01 pm

      Hi Marguerite, I’m getting the sense that old roses that are well established locally are the way to go in areas with very cold winters. I’m quite willing to forgo reblooming in order to get cold hardiness, fragrance and relatively unfussy plants.

  12. July 29, 2013 6:55 pm

    I know you are looking forward to creating a new garden! I don’t grow a lot of roses, for the same reasons you mentioned. But I do grow a few landscape roses, and they are so lovely when viewed from inside my house. I have been thinking of planting more. Fragrant roses would be wonderful. I look forward to seeing what your choices are. One warning: I have a friend who planted a single rose, then another and another. Now he has over a hundred!

    • July 30, 2013 8:02 pm

      Deb, LOL, Thanks for the warning that even if the roses are disease-free (or maybe especially if they’re disease free) the gardener way well succumb to rose addiction.

  13. July 30, 2013 1:24 am

    Beautiful roses!

    • July 30, 2013 8:13 pm

      Sonnja, They were beautiful. Xuan Xanh’s garden is lovely.

  14. August 2, 2013 2:28 pm

    I am not a rose person although I have had three varieties of rugosa roses in my PA garden for years. About three years ago I decided that I needed orange roses because they have always been my favorite. I planted Westerland, which I love, completely disease free, all you have to do is prune. I also have some Knockouts in between my peonies to hide the bad foliage. Have you heard about rose rosette disease? It is wiping out whole rose collections so I think if I planted more roses I would wait for something resistant. It has been raining regularly in PA and the gardens are glorious according to Michael.

    • August 3, 2013 10:57 pm

      Carolyn, Thanks for the warning about rose rosette disease. In doing some research, it doesn’t seem to have gotten this far north yet — but with climate change, I think we can assume it will be here sooner or later.

  15. August 2, 2013 5:00 pm

    Jean, I am so glad that you are going to try roses again. As you know the notable feature of my garden is the Rose Walk and there is a virtual Rose Viewing on my blog. Your post reminds me that I should go back and note which roses are especially fragrant. I live in a challenging climate, elevation 1700 feet, with the Montreal Express whipping down the hill in winter – and not always a lot of snow cover. I garden without poisons, so anything that survives does so because of its won innter strength. I have the albas and rugosas to be more hardy than the gallicas. And I’ve had no luck with the David Austins. They are beautiful though, and I highly recommend Abraham Darby if you can overwinter it. Good luck to you!

  16. August 2, 2013 5:02 pm

    Jean – I have to leave another note. Since you do have a small Pennsylvania garden you would have great luck there with the David Austin roses. Lucky you. Old fashioned look, and repeat bloom.

    • August 3, 2013 11:01 pm

      Pat, Thank you so much for providing me with the benefit of your considerable experience with roses. I think anything that does well in your climate will probably also do well in mine (lower elevation + higher latitude = similar climate). I will look particularly for Albas and Rugosas.
      While my Pennsylvania garden might have a better climate for roses, it is too small to accommodate them easily — and I will be moving from there when I retire in a few months. Any roses in my future need to grow in Maine conditions.

  17. August 2, 2013 11:16 pm

    Good luck with your rose venture! I have grown three modern shrub roses, a rambler, and a wild rose. One of the shrub roses succumbed to disease, all of the others are doing well.

  18. August 5, 2013 6:05 pm

    my roses are – survival of the fittest. I haven’t and won’t use chemicals. Feed, water, mulch and regular grooming. Lost some, kept some. Even now mid-winter with snow promised, having just pruned hard, there are STILL flowers.

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