There is something almost subversive about writing about roses as it snows that makes me want to do it. I’m not a rosarian in any sense of the word, however … I’ve never been known to pass up a rose. I think they’re all fabulous. What I don’t really love is how difficult it is to take care of them.
If we’re going to be honest, roses aren’t an easy-peasy flower, but it helps if you start with more disease resistant roses. One of my friends (and clients) has the most incredible roses, insanely beautiful columns of blooms that climb to his rooftops, while the same roses are struggling along pathetically at my house. Now granted he has drip irrigation on his while mine are in garden beds where they get a face full of water whenever the sprinklers come on, but he’s also a chemical guy. Which makes him a tad evil (sorry darling – you know I love you anyway.)
Treated systemically with fungicides and pesticides and fertilized to the hilt, someone comes by the house weekly to coddle his bloom, and I confess that my roses envy is so bad, I’d be tempted to follow in his evil footsteps if it weren’t for the fact that I keep bees. One whiff of any of his pesticides and they’d be done for, and that’s the sad truth of his wicked rose beauty.
So no pesticides, but I’m going to have to get on the stick with my fungicides. I’m going to use a lime sulfur spray in March when I’ve finished pruning (hahahaha – like I’m ever going to finish pruning, I’m not sure I even pruned at all last year) and be more on the ball with a biweekly, pro-biotic, spraying program of a hydrogen peroxide based fungicide. Still organic, and a lot more work then I want, but after my ‘Knock Out’ roses almost totally defoliated last year I know I have to up my game.
There are literally thousands of rose cultivars, and I could write a hell of a tome on the ones I want or just lust after of the 145 varieties on order for this spring at the nursery, but here’s a few I think everyone should start out with.
The ‘Knock Out’ series is a winner. No scent to speak out, and either single or double flowers, but these shrub roses have really excellent disease resistance. ‘Home Run’ is a single rose which didn’t have a single issue all season at the nursery, and this year there’s a new pink variety (woo hoo!) that’ll be jumping in my car and following me home. Next add in ‘Fairy’, ‘Carefree Wonder’ (shorter) and ‘Carefree Beauty’ (taller) as additional shrubs, pick ‘New Dawn’ as the easiest climbing rose on the planet, add ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ for an old rose, ‘Eden’ for your English/Romantica rose and ‘Julia Child’ as your floribunda and you have my basic list.
You’ll notice I haven’t listed any David Austins. I know people adore them, but I’ve lost more of them to black spot or overwintering death than I care to admit to. Of course if you had to try one, I’d choose either ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Abraham Darby’, ‘Graham Thomas’ or ‘Heritage.’ And although it’s failed here three times, I adore the color of ‘Pat Austin’ and the jury is still out on the white climber ‘Claire Austin.’
There really are no easy to care for, all-summer blooming, great, white roses. Everyone has ‘Iceberg’ for sale, and in California it’s crazy great, but here on the east coast, if you’re organic it’s close to impossible to have both healthy flowers and healthy leaves at the same time. My two favorite subs would have to be ‘White New Dawn’, and ‘White Eden’.
‘White New Dawn’ has no real disease problems that I know of; it just does its main flurry of flowering early in the season and then has a little secondary flush in the fall. A fantastic climber, it soars to amazing heights fairly quickly, but it’s never a long enough bloom time for people who want white gardens like Sissinghurst.
I’ve used ‘White Eden’ with some success, so it would be my second choice, but it does have a pale blush pink tone to the center, so some people don’t love it. These two are both climbers, which is where most of my requests fall, but I also use a lot of ‘Crystal Fairy’, ‘White Meidiland’ and of course, ‘Blanc de Coubert,’ the fantastic double white rugosa rose.
Be careful buying ‘White Meidiland’ though, one year we got a great batch that was disease resistant as could be, the next year, the plants from the same supplier came in with the same label, but with a different leaf, and a much smaller flower, so look for those to have a dark green glossy leaf and a large almost 4” wide, double, refrigerator white, flower.
You start pruning roses when the forsythia blooms which is also when you start feeding. I feed every month through August as roses (along with annuals, dahlias and anything else that blooms its guts out all season long) are heavy feeders. I used a premixed organic rose food last year, but this year I’m going to also use alfalfa pellets since my friends who do better with roses than I swear by it. I’ll battle the aphids with ladybugs and blasts of water from the hose or with a shot from a spray bottle of water with a little soap added, and then hope to address everything else with neem oil.
And I’ll try not to feel overwhelmed.
It’s certain that my roses get more attention than almost everything else in the garden, and they don’t look as good as they should, but I’m not giving them up. There’s far too much romance and drama and perfume and the possibility of beauty attached to their promise. And that’s one of the main reasons I garden, for the possibility of gorgeousness, and to grow beautiful things to either stare at, paint or give to people as impromptu gifts. So yes, I’m going to try growing DA’s ‘Pat Austin’ yet again in yet another spot in the garden. I’m going to try ‘Cloud 10’, a new white climber, in both my client’s white gardens and around my vegetable patch. And a bunch of other roses are most likely going to find their way into my garden somehow or another.
And I’m going to continue to try and match that fence full of pink roses that blooms all summer long on Daniel’s Lane in Sagaponack that I’m still trying to identify — I think it’s a mixture of ‘Fairy’ varieties and ‘Meidliland’s but I really have no idea. I’m just going to have to knock on their door and ask one day, perhaps after this snowstorm stops.
Paige Patterson is jonesing for a ‘Russell’s Cottage Rose’, a flower she saw Facebook in a EH garden planted by the brilliant rosarian Stephen Scanniello.