-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Saturday, June 18, 2005

what I've learned about roses

Over the past few months I've been jotting down ideas from various gardening magazines, web sites and TV shows, as learnings for the future garden at Amherst. I didn't want to post them all individually, so have been saving them up till I have enough to warrant a full post on any given theme. Here's what I've picked up so far about roses.

Types of rose
This isn't an exhaustive list of every type of roses as that would take forever, but it covers the main ones I think.
The most common type of rose, the kind you buy in florists, are hybrid tea roses. They are the kind that are very fussy to look after and you have to prune so they look like little skeletons. They've been breed so much to focus on colour that they seldom have any scent left. Although the flowers are OK cut, I don't like this kind of rose very much as a plant - too finicky and quite ugly looking for most of the time. I don't plan on having any of this kind of rose.
Floribunda roses tend to have flowers growing in clusters rather than just one to a stem. Often they seem only to have one layer of petals. They are smaller but they look better in the garden as they generally have the most flowers. There's an even smaller kind that I think are called Patio roses are much smaller bushes, of a kind you could grow in a container. At the far extreme end there are miniature roses, which have been breed to be just like a normal rose plant except tiny, with tiny flowers. These would be good in pots too but I can't imagine them in the garden.
All these types of roses are modern. But my favourites, by a country mile, are the older kinds of roses.
Old roses, also called antique roses, are any class of rose that existed prior to 1867, which is when they created the first hybrid. They still have a wonderful perfume, far more than the modern varieties which were breed mostly for colour, although the downside is that they usually only flower once during a season.
Included in this category are species roses (ie: the kind that grows in the wild). My great-aunt has a hedge of something like this , she calls it Rosa Rugosa, and it's spectacular both when in bloom and without as it has these lovely huge hips that remain after flowering.
Also included in this category are my absolute favourite kind of rose, which is called a moss rose. Moss roses don't have normal thorns but instead an almost fuzzy covering on their stems of tiny thorns (but they don't hurt when you touch them). Other kinds are Bourbon roses and China roses which are apparently some of the few old roses which do have repeat flowering within a season, and Gallica roses which for some reason I just like the name of!
Shrub roses are the kind that I always thought were old fashioned, but apparently a lot of them are modern hybrids but bred to look like the older roses and with different goals in mind, like perfume. Examples are David Austin roses, which I've planted two of already in our backyard here... they're lovely and they look great in borders if you want a kind of wild, informal look. Also, it seems that shrub roses as a category is applied quite loosely so it probably encompasses any rose that grows in a shrub-like way!
And of course there are the climbing roses which grow very tall and you can train on a trellis. Like the other categories there are several classes within this including Rambler roses. These are basically climbing roses that are of an older type, typically with lots of small blooms but in large clusters.

Growing conditions
All roses need sun, and it seems that full sun is better for them than partial, but some roses are more tolerant of shade than others. This is a good summary of cultivars that do best in shade. Full sun means at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Even the ones that are shade tolerant are not really... they still need at least 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. However, too much sun can be bad too especially if it's really hot because roses aren't particularly drought-tolerant. So, probably the best compromise is to plant roses where they get a reasonable amount of sun but not the entire day, and ideally with shade during the hottest parts of the day.
The hardiness varies by rose type and cultivar. I think, judging from this comparison of hardiness zones in US and Australia that Amherst is in Zone 2 in Australia which translates to zone 8 in the US. It certainly can get extremely cold at Amherst during the winter compared to most of Australia; we've been told down to -5, -10; but it's nothing like in the US with snow! The good news is that according to this in zone 8 we can grow pretty much any kind of rose. This makes sense considering that there was a famous rose garden in Australia created only about an hours drive from our property, at Bleak House in Malmsbury. It's now apparently been converted to a rose nursery, so I suspect we may eventually pay it a visit! I learned about it by reading "Garden of a Thousand Roses" which when the time comes to choose specific cultivars I shall refer back to since at least I can be sure that the ones it refers to will be available in Australia.
When you plant a rose, you should put them in deep enough so that all the stems are coming from below ground. But, if they've been growing in a container, don't put them in too much deeper than the soil level they've been used to. Also, it's good to double dig the soil and dig in a "dollop of muck" in the bottom of the hole, in the words of Monty Don! (Muck = cow or horse manure).
Good rose fertilizers have a ration of Nitrogen: Phosporus: Potassium of 1:2:1. More phosphorous leads to better blooming. If you add too much nitrogen you'll get too much foliage and not as many blooms.
Apparently the ideal soil for growing roses has a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic) and is well drained with about 50 percent organic matter and the rest an equal mixture of clay, silt and sand. On a Gardener's World episode they planted a climbing rose on a patio in a container and used a mixture of "equal parts soil from garden, mushroom compost and peat free potting compost". That said, however, there are some kinds of roses that tolerate poor soil. For instance, Gallica roses in general are meant to be extremely hardy and "tolerant of poor soil and neglect" so I expect we'll have a lot of them!
If you're growing climbing roses against a wall, like for any climber that's going to live for ages and get big, you should build a strong frame in the beginning. This means use proper eyelet screws that you run wire through, and put a tensioner at one end of each wire strand so that it can always be kept taut. When tying in the rose, as with any climber, tie the twine to the support first, and then tie in the stem but not too tightly. Another good idea is to cross the twine once it was tied to the support, before tying in the rose stem in what is called a "figure of eight" knot... this helps cushion the stem and gives a little extra room to grow before it needs retying.
Also, you want to train climbing roses by curving the main stalk over, as in this picture. This way you'll get lots of blooms that cover the wall closer to the ground rather than letting it grow naturally upwards. how to train climbing roses
A good idea for climbing roses that are going to get very tall is to underplant them with smaller growing varieties of clematis. This way you still get some flowers at eye-level

Pruning roses
You shouldn't be afraid to prune roses hard as they'll throw out new shoots. But with old fashioned shrub like roses don't prune too much because you'll destroy their "wildness". You want to keep good air circulation around the plant so cut out any shoots that are crossing, etc. Update: Be careful with floribunda roses since the more foliage they have the better they grow, so don't prune them too hard.
When pruning, the first step is to remove any dead or diseased wood. Make a cut into healthy wood, close to a bud or shoot, which slopes so that water to run away from the bud (otherwise it can encourage disease). Choose also where you cut based on the direction that the new shoots will grow, to encourage a healthy shaped plant. The direction the bud is pointing indicates the direction in which the new shoot will grow.
Then, remove any other stems which cross or rub together. Again this is apparently to stop the spread of disease. I have some really old rose bushes in my garden here, I can already see some drastic action is required to address this in particular!
Climbing roses are also important to prune as if you don't they can easily get out of control with all the flowers at the top. Again, I know only too well about this... our climbing rose in London has gotten so out of control that Dave has scheduled a 'climbing rose massacre' for later this year. It will be good for the rose, but I think also Dave is looking forward to it as revenge... this particular rose has sharp thorns and he often gets caught by them; it has earned the moniker from him of "the b*stard rose"!
For old climbers which are overgrown the BBC suggests you do something called renewal pruning. Each year you remove one of the oldest and unproductive main stems, making the cut close to ground level or back to a healthy shoot. Then, you reduce all flowered sideshoots by about two-thirds of their length, cutting just above a healthy shoot or bud. Finally, where stems have grown beyond the bounds of their support, you should cut back to a healthy shoot or bud and then tied in to the nearest part of the trellis or wire.

Other tips for looking after roses
You can encourage ongoing flowering in those roses which have it by deadheading. You don't just take the flower part off, you also cut off part of the stem. The "1st node" is where the first leaf joins the stem below where the flower is, the "2nd node" is where the next lot of leaves joins. Cut just above the 2nd node. Also, when you cut, make it sloped towards the heart of the plant. I'm not sure precisely why this is but it's something to do with helping the rain get in.
Update: I just watched another TV show who interviewed the head gardener of the Royal National Rose Society in the UK. He said they'd recently changed their advice about how to deadhead. Apparently now you don't cut down to the 2nd node. Instead, there's a little swelling just before the 1st node where you can just snap off the dead flowerbud. Snapping off rather than cutting gives a clean break at the point which is best for the plant.
When watering avoid wetting the leaves as this can encourage diseases like blackspot. Blackspot is the most common problem with roses. As the name suggests it causes black splodges to appear on the leaves then they turn yellow and drop off. Supposedly if you catch this early you can just break off the infected leaves (and then burn them, don't put on the compost). Otherwise there are sprays... but I don't plan on using any of them. We have roses in our backyard here and some get blackspot but I just let them and cut off the worst parts. They've survived fine the past 5 years so obviously blackspot is more unsightly than life threatening!
If you underplant roses with plants from the onion family (e.g., chives) that will help to ward off aphids.
Supposedly, you should dig the soil every season, turning it over with a fork more than 1ft away from the base of the plant. Closer to the plant you're supposed to "loosen the roots" with a garden fork in Spring - not sure quite what this means, but I'm guessing stick a fork in and rock it about in a few places! This is to aerate the soil apparently. This sounds like an awful lot of fussing, I suspect we won't be doing this, but it's good to know! Instead I think we'll be relying on the worms to do the job of digging for us.
After pruning, it's suggested to give each rose bush several generous shovels of compost and checking to make sure the mulch is still several inches thick over the root zone.
My favourite rose cultivars - suitable for Amherst
As I come across new ones I shall add to this list so hopefully by the time it comes to choose rose plants I'll have a long list. I'm also going to be ruthless and limit myself only to the kind that will grow OK in Amherst conditions and without much pampering - because frankly, even though I like roses, I suspect I'm going to have my hands full just keeping the basics ticking over in the garden. Any suggestions welcome - please add them in the comments!
Rosa rugosa - this is the kind of rose that my Aunt Marion has in a hedge. The flowers are nice but the hips are glorious and what I love most about it. This gets huge, the hedge at my Aunt's is taller than me and around a metre wide. It can be pruned so it looks like a hedge but of course it's a little wilder than your typical box! There are different versions of this but my favourite is the one that looks closest to the species (aka wild) version - pink with a yellow centre and just a single set of petals, simple but lovely.
rosa rugosa
Rosa Alba Maxima - this is tolerant of poor soil and is one of the oldest kinds of roses apparently. It has lovely white flowers and grows like a shrub
Rosa Alba Maxima
Rosa Jayne Austin - this is one of the David Austin style roses. It grows quite tall (up to 7ft) but narrow so would be good for towards the back of a border. It apparently has wonderful scent and lots of repeat flowering. But, best of all, according to [an article I read online] it is extremely resistant to black spot.  [UPDATE: I've removed the link to the article and the photo because the site owner was unhappy] 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another group of roses you might like are miniatures -- roses of every shape and type that have been bred to produce small flowers. Some are amazingly tiny, but in other ways they're just like other roses.

I'm not sure if it's strictly true that Rugosas of the sort your great-aunt had are species roses. As I understand it the original rosa rugosa was a Japanese species rose but the common ones we know today (like Hansa) are the result of a century of hybridization.

A great rose resource is Old Garden Roses and Beyond [http://www.rdrop.com/~paul/index.html] by Oregon rosearian Paul Barden. (An old friend of mine.)