But they are also ridiculous, Frankenstein-like manufactured plants, with the head of one rose grafted onto the trunk of a sturdier rose and then the roots of another. The top graft is really tender, and if you are not gardening in Zone 7 or higher, forget the whole notion.
I once gave them a whirl when I was young in the ways of gardening and naive enough to believe the catalog promise that they could be made to overwinter in Zone 4. So I ordered a pair of standard Fairy roses from White Flower Farm for a not-inconsiderable $120. They looked pretty great in a pair of pots in my vegetable garden all season, really raised the tone of the potatoes and peas. Then I stuck them in the basement for the winter, and by spring, they were dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.
Of course, there is little agreement on standard practice for overwintering tree roses. For the real obsessives, standard practice apparently either involves burying them in a trench or encasing the trunk in pipe wrapping from Home Depot. Let’s stop right here. We love our gardens, but presumably there are people in our lives, too. Or at least employers. And they demand a modicum of attention, too.
Then, this year for the first time, I noticed in the catalogs a new kind of tree rose bred by Bailey Nurseries and called ‘Polar Joy.’ It’s not grafted and is apparently cold hardy to Zone 4. Of course, it doesn’t appear to be all that pretty, either, with single blooms in a pink color that is not the fascinating color called "rose pink," but that other pink color I refer to as "Disney pink.’"
If I were the Queen of Hearts, my lower-number cards would be painting this rose the color and shape of ‘Charles De Mills.’
Still, ‘Polar Joy’ gave me an idea. I know a fantastic gardener who loves roses, and visiting his garden years ago, I saw the most incredible tree rose, with gorgeous, giant yellow blooms. "Oh, that," he said. "It’s that David Austin rose ‘Graham Thomas.’ It sent out one thick cane, and I thought, ‘It wants to be a tree rose.’" He just took out his Felcos, whipped it into shape, and staked it.
Until ‘Polar Joy,’ I always thought such a thing was impossible in my part of the world, could only be accomplished in the golden light and balmy clime of East Hampton by rarefied geniuses able to keep those worthless Austin roses alive for more than ten minutes. But now, I’m thinking maybe this is a do-it-at-home project.
Why couldn’t I be pruning roses into trees at home, out of likely candidates–roses that send out the occasional super-thick cane? I’d immediately nominate ‘Complicata’ or ‘New Dawn’, which sends out canes so robust, they are borderline scary. Indeed, ‘New Dawn’ is a wichurana rambler, just like ‘Dr. Huey’, which is the usual stock for the trunks of tree roses.
That way, I might get cold-hardy standards out of actually pretty roses. Of course, you’d think that if it were so easy, some nursery long ago would have started pruning all their wichurana ramblers up into standards, which command five times the price.
Still, I think it’s worth a little experimentation. It’s not like I’ve never killed a rose before. I’m pretty much the Sweeney Todd of rose growers. So, what does it matter, my dears, if I stuff a few more corpses behind the woodpile in the interests of science?