Thirty-five years have passed since I planted my first rose bush in Heath. In the months before our move from New York City I read and re-read Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine White. It was her experience and thoughts about roses that particularly touched my dreams of a romantic garden in the country. I had never grown roses, and never even really paid much attention to roses. My dreams and limited experiences had been with herbs and vegetables.
That book inspired me to plant my first rose, Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, from Roses of Yesterday and Today. Who could resist that name? Over time I bought more roses from that nursery, focusing on roses of yesterday like the Queen of Denmark, Fantin-Latour, Celsiana and the Rose of Ispahan. These were hardy antique roses that were fragrant and disease free.
I did add modern roses over time, including Buck roses hybridized by Griffith Buck for cold hardiness. Applejack, one of my favorite roses, was a hardy Buck rose. These were not noted for their fragrance, however. I also added more and more rugosas that were hardy, disease free and fragrant. MountBlanc is my favorite white rugosa, and Dart’s Dash an energetic deep pink was also a favorite.
I also collected roses from friends like Rachel’s Rose, Purington Pink and the Buckland Rose. There is only one drawback to all these roses. Most of them are fragrant, but none of them bloom all summer.
Of all those roses, it is only the hardy and energetic Purington Pink that I brought with me to the new Greenfield garden. But it is not the only rose I planted.
Over the years I learned more about efforts by hybridizers to create hardy roses that do bloom for a long season. These new hybridizing efforts were brought about by environmental concerns about poisons used on roses, and new attitudes toward proper garden management. Several years ago, after meeting Peter Kukielski who was then curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, a new world of long blooming, disease resistant, and often fragrant roses opened up for me.
Kukielski is currently working with the American Rose Trials for Sustainability which has been running rose trials in different locations for the past few years. In 2017 they will announce their first round of sustainable roses. The A.R.T.S. website (www.americanrosetrialsforsustainability.org) declares “ . . . strict trialing protocol ensures that every A.R.T.S.® trial garden is ‘no spray.’ Remember, the goal is to identify the rose varieties which need little to no input. Ensuring that no pest control products or fertilizers are applied to the plants within the experiment ensures that we get accurate real world results which are both reliable and repeatable.”
I cannot wait for the first trial results, because I want more roses in my new garden which is much smaller and has particular problems. What does a rose bush need? Roses must have at least 6 hours of sun to thrive and produce good bloom. Roses need good air circulation. Roses need good soil that is rich in humus, has a pH between 6 and 6.5, and drains well.
Roses need water, but they do not like to have their feet wet. Sections of my new garden are very sunny, and I can build good soil, but most of my soil is heavy clay that does not drain well. I have to find areas that will not leave the roses in standing water during the spring thaw or after long, heavy rains.
Although I knew I was taking a gamble I could not let a whole garden year go by without planting some roses. The south side of our lot gets plenty of sun, and the soil is better there than in the backyard. Last spring and early summer we started planting our shrub border which includes hydrangeas, lilacs, and a viburnam.
When choosing roses for this garden I tried to use all I have learned over the years. I again planted the pink centifolia Fantin-Latour for its history and romance even though it will bloom for a short season. I also planted the low and dependable pink polyantha The Fairy and Knockout Red. Knockout Red is an EarthKind rose, and you can count on any EarthKind rose to be beautiful and dependable, even though it is not fragrant.
Some of the roses I chose are new varieties that are considered groundcover roses, not as tall as other rose bushes, very full and bushy with a long bloom season. These include Oso Easy Paprika, and Peach Drift. Purple Rain, Polar Express, the pink Zaide and creamy Lion’s Fairy Tale are all hybrids from Kordes with good disease resistance. Kukielski told me I could count on all Kordes roses to be among the best long blooming, disease resistant roses I could have. Many are fragrant. NewFlora (www.newflora.com) is the U.S. distributor for Kordes.
I also had to have two of the other roses I had in Heath. Folksinger is a peachy hardy Buck rose, and Thomas Affleck is the amazing deep pink rose I grew near my entry. It had big blossoms that began in mid June and continued into November.
With all these new sustainable coming on the market there will be no excuse for any gardener to avoid roses because they are too fussy.
Between the Rows June 11, 2016