Between the Rows: come and smell the roses
Preparations for the Annual Rose Viewing got off to a slow start. May was so cold that the roses weren’t leafing out on schedule. I knew there would be winterkill, but I couldn’t tell where it began. Then June arrived and the roses must have felt they needed to put on some speed. Leaves, buds and even a few blossoms arrived almost at the same time.
Now I am pruning out winterkill. One of the mysteries of pruning my roses is that even after I take out a wheelbarrow full of dead branches, the bush seems in better shape than it did. Still, some roses did not make it at all, including those roses I planted last spring. Carefree Beauty and Belinda’s Dream were on the cusp of our hardiness zone and I think our very bad winter was too much for them when they had not established themselves firmly.
I am also clipping around the base of the roses. Have I mentioned before that planting roses in grass was not one of my better ideas? It is work, but it gives me a chance to see the new shoots that are coming up around roses that suffered during the winter.
Happily, not all the news is bad. Ispahan, the rose of Persia, always has a fair amount of winterkill, but it always survives and thrives all summer. Even after this year’s trim, Ispahan is more than 7 feet tall and setting buds like crazy. Purington Pink, a farm rose from Colrain with beautiful little pink multi-petalled roses, chose this year to explode with new growth and has already begun to bloom. Some things just do not make a lot of sense in the garden, or on the Rose Walk.
Those who attend this year’s Annual Rose Viewing on Sunday, June 29, will be able to see for themselves how well many of the roses came through what some of us consider a historically bad winter. And I am sure they will all be polite enough not to comment on the bare spots. Don’t forget, there is always lemonade and cookies in the Cottage Ornee.
Looking at the Rose Walk, both its successes and failures, I think about what I have learned about choosing roses for the garden. Perhaps the first thing is to look at zone information. One can gamble. I never used to plant a rose unless it was hardy in zone 4a, tolerating temperatures down to -30 degrees. Nowadays, the new USDA Hardiness zone map says Heath is in zone 5b or tolerating temperatures down to -15 degrees. You can understand why I have been tempted and succumbed to planting slightly more tender roses. And this spring I see the result of that gamble. Whether you choose to gamble or not, it pays to know the hardiness of any rose you buy.
The second thing I want in a rose is disease resistance. I am not going to use poisons on my roses. I have neither the time nor inclination to fuss in that way. I have put down milky spore disease to eradicate Japanese beetles almost entirely. It is possible that our isolated location has something to with the success of milky spore disease in my garden. Everyone admires my foliage.
Many old roses were bred for disease resistance, at least in the sense that 18th-century hybridizers were striving for roses that looked good all season, even when the roses were not in bloom. Albas are one example, as are the many rugosa hybrids, both of which I have in my garden, including the alba Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, and the rugosa Dart’s Dash.
Nowadays, there are new disease-resistant hybrids that also have a longer bloom period. These include the Kordes lush hybrids like Cinderella and the more familiar Knockout and Drift roses that can be planted in masses or alone.
There are also roses designated Earth Kind by a Texas A&M program. These old(ish) roses were shown to be disease resistant and easy to care for. I have The Fairy, Double Red Knockout and a struggling New Dawn climber.
Third, choose a site that will give the rose full sun, at least six hours a day, where the soil drains well. Roses are thirsty plants and need consistent water, but they do not like to have their feet wet.
So, check zone hardiness, disease resistance, choose a sunny site and then plant it well. Dig a generous hole. The old saying is a $5 hole for a 50-cent plant will give success. That means a hole wide and deep. Then, place your rose’s knobby graft union where it will be 3 or 4 inches below soil level when the hole is filled. Enrich the removed soil with good compost. Fill the hole halfway, tamping down the soil and watering it well. Continue filling in with the rest of the enriched soil. Tamp down and water again. Mulch to keep down weeds. All newly installed plants need to be kept well watered for the first year.
The weekend of June 28 and 29 will be filled with opportunities for gardeners to visit other gardens. The Greenfield Garden Club and the Sons and Daughters of Hawley will both be hosting tours on June 28 and the Annual Rose Viewing is on Sunday, June 29, from 1 to 4 p.m. I’ll have more about those tours next week and I’ll also remind you to stop and smell the roses at the end of the road on the 29th.
Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.