“Of all flowers methinks a rose is best.” – Shakespeare
I started growing roses as inspiration for my kaleidoscope drawings. It didn’t take long for me to get emotionally involved with the plants themselves. The colors, variety, scent, and cool, silky petals made me an avid collector, and I have grown as many as 50 varieties in my garden. My membership in the American Rose Society included a subscription to a magazine filled with information on rose culture, new roses, rose breeders, and the role of roses in history and art, which only fueled my enthusiasm. Frequently appearing in the articles and photos was the International Rose Test Garden in Portland Oregon, “The City of Roses.” (Even the manhole covers have a rose embossed on them.)
Last October, we visited Seattle, and then Portland for a few days where the test garden is located. That area of the country is infamous for its rainy weather and our visit coincided with the tail end of a typhoon from Asia, so the rain was pretty much endless. I had no idea if the test garden was open or if anything would be blooming. The rain stopped for a while, so we hiked up a significant hill and there at the top, with a view of Mt. Hood and Portland, with just a touch of sun to make everything sparkle, was the International Rose Test Garden.
At least half of the plants were in bloom. If more than that were blooming it might have been too much for me to take in. The visit was perfect, and so were the roses. These plants receive the maximum care in a perfect climate. Some of the specimens were at least six feet tall. Many of the buds were as big as eggs. There were some varieties that were the epitome of perfection, making my own backyard roses appear neglected.
A really difficult thing for me to witness was the large wheelbarrows full of very healthy rosebushes that had completed their testing time and were being removed to make room for new ones. Since no rose leaves my garden unless it is dead, or without hope, it was all I could do to not trail after them and ask if they would like to share some discards. None of my roses look as vigorous as the ones they were sending to the compost pile. At that moment, I made a vow to give more time and attention to my own roses this year and see what they might become.
On a warm, February day I pruned all of my roses. I even consulted a note, well, several notes, I had made in Portland of “must have” roses, but opted to concentrate on making the roses I already have happier and healthier. A few of my roses have only one or two strong stems. I placed a quarter to a half cup of Epsom salt around the base of each of them to encourage new stems (basal breaks). I also provided each plant with some slow-release fertilizer. The correct amount to apply does vary so be sure to read the label. Too much can be as harmful as not enough. I also use compost to fertilize the roses.
I have been pretty good with pruning and feeding my roses over the years, so by logical deduction I concluded my roses must need more water. Experts recommend giving rose bushes one gallon of water every week. A short rain won’t do it; a sprinkler system set up for lawns won’t do it either. If you are able to get a hose to your roses this is my handy dandy method for measuring a gallon with the hose. Count while you fill a bucket to the gallon mark with your hose. That will tell you how long to water the roses when you’re out there with just the hose. Watering is a great way to commune with your roses; enjoy new growth, lovely blooms, amazing scents, and inspect for any problems.
I can recommend some stalwart roses in my garden that have hung in there in spite of me, the Virginia heat and humidity, and deer. Two separate David Austin Roses: Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ (climbing form) and Rosa ‘Abraham Darby’ (shrub form). Both are lovely, fragrant, and tough-as-nails. While my favorite color is pink, the yellow ‘Graham Thomas’ rose is my forever favorite.
The first grandiflora rose (Rosa grandiflora ‘Queen Elizabeth’) keeps coming back every year — it grows to five feet or more and produces classic pink flowers. All of the Knock Out roses do well. My favorite is the Blushing rose (Rosa ‘Radyod’) which grows to about four feet high and blooms a beautiful light pink. The Mother of Pearl rose (Rosa ‘Mother of Pearl’) has light peach, fragrant flowers and is one of the many grandiflora roses available. Carefree Sunshine (Rosa ‘Radsun’) blooms continuously with bright yellow flowers, even in the shade of my cherry tree. The Sally Holmes rose (Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’) is a free form shrub. This particular rose gets tall, and is on the edge of my garden; it defies deer browsing, shares space with bee balm and Iris, and still showcases pretty white flowers.
I don’t do kaleidoscope drawings anymore, but I still love roses. I love them enough to make an honest effort at treating them well this season. I am looking forward to seeing what the extra love can do for them!
For more information on rose varieties try visiting the various garden centers in the area as they have expert staff who will be willing to assist you with your options. Or, you can first peruse these websites.
- David Austin Roses, www.davidaustinroses.com
- Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
- Star Roses & Plants, www.starrosesandplants.com
- Garden Guides, www.gardenguides.com