The powers that be have hit upon a way to get me to stop talking about roses. “Write us a story,” they said, “and get it out of your system.”
It so happens that I do have quite a few roses — more than 20, I believe, although whenever I set out to do a mental count, I keep getting confused. Did I include the ‘Harison’s Yellow’ or not? And what about the Cherry Pie in the container? Oh, I think I forgot Hot Cocoa™. And so I start over, and then start over again. Finally, I decide to just let it go. As I said, more than 20.
Some of these roses I bought because I dearly coveted them. Others were sent out by the breeder for trialing purposes before they appear on the retail market (some identified only by numbers), so I have a few no-name wonders hanging around. But among those whose identities I know, here is my little survey of the best and the brightest.
New English Roses by David Austin
The big deal about the Austins is that they have the form and fragrance of “olde tyme” roses but the repeat bloom of a modern hybrid tea. I hanker after every David Austin rose I see, but have limited myself to three so far: Constance Spry, Heritage™, and Abraham Darby®. Although bred in Shropshire, England, the Austins are generally hardy here, according to trials done at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but some, such as Abraham Darby, do get some black spot (I pretend I don’t see it.) In my garden the other two have not been afflicted.
Heritage is an upright plant that grows about 4 feet tall. Its light pink flowers have the old-fashioned half-quartered form and it can be richly perfumed, but its first June flowers often appear alongside the year’s first heat wave. Temperatures soaring into the 90s tend to drain the fragrance and fade the color to white. During the cooler days of September and October, however, the flowers are a lovely pink and the scent is glorious.
Abraham Darby is a uniquely colored apricot pink with rich fragrance and repeat bloom until frost. The flower stems tend to nod, but that may be because I live near the lake and my soil turns sandy about 18 inches down. Those of you with clay may find those canes standing ramrod straight.
Constance Spry is a climber with large peony-like pink blossoms. It’s Austin’s first introduction, from 1961, and the only one that doesn’t repeat bloom. Spectacular when it flowers, it is very, very vigorous. I regularly trim it back and remove canes all the way to the ground. It never seems to be enough. I sometimes consider replacing it with something more compact, but its roots are probably immense at this point, and I’m not sure my knees would survive the excavation. As with Heritage, too much heat and the fragrance evaporates.
Since I hanker after every David Austin rose I see, I now have my heart set on Lady of Shalott, a striking double-flowered orange beauty. Heaven only knows where I’ll find room for it.
These are the French answer to David Austin. Bred in Provence, France, by the Meilland Rose Company, they have the old-fashioned flower form with wonderful fragrance, hardiness and a fairly compact habit. They are hyped as having “improved disease resistance,” according to one website, but my Rouge Royale® has a significant black spot problem most years. Yet I treasure it because of its incredible fragrance and lovely dark red color. The flowers emerge looking like a hybrid tea, then make a metamorphosis into the half-quartered form of old roses. This is the only rose that gets winter protection since I really don’t want to lose it. A gardener I know in St. Charles has had a good experience growing other Romanticas with lots of bloom and no disease problems.
Also from Meilland International is Elle®, a lovely, very fragrant pink hybrid tea that was an All-America Rose Selections winner in 2005. Mine grows in partial shade so it’s not a heavy bloomer. If I could find a place for it in more sun, I would move it … probably. Gotta think about those knees.
The Explorer Series
Do you want tough? Then get an Explorer rose. This series was bred at Canada’s agricultural research stations in Ottawa, Quebec and Ontario. All named after Canadian explorers such as Alexander MacKenzie, John Cabot, Henry Kelsey and many others. Hardy to Zone 2!
Not for the faint of heart, these plants grow big. Case in point: ‘William Baffin’, a climber with semi-double rose pink blossoms that can probably reach 10 feet tall. I knew that, but did I let it deter me? I wanted it, I bought it, and I haven’t looked back. The June bloom is spectacular, and it’s technically a rebloomer, but my repeat bloom is sparse. It, too, would benefit from a little more sun, but that’s a non-starter.
I also grow ‘Jens Munk’, a 5-by-5-foot rugosa hybrid with double pink flowers that breaks dormancy very early. Go out for a reconnoitering expedition in March and you’ll see little red bumps on the canes — signs the plant is alive and ready to get back in the game. Seriously thorny, it is fragrant and blooms in clusters.
The Knock Outs®
There are several Knock Out roses, bred by Bill Radner, former director of the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee. The Red Knock Out, in particular, is on the verge of becoming a cliché since you see it everywhere, but its overuse is due to its utter reliability. I have Red, Double Red and Blushing, which have been thriving in my garden for several years.
Then there’s White Out™. Think of this as a Knock Out knock-off. It has Knock Out genes in its blood, but it is not part of the series. In spring, 2012, a number of plants in my garden emerged with serious rust on their leaves, probably because of the previous mild winter. White Out was severely affected and I was ready to dig it out (never mind the knees). But when push turned to shove, I became soft-hearted and just cut the canes all the way down to the ground. The new foliage that emerged was pristine, and the plant bloomed prolifically all summer. Now I’m definitely keeping it.
Two Knock Out descendants, the Home Runs, a red and a pink, both game-changers remarkable for the speed with which they form new buds and resume blooming after one set of flowers fades. No deadheading needed. When the petals of the Red Home Run® first unfurl, I find myself hovering over them, admiring their velvety look. Home Run is a true warm red whereas Knock Out Red has a hint of cherry to it.
When the Pink Home Run® arrived, I couldn’t figure out where to plant it, so I stuffed it in a container to let it fend for itself. Come winter, I neglected to even move it next to the house where it might get some wind protection, let alone wrap it with burlap. I figured it would just die. But it fooled me and broke dormancy the next spring, about the same time as the ‘Jens Munk’ and then proceeded to bloom its little head off.
All of the roses previously described are pretty big, and I realize that deep down I’m always trying to achieve the English rose-covered-cottage look, despite my lack of a cottage. But there are plenty of worthy roses that are more … shall we say … circumspect in their behavior. ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Nearly Wild’, for example. They’re terrific. I just don’t happen to grow them. The Oso Easy® series is also notable, full of smaller, very carefree plants, and I have grown two from this group: the uniquely-colored Paprika and Cherry Pie. While Cherry Pie is described as having a height of 24-48 inches, mine stays compact because it’s in a container, and it’s easy to trim it back. Flowers of both are about 1 inch in diameter.
Ground Cover Roses
In recent years the words “ground cover roses” have entered the vocabulary. These plants grow about 1 foot tall and spread up to 3 feet wide. The Flower Carpet® series was the first to appear. Then came the Drift® series. I grow Pink Drift®, a single-flowered rosy pink that does just fine in partial shade near a magnolia. The other Drift roses are doubles.
For other diminutive divas, try the StoryBook® Roses. I have one with little, double yellow flowers called ‘Sundance Kid’. It grows in a 12-inch plastic pot and stays outside year round, overwintering on the front porch. I do nothing except provide occasional water. The StoryBooks are not to be confused with mini-roses. They’re bigger than that.
Odds and Ends: Totally Carefree
Lady Elsie May™ is probably the easiest rose ever, breaking dormancy later than everything else but blooming its head off until frost, with salmon pink flowers in clusters.
Hot Cocoa™ is truly unique. Sometimes described as chocolate-colored, it’s really a dusky orange. While not a heavy bloomer, it is disease free and has proven hardy through several winters. It easily grows 4 feet tall with an upright habit.
There’s a host of other great roses out there that I just don’t happen to grow. How I wish I had room for some of the Buck roses, developed by the late Griffith Buck, a professor at Iowa State University. Like Bill Radler in Milwaukee, Buck would breed a rose, let it face the winter unassisted, and only the best would be chosen to be officially introduced with names such as ‘Country Dancer’ or ‘Hawkeye Belle’. And from Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota, we have another series: the Easy Elegance® roses, which are the handiwork of the great Laotian-born rose breeder Ping Lim. They come with a two-year guarantee.
I could go on … and would, if I had more room. But that’s always the problem isn’t it? So many roses, so little space.