“The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose”.
George William Curtis
Years ago when I began gardening I bought several varieties of hybrid tea roses on grafted root stock. I did as the books say one must do. I planted them all in a stick straight row, like soldiers, properly 3-4’ (1 m) apart for best ventilation, with swept clean grounds underneath to control disease. The books say they need 5+ hours of full sun and mine all got sun from morning till evening. I dutifully fertilized every 6 weeks and sprayed for disease as often. After all that effort, still the black-spot and mildew levels were high and needless to say discouraging. Then I got smart and went organic. Then I got even smarter and got rid of all the hybrid tea roses.
Most hybrid tea roses are grafted onto a different rootstock for some reason which I can’t remember and is unimportant. What is important is that sometimes the root stock will take over and sprout out so your deep red, velvety robust Mr. Lincoln could become something pink and spindly at any given time. That graft is also susceptible to freezing, so it should be buried below the ground level by a few inches. Hybrid teas also all have similar longish buds, which give way to the classic florist rose we are all familiar with. The hybridizers have tinkered so much with the wild roses to get specific colors and supposed disease resistance that they have lost much of the fragrance of olden days. Have you noticed that some roses just don’t smell much at all or if they do often the scents are similar to one another? And in my experience, all that tinkering hasn’t given us any help with controlling disease.
So in my newly found organic gardening awareness, my new efforts must deem chemical spraying and chemical fertilizing and chemical pest control obsolete. Can you just hear the garden and birds sigh a sigh of relief? Birds eat bugs, and when you poison bugs, the bird’s food now has poison residue on it, so you inadvertently poison birds too. Pretty soon you don’t get the songbirds to your garden because they are looking for food elsewhere.
I’d heard that the old English varieties were hardier, more disease resistant, more fragrant, not grafted and certainly less fussy. What can it hurt? Either that or leave roses out of my scheme all together…so I thought I’d give them one last try. Well, let me say I have not been disappointed.
In my opinion the blousy fullness of the old English rose is charming and far more interesting than that of the hybrid teas. In my opinion there is no fragrance better than that of the old English varieties and the differing perfumes are vast, ranging from soft to deeply musky. One deep inhale is hugely rewarding. Have you ever come across the term ‘heady scent’ in a novel…well now I know what that means.
I viewed a few English rose websites and ordered their print catalogs.
Then I spent a few weeks deciding which colors I wanted for my garden scheme, what size bushes would work and which had the highest disease resistance. If I couldn’t tell from the catalog, I phoned and spoke to a customer service representative. Be aware, catalog descriptions are written to sell plants. Read between the lines. Make no assumptions. I went with David Austin Roses. David Austin is a long time rose grower and hybridizer in the UK. His roses are available in this country, although it may take a bit more effort to find a nursery that sells them. Only one of my choices, ‘Pat Austin’ was iffy and the phone representative didn’t want to recommend it for my climate…but…I have seen one in a garden nearby (yes it had the label attached so I knew for sure it was ‘Pat Austin’) and being pretty sure by the ‘relaxed’ state of the rest of the garden that no effort at spraying was going on, I was satisfied with its performance there. That said, also understand no nursery/retailer can guarantee anything in your garden.
I do not recommend mail ordering roses. I have had some experience with mail ordered (direct from the grower) hybrid tea roses, and what arrives by post is VERY small for the price, bare root or in 4” (10 cm) dinky pots, and only about half of what was ordered actually survive. For a few dollars more, literally, you can support a local nursery and end up with a bigger, healthier, plant that will bloom in the same year.
These are what I chose, and would choose again with one exception. Keep in mind the following links are for the American pricing structure. The home page will offer you international links for your currency.
Pat Austin has gorgeous apricot and cream tones. In my garden it gets 4’ (1.21 m) tall and about as wide. A tiny bit of black spot occurs in the wettest of springs (like this one) but overall the healthy plant can keep it from taking over. I pick off the leaves and clean up the ground below. The loose but full bloom has a nice, strong fragrance.
A Shropshire Lad - An intensely coral bud opens to a sweet creamy peach fully packed blossom that turns pale pink as it ages. Not being a fan of pale pink in the garden, I probably would have passed it by, had it not been for the new growth and new leaves on this plant that are burgundy and beautiful. It has a dainty sweet fragrance, and is tall…reaching over 6’ (1.8m) and reaching lazily out to 5’ or more. It obliges me to grow within the confines of an obelisk because I have room for height but not width. The canes have few thorns with some of its tiny prickles just at and under the base of the leaves at the stem. One or two leaves of black spot on this rose have never fazed it.
Reine des Violettes The difficult to describe magenta violet color of this flower is extraordinary. Teensy but sharp thorns are scattered on the canes and under the base of the leaves. And just like the quote that opened this post says, this rose, nay the entire plant, leaves and all have a delicious old rose, spicy, musky scent that lingers on my hands even after I’ve washed them. It’s heavenly, and somehow de-stressing. This rose reaches about 3’-4’ (1 m) tall and about 2’-3’ wide. In my garden, on this variety only, occasionally a group of buds have a quirky habit of turning yellow then brown only to drop off. But the buds following are just fine. This comes and goes. I suspect it may be a cool, wet weather issue. By the time summer warmth comes, the buds usually form and open normally.
L.D. Braithwaite, a gorgeous crimson, is the one I would not get again.
I put two L. D. Braithwaites and two Reine des Violettes together in the front of the house which faces west. But the sun doesn’t get to them till just about noonish. I had an awful time with black-spot on both varieties in this location. Years prior I had 10 hybrid tea ‘Simplicity’ in that area and the black-spot was severe. There wasn’t enough sun there for roses. I waited a few years before planting roses again in that bed but perhaps the black-spot lived on in the soil and would infect any rose I may put there. I moved one Reine des Violettes to the back yard in all day sun and the black-spot reduced dramatically. I did the same with L.D. but to no avail. The black–spot was just as bad. I got rid of both of the L.D. Braithwaites and moved the final Reine des Violettes to the back for more sun. Now and then I’ll get a touch of black-spot on them but not enough to cause de-nuding of leaves or cause me grief. Removing the few leaves with black-spot early on in the game is crucial to gaining the upper hand.
Every spring I lightly work in a shovelful of alfalfa meal around the drip zone for fertilizing my roses. Lightly scratch it in, so as not to break up too many surface roots but to incorporate some of the soil so the microbes will begin to break it down. Alfalfa meal has an NPK ratio of 3-1-2, and one gardening radio host says this is the natural food ratio plants use. It is slow release, so early spring and early summer is what I do. I’d read somewhere that an annual fresh layer of mulch/compost under roses will prevent black spot. Spores settled in the dirt can be splashed back up onto the rose from raindrops and re-infect the plant. However I’ve also learned that black-spot over winters on rose canes. You can see it. An organic oil spray is supposed to smother that, but I didn’t have a lot of success with it. I like the compost idea, so I do that. This will also keep the moisture in the soil longer, reducing watering. I keep infected leaves picked off the plant and picked up from the ground. And by all means keep those leaves out of your personal compost heap. A typical home compost pile doesn’t always get hot enough to kill pathogens. Dispose of the leaves in the city pick up bin, garbage bin, or burn them if you do burn piles.
Perhaps you think me too lax, accepting a touch of black-spot. I don’t expect perfection from my garden, but I do expect performance. A little black-spot that a healthy plant can keep under control is acceptable to me. Perhaps you think plucking diseased leaves is too much work, but still want roses. Maybe one or two roses is enough for your garden, and your time.
Design wise, I dotted my roses amidst the perennials in my garden. I didn’t group the roses together nor did I plant them in rows. It is so much more a relaxed, natural look. I never plant anything in rows as I once did, with the exception of peas and beans.
One last thing. Hybrid tea’s seem to have a nice perpetual blooming, with a brief rest at some point. I don’t think I can say that about the English roses that I have. I would have to say repeating bloom but not perpetual. They have a nice initial full bloom, then rest for a spell, and then re-bloom. After that there is a sporadic lesser bloom that can go on into winter here. It’s not uncommon to have a rose blooming in December in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve never grown Rugosa roses, the toughest most drought resistant of them all I think. I have never seen any disease on them. Their look is not refined enough for my garden. I prefer their style in a wooded or wild garden scheme, where I think they’d be eye-catching. I’ve seen honey bees gathering pollen from Rugosas often but alas, not the English rose.
If you’ve got an empty sunny spot in your garden and are considering roses, I highly recommend David Austin’s English Roses.
In bloom in my garden today: rose, canna, hosta, begonia, lobelia, alpine strawberry, tomato, beans, basil, chives, oregano, borage, thyme, lavender, nepeta, echinacea, liatris, loosestrife, veronica, gaillardia, purple poppy, oriental lily, phygelius, gaura, fushia, astillbe, guem, english daisy, star jasmine, hardy geranium, salvia, anise hyssop, coreopsis, tigridia, mullen, russian sage, ajuga, digitalis, nandina, daphne.