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A Rose is a Rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose blooms into October

Gertrude Stein said “A Rose is a rose is a rose,” suggesting that “it is what it is”, in modern parlance. However, there is evidence that the rose existed 32 million years ago. Clearly it has changed over those millions of years, first by Mother Nature, and later by explorers, horticulturists and gardeners who found new roses and the magic of hybridizing.

My own view of the rose has changed radically over the years. Early on I had very little experience with roses that were usually upright bushes that the owners were always pruning, and fussing with pesticides. I had no interest in fussing over an uptight bush with poisons in my hand.

When we were preparing to leave New York City for Heath in 1979 I read Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White, the wife of E.B. White, one of my favorite authors. Katherine was a great gardener and a wonderful writer as well. Onward and Upward begins with a chapter about the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery, as well as other garden catalogs.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger, a disease resistant rose by Griffith Buck

I immediately sent for my own Roses of Yesterday and Today catalog. Thus began my fantasies of a rose garden on my Heath hill. I wanted these antique roses for their beauty and romance, but they are also practical because they are hardy and resistant to disease. I had no desire to have demanding roses – or any other flower for that matter.

The first rose I planted was Cuisse de Nymph, translated as Nymph’s Thigh, later expanded to Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, although some gardeners were too modest and called her Maiden’s Blush. The Passionate Nymph survived 35 years by our front door, right under the roof where she suffered icy winters with icicles falling on her. I gave her a very fond farewell when we left for Greenfield.

Zaide - Kordes rose

Zaide – a Kordes Rose, disease resistant, long blooming

The Rose Walk began with roses like Rosa glauca, a truly ancient rose with reddish foliage and very small single pink flowers. Even though I eventually had many glamorous roses, most visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing were particularly struck by this tall and unusual rose.

From the Roses of Yesterday and Today I ordered roses that existed before 1799 including the candy striped Camaieux, Belle de Crecy which can take on a mauve tone,  pink Celsiana, and the tall indestructible pink Ispahan.

Later I planted more modern, but still old roses including some that came from China like Madame Isaac Perriere, a bourbon rose that did not bloom quite as extravagantly in Heath as it might have in a gentler climate. It is the China roses that gave hybridists longer blooming roses.

Roses are always being created by hybridization, to bend to fashion, but also to create hardiness. Griffith Buck, who became a professor at Iowa Sate University after WWII, created a family of hardy roses that were also disease resistant. Several of these roses are sold under the heading Earth Kind. One of my favorite Buck roses is Applejack. It bloomed and welcomed us all at the head of our driveway.

Lion's Fairy Tale - Kordes rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale – a Kordes rose

At least 30 years ago Germany forbid the use of poisons in the rose garden. Kordes began to hybridize disease resistant roses like the lush and creamy Polar Express, and pale apricot Lion’s Fairy Tale, which are thriving in my Greenfield garden.

Fashion continues to change what we want in a rose. Nowadays garden nurseries carry hardy Knockout shrub roses in many shades, as well as the new ‘landscape’ roses. These low growing roses have a long bloom season. Sometimes they are called groundcover roses, which gives a clearer idea of the intent of the hybridizer.

Lush David Austin roses are understandably in favor. I enjoyed my years in Heath with the sturdy pink Mary Rose.

Coral Drift rose

Drift Coral rose, a low growing ‘landscape rose.’

In my new garden I have a tough red Knockout, and two low landscape roses, Oso Easy Paprika and a Peach Drift rose.

I only took one rose with me from Heath to Greenfield. This rose was a gift from the Purington family in Colrain. They had given me other roses from their old farm, but the rose I called Purington Pink was always sending out babies. It was easy to dig up and transplant some of those babies in Greenfield, and leave the mother bush to the new owners of our house. Purington Pink is a rose of friendship and could not be left behind.

I did not bring The Fairy with me to Greenfield, but I did buy and plant a new one. This pink polyantha is loaded with sprays of little frilly pink flowers, and she loves Greenfield.

I cannot grow many other roses now because roses do not like wet feet. Our yard is very wet, and floods in winter and spring. The roses I have are planted in the limited dry area.

Local nurseries understandably have a limited selection of roses. I have bought most of my roses from nurseries like Chamblee’s Rose Nursery, Antique Rose Emporium, and Roses of Yesterday and Today.

For those who are interested in roses and want to find hardy disease resistant varieties I want to recommend the book Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski. I met Kukielski a number of years ago when he was the curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. He knows about lush, gorgeous roses!

Between the Rows  June 22, 2019

4 comments to A Rose is a Rose

  • I’m with you on not wanting to spray chemicals all over the place. I don’t use insecticides or fungicides. Some of my roses show it, but the newer ones, as you say, are so disease-resistant and easy to care for. My great-grandfather crossed a tea rose with a native rose and named it “Sweet Mary” to honor his wife, my great-grandmother. Several of us in the family have this rose in our gardens. It’s not as insect-resistant as some of the newer ones, but it’s special and the scent is amazing. I think every garden needs at least one rose plant or shrub.

  • Pat

    Beth – How wonderful to have a rose created by a great-grandfather – or any other family relative. The Purington rose is not a hybrid, but it is very dear to me because of my friendship with the Purington family. We are lucky that there is a movement to make roses disease resistant – with a longer bloom season.

  • Peter Kukielski’s book gave me the courage to try growing some roses, and also helped me to identify varieties that would be hardy in my zone 5a garden, wouldn’t need a lot of fuss, and are also fragrant. The rugosa hybrids have been the easiest to grow in my garden, but I currently have my one Buck rose (Quietness) and a Kordes rose (Cinderella) in bloom.

  • Pat

    Jean – I am so glad Peter Kukielski’s book was helpful. I think he is a great and kind man.

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