“The American Rose Society Needs Smacking Around”


SycamoreknockoutTHE INDUSTRY 
Despite the general public’s growing interest in
tougher plants, both the ARS and All-American Rose Selections continue to push a "simply irresponsible ideal for roses" – the hybrid teas and other
"modern roses" that require chemical intervention.  This then influences
what large sellers like Jackson & Perkins offer and what rosarians
buy, no matter
how poorly the damn plants perform.  More from Barrie: "Oh yes, I realize the American Rose Society has done some
good, and certainly they are an admirable bunch (if one’s value system
is circa 1920).  Another mint julep, Jeeves."

being practically a rose ignoramus myself, I had to consult the expert to learn that there are many OLD ROSES that are easy to grow, disease
resistant, and graceful in form (not lanky, scraggly-looking hybrid teas).  Many will have 2 or 3 flushes 6 weeks apart, some
only one flush. Barrie suggests
buying from breeders that value toughness and disease resistance, like
the "awesome" Antique Rose Emporium, with a selection that will
take our breath away.  He then couldn’t resist recommending just two: Gruss an Aachen and Souvenir de la Malmaison.   

One kinda bright
spot has been the huge popularity of David Austin and Griffin Buck
roses, breeders with a cult-like following among rosarians.  Though many of
their roses have better than traditional resistance, their
performance in nonEnglish climates is spotty, as evidenced by the
failure of the two Davis Austins tried in my Maryland garden.   

I’ve always figured I couldn’t be a serious rose-grower because I loathe spraying.
Even if it were harmless it would rival tax preparation for my least fun thing to do.  And maybe that’s why rose gardens are
pretty rare in this country compared to countries with more avid
gardening cultures, like England, because they take dedication.  I do like shrubs though – no surprise there! – and
while technically roses are all shrubs, the hybrid teas would stand out in my
garden as the pitiful-looking plants they really are.  But in the last few years mass marketers have begun leaving the old-school rosarians at the country
club door and are making big bucks off "landscape" or "modern
shrub" roses that are first and foremost, good-looking plants (screw
the flowers; give me a good looking plant), are truly
disease-resistant, and will play well with other plants in the garden.

To recommend some great-looking and
easy-care landscape or modern shrub roses, I consulted Angela
Treadwell-Palmer, rose expert with the National Arboretum.  She’s on a
mission is to "Free the Roses – From the Rose Garden."  Yeah, it’s
those miserable-looking rose gardens we want to leave to the history
books!  For roses that fit into the rest of your garden, try her
favorites: The Fairy, Meidilands, Knockouts, Simple Gifts, Polar Ice,
Carefree Wonder, Carefree Delight.  On the whole she believes that
Knockouts perform better than the Carefree group and the public must
agree because Knockouts are outselling hotcakes.

And surprise –
there are some that can take "heaps of shade."  They won’t bloom as
profusely  but they’re such prolific bloomers that even in shade there’s still plenty of
flowers.  Angela recommends
Meidiland roses (especially fuschia), Polar Ice and Double Knockout for
shady spots.Carpetrose1web

Washington Post writer Adrien
Higgins has a few of favorites to add to this list: Carefree Beauty, Bonica, and Sunrise Sunset.  And
I hasten to include the 18-inch-tall Flower Carpet, which
is the single most popular rose variety in history (now comprising 10
percent of the market).  Here it is in mid-August, still blooming its
heart out, and its disease- and drought-resistance are amazing.  It sold 12.5 million in first year on the market. 

Finally, let’s never forget the fabulous rugosa roses, which thrive in cold and
hot climates alike, need only ½-day sun, and tolerate salt.  It’s the only rose seen regularly on plant lists for xeriscapes,
which speaks volumes, and unlike the landscape roses listed
above, it’s powerfully fragrant.  The only drawback (to some) is
their limited repeat and their less-than-delicate appearance.

the really good news is that the general gardening public is finally
being offered good-looking, problem-free roses, and they’re snatching them
up by the millions.  For serious rosegrowers, on the other hand, not so
much.  Still with the spraying, American Rose Society?  Let’s follow
Barrie’s suggestion and give them a good smacking around.


  1. Oh, a hottie gardener for the Gen X set! Lovely! And yes, Antique Rose Emporium is the stuff of legends around these parts, so it’s nice to see that it applies nationally. Great post from one rose skeptic to probably many others.

  2. Roses constantly surprise me. My heirlooms and hybrid teas are not nearly as thirsty or hungry as they’re rumored to be. Nor are they as sickly, but perhaps that’s because I live in a dry-summer region where rust and black spot aren’t a big deal.

    If we have a wet late spring, I’ll see spots and rust on only the most vulnerable varieties. But then I forget about the problem, nature does its thing, new leaves emerge and life goes on, sans spray can.

    My one indulgence? Alfalfa and epsom salts once a year.

    If I lived in a rainy region, however, I would seek help from the local rose society since they often provide local lists of strong-performing rose varieties and species.

    I could never give up roses. In fact, they’re quite habit-forming– and forgiving– and not really any harder to take care of than any other plant.


    “The sweetest flower that blows, I give you as we part. For you it is a Rose, For me it is my heart.” — Frederick Peterson

  3. Interestingly, I’ve been reading Peter Thompson’s “The Self-Sustaining Garden” and in the chapter on mixed borders he mentions that roses “are trail-blazing species that invade meadows in the first stages of progression to scrub. Their thorns … deter grazing animals …; their roots are long, thongy and deeply penetrating, … to draw water and nutrients from the lower levels of soil. Yet gardeners prefer to grow their roses apart from other plants, in the belief that they do better without competition — a belief which leads to rose beds being treated with pre-emergence weed killers as a drastic recourse …, even though the sight of rose bushes emerging from beds filled with hardy geraniums, violas, euphorbias, crucianellas, pinks and other perennials is much prettier.”

    I have a Virginia rose on order, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it bloom in among other plants!

  4. I second the “awesome” comment about Antique Rose Emporium! In fact, awesome doesn’t even cover what they are. If you live anywhere within driving distance, you MUST visit their nursery. They have two: one in Brenham (you can visit the Blue Bell ice cream factory while you’re there), and one in NW San Antonio. Their gardens are astonishing, with antique roses planted among native perennials and a wonderful selection of garden ornament. If you email them about your growing conditions and the color rose you want, they’ll tell you which roses will ones to try. I’ve had great success here in Austin with ‘Carefree Beauty,’ ‘Belinda’s Dream,’ ‘The Fairy,’ and ‘Valentine.’ None require more water than my other xeric perennials once they’re established. They look great with prickly pear and salvias.

  5. I only have one rose, a white Flower Carpet. Don’t I know how to follow a crowd?

    I’ve always avoided roses because I grew up with hyrbrd teas and they had to be sprayed. And I won’t plant something that high maintenance.

    Way to go, Barrie, to be a thorn in the side of the American Rose Society. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

    (And, thanks for adding me to the “Friends of Rant”, I love this website and the interesting posts.)

  6. I have about 35 heirloom/antique roses in my yard – in the humid south – and love all of them, blackspot and all. Some are completely resistant – Silver Moon (my first rose – purchase in person at the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas, and carried on my lab on the flight back to SC), Cecile Brunner, Mermaid – but these are also crazy, rambly roses that need alot of room (which I give them). My Souvenir de la Malmaison is blooming like crazy right now, happy for the cooler weather…and nothing’s easier than Mutabilis. I’ll stop now, and not tell little stories about all 35… but to get to the point: I don’t spray.

  7. I second the votefor Mutabilis – mine gets blackspot each year midseason – but the blooms never stop. I also vote for at least a few climbers – like New Dawn – lt’s give our garden borders some height variation!

  8. I third the vote for Barrie… er, I mean roses? Was this about roses? 😉

    Seriously, though, Barrie’s site absolutely rocks–he’s not just a pretty face. I spent some time going through the posts on roses, even though I can’t grow half of what he does in my colder climate and humid summers. Wow.

    I’ve also got a plan now to order from the Antique Rose Emporium if I can’t find what I want locally. They have both of the two that I had at the top of my list–Dortmund and Leverkusen. Yay!

  9. A great article and interesting posts. I must say that I also agree on the hotness of roses and the rose expert.

    A wonderful opportunity to connect with like-minded gardners. Barrie, you are an inspiration—keep on gardening and speaking your mind.

  10. I agree with you post with an enthauastic AMEN! I was sucked into a dream world of perfect roses and then didn’t spray and then natural selection did the rest. Non of my orgional 4 rose bushes from 2001 are still alive. I still have 65 though and alot of them are Austins and Bucks and some Earth Kind Roses. I am considering joining their test panel since I don’t spray anyway.

    Dispite my lack of chemicials I still managed Mini Queen at my local rose show last year. It may have been a fluke but there are some great new miniatures that are nice size and very garden friendly too.

    Thanks for a great post!

  11. When thinking about roses, I always remember my grandmother’s garden. She was a rose fanatic and had dozens of varieties. We spent summers in our childhood collecting Japanese beetles by hand and drowning them in kerosene-not politically correct, but it had the advantage of not spraying the plants with chemicals even back then. But for myself, I definately prefer the older varieties that are more self sufficient. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  12. Mike Rose, President of Brazos Valley Rose Society, College Station, TX–Great comments! I second all those remarks about using antique(old roses)roses in the garden as much as possible. I do. I get great results from the old stand-bys…”Belinda’s Dream”, “Carefree Beauty”, and “Iceberg”. If you can grow roses in South Texas (heavy clay soil with high alkaline ph), you’re a highly successful rose grower! However, despite what the Earthkind and no insecticide/fertilizer proponents say, I fertilize my roses. The composted manure, pine needles, spagnum peat moss, humus, and Bayer Complete Rose Care (twice a year)really pays off! I get incredible results..tons of flush! I’ve seen plenty of backyards with rose growers who don’t feed their shrubs..uggggh…no blooms, yellowing foliage, sick! Feed your roses people! Think about how much energy a rose requires to produce blooms year round. They need nitrogen and phosphorus. Just do it! Mike says.

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