The Wonderful Rose

 In Garden Design, News

History of the Rose

As a human race, in both the East and the West, we have a very long and close relationship with the rose. Initially it was probably used as a herb but gradually over the millennia it became an important part of our culture as a symbol of love and beauty, in religion, assorted ceremonies, the legal system and politics. It was and still is used extensively for flavouring food and as a medicine. And of course it is the basis for rose oil which is included in the best perfumes.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

Vanessa Bell has very beautiful soft yellow flowers and a delicious tea fragrance. Growing about 1m tall it is perfect for the front of the border or as a hedge.

The Versatile Rose

Roses are an incredibly variable and versatile group of plants. They vary in size from small bushes 20-30cm tall to huge ramblers growing several tens of metres into trees. The flower is very variable too. Those with single flowers have just 5 petals while some have 200. The smallest flower is not much more than a centimetre across whereas the largest can be 20cm or more. They come in every colour except blue. Everyone associates roses with fragrance but not many realise that apart from the tropical epiphytic orchids there is no other plant that has such a wide range of completely different fragrant types. Thorns are the other character that we all associate with roses although there are a (very) few that have none at all. These can be a bit of a challenge when pruning or cutting flowers for the house but for ramblers they are an essential character to help them cling onto the branches. And in one variety Rosa sericea pteracantha it is their most attractive feature being really large and a bright glowing red especially when the sun shines through them.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

Rosa Complicata is very closely related to the Dog Rose although both the flowers and the hips that follow them are bigger. A lovely rose for wild parts of the garden coupled with great variability comes great versatility, they can be incorporated in just about every garden style from the very formal to the very informal and from the large scale to the intimate. Gardeners often associate roses with the formal rose garden which can be splendid but sadly often looks terrible because the roses are planted too far apart and kept well past their sell by date. The other issue with rose gardens is that they are mostly monocultures so no other plants to hinder the spread of pests and diseases and none welcoming in beneficial insects to help control pests. That is why mixing up roses with other plants is such a good way of planting them and also, simply, enhances their beauty. There are no true blue roses so using plants like geraniums, campanulas, asters, delphiniums, nepeta and salvias is a very easy way of introducing that colour. Perennials also contrast with roses in terms of shape and form. Plants like Nepeta, Hesperis matronalis and Gaura lindheimeri are frothy while others like delphiniums and foxgloves are spiky and upright.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

Kew Gardens is one of the very few roses that has absolutely no thorns at all and is also exceptionally prolific. It usually grows about 1.5m tall but can easily be taller if lighty pruned

The shorter perennials like Erigeron karvinskianus and pinks (dianthus) are perfect for in front of the roses while the taller ones like Eupatorium and Cephalaria will set the roses off at the back. The golden rule for mixing roses and perennials together is to never allow the perennials to grow right round the base of the rose otherwise they will take the lion’s share of water and nutrients leaving little for the rose. Remember though it doesn’t have to be perennials to create a mixed border, annuals and biennials can be really effective too and can be better as they have a less invasive root system and may flower over a longer period. One of my very favourites is Phacelia tanacetifolia which is often grown as a ground cover plant but has very pretty blue flowers and is incredibly attractive to bees and other insects. It’s also extremely easy to grow. Cosmos and Nigella are also excellent companions. Some of my favourite varieties are Princess Alexandra of Kent, Cornelia, James L. Austin, Munstead Wood, Lady of Shalott and Eustacia Vye.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

The flowers of Gabriel Oak are in the form of a tight rosette with well over 100 petals and a strong fruity fragrance. It is a particularly healthy and superb in mixed borders.

As I said roses have traditionally been grown in formal gardens and, planted well, can look most effective. The secret is to plant them close enough so that they merge into one mass rather than spacing them too far apart leaving lots of bare soil visible. The choice of varieties is very important too, use the neater more upright ones like the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas as well as the shorter English Roses like Queen of Sweden, Desdemona and Vanessa Bell.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

Paul’s Himalayan Musk Is one of the most beautiful of ramblers with great quantities of small soft pink flowers and a strong musk fragrance that wafts on the air. A very vigorous rose It is easy to argue that climbing and rambling roses are the best of all climbing plants. Walls and fences often cry out for a covering and, with a suitable variety, will be in flower and give fragrance for 4 or 5 months. The same short varieties can be used for obelisks, small arches and pillars. Some of my favourite short varieties are Bathsheba, Lady of Shalott, Gertrude Jekyll and Open Arms. Rather taller varieties like The Generous Gardener, Malvern Hills and Wollerton Old Hall are perfect for pergolas and large arches. It is always very important to choose a variety that is not too big for that position otherwise it can easily become a menace. It is also important to remember that climbers have quite stiff growth and so more difficult to train horizontally or even at an angle. Ramblers on the other hand generally have much more lax growth and so much better suited to arches and pergolas and the big vigorous ones are perfect for growing into trees. There is often nothing more splendid than a tree dripping with festoons of thousands of rose flowers. Rambling Rector, Francis E. Lester and R. filipes Kiftsgate are perfect for trees and have the added advantage of a delicious musk fragrance which wafts on the air.

Photo Credit: David Austin Roses

Shrub roses look really lovely when set off by perennials and it helps greatly with pest and disease control. On the left is Teasing Georgia with Nepeta and in the middle Munstead Wood with

Stachys byzantina

These 3 varieties (and many other ramblers) set a wonderful crop of hips in the autumn that may well last through the winter. The other advantage of these big ramblers is that, because of their size and inaccessibility, you can’t prune them so all you can do is admire them!

Standard roses (known as tree roses in the States) can be most effective planted in the right way. I always think the stem is best mostly hidden using other plants like bush roses or perennials. They can be used to line beds, a path or a driveway or planted either side of an entrance way. The extra height means the flowers are readily accessible to both the eye and the nose for easier appreciation.

Roses planted in hedges can be absolutely superb. It can be as an external boundary in which case you might need a more vigorous, wilder looking variety like Kew Gardens or Rosa rugosa or for an internal boundary where a shorter, neater variety like Olivia Rose Austin or Gabriel Oak would be more appropriate. It is very important to choose a really tough, disease resistant variety as the soil is often not too good where hedges are to be planted.

I love growing roses in wilder areas. If you choose the right varieties they will fit in perfectly and need little or no maintenance. The best roses for this are the true species roses – those that are found growing in the wild like Rosa villosa and R. sweginzowii or those closely related to them like Rosa Complicata or Hansa. These will all have single or semi double flowers and while most will not repeat flower nearly all will set an attractive crop of hips.

And what is better than cutting them and bringing them into the house to admire their beauty and fragrance at close quarters

Planting and Caring for your Roses

Contrary to general opinion many roses are really easy to look after and potentially give so much in return. The two most important starting points are to choose a good variety and to prepare the soil well.

By choosing a good variety I mean one that is naturally disease resistant as well as, of course, beautiful to your eye. Fragrance is another character that I always think is very important.
To prepare the soil well you need to mix in some well-rotted organic matter be it manure, garden compost or soil improver.

You can buy roses either bare root during the winter months or year round in pots. I tend to prefer bare root as it is a very environmentally friendly way of sending them to you, there is a wider choice of varieties available and they will generally establish better.

Make sure, when you plant, that the bud union (the point at which the green stems join the brown roots) is about 5-7cm below ground. This will help to prevent wind rock.

Photo Credit: Howard Rice

Princess Alexandra of Kent is one of the best of the English Roses with its large rich pink flowers and strong fragrance that changes from tea to citrus as the flower ages. Here with the excellent annual Phacelia tanacetifolia.

In April and again in June apply some rose fertiliser making sure you apply the quantity it says on the packet watering it in if necessary. An occasional soaking will also encourage good growth and quicker repeat flowering.

During the summer they may well need dead heading to both tidy them up and to encourage good repeat flowering. But if it is a once flowering variety like one of the ramblers or rugosas you shouldn’t otherwise you’ll get no hips!

If you have chosen a very disease resistant variety then you should get very little in the way of health issues. But if you feel your rose does need help in staying healthy consider a foliar feed rather than a fungicide something like Maxicrop or SB Plant Invigorator. The easiest way to control pests is by enrolling the help of birds and beneficial insects and remember a few aphids is good as it helps to complete the life cycle. Should you get a serious outbreak simply knock them off with your hand or squash them.

Then in the winter it is the simple matter of pruning. Much has been written about pruning laying down all sorts of rules and regulations much of it completely unnecessary and only making it more complicated. At its simplest you can just cut shrub and bush roses down to about half way and, if it is a few years old, cut out some of the older looking stems to encourage new young growth from the base. If there are any dead or diseased looking stems then they should be cut out too. Climbers and ramblers flower on side shoots produced from the big main shoots so simply reduce the length of these side shoots to about 10cm. Then tie or tuck in any new long stems to tidy it up and prevent them from getting broken. Don’t worry about where you cut the stem in relation to the nearest bud or the angle of cut it makes very little if any difference.

There you are, roses really are the most garden worthy of all plants. For very little input they can reward you with so much.

Michael Marriott

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