Welcome to Garden Rant, where we love troublemakers! And we adore the books you publish there at Timber Press.
But to borrow a concept from New York Magazine, I’d like to offer a backlash to the backlash on roses.
Roses, in my opinion, are like spouses. Selecting the right one in the first place is much more important than managing one well afterwards. A sturdy choice won’t need much fussing over. And a lot of fussing won’t redeem a weak one.
I generally only buy roses that have stood the test of time. My favorites are always the ancient and super-hardy once-blooming Europeans. (Is anything in life more beautiful than a full-grown ‘Madame Plantier’ or ‘Charles de Mills’ or ‘Empress Josephine’ or Madame Hardy’ or ‘Complicata’?) They did well for me even when I gardened exclusively in Zone 4. But now that I’m in the banana belt of Zone 5, I have planted some later inventions, such ‘New Dawn,’ which is a young 80 years old.
None of these senior citizens requires any particular care. My roses never get a lick of special treatment from me, other than a shovelful of compost around the crown in late fall.
And it’s silly to deny that they add something special to the garden. I’m not much of a photographer, but I do have some photographic evidence.
Here, hiding the fact that my porch needs a paint job is an ancient climber called ‘Russelliana.’ The fuchsia color is so vibrant/gaudy/wonderful with my first Asiatic lilies that I ordered another last year from my favorite rose source, The Antique Rose Emporium, for the other side of the stairs. By the end of last summer, the canes of this one were just getting long enough to wrap around the porch post. Can’t wait to see this more integrated with the architecture in June.
Here, hiding the fact that my carriage house, too, could use some work, is ‘Climbing American Beauty.’ One insane flush in early June that lasts about ten days, and all we’re left with is tender memories.
Below is a science experiment. I’m trying to turn the Hybrid Perpetual ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ into an ungrafted tree rose, since grafted tree roses are not hardy in my part of the world. The photo was taken in year two. As year three dawns, Dr. Jamain appears to be still alive and ready for even more sadistic pruning in spring.
Here is ‘New Dawn,’ an aggressive climber–in fact, a psychopath among plants that reaches over the fence to threaten the neighbor’s dog when it barks at my chickens and then tries to eviscerate me when I tie it to its trellis. Also, I have no idea what to do with that pale flesh color in a color scheme. An artist friend advised slate blue delphiniums. Delphiniums, sigh. Cost $12.50 apiece and couldn’t even wait politely for winter before kicking the bucket. But no way am I yanking any plant that is reaching 15 feet in either direction and producing hundreds of big gorgeous flowers every July. Not to mention, has violent tendencies.
Here, out in the country, guarding my vegetable garden, is my one concession to new-fangledness: the quarter-century old Canadian Explorer rose ‘William Baffin.’ The color’s on the obnoxious yellow side of pink. But it is one of the few climbers with canes that will survive a Zone 4 winter. And I think it adds a cheerful note to the produce.
Here is my Zone 4 garden of yesteryear, as well as haircut and dog of yesteryear.
Yes, if you put a gun to my head, I’d probably pick lilies and tulips over roses. But that doesn’t mean that certain roses aren’t great plants.
I think we need to have a beer sometime, Tom, and grouse about bearded irises and peonies, which are overblown/ridiculous/embarrassing–yet somehow entrenched everywhere in my yard.