The Rose Garden
If you choose your roses wisely, you can have them in flower from April to November, which is eight to nine months of the year. The flowers, from fully double to single and all extremely beautiful, have a wide range of form and every subtle shading and combination of colour except blue.
Do not believe those who say that modern roses have no perfume. Some do not, many do, but this has always been true. Probably the enormous popularity of floribundas since the last war has been the cause of the all-too-common generalisation. Large numbers of these new roses were scentless or nearly so, but the breeders are bringing it back fast in the latest varieties. There has always been a.good proportion of perfumed Hybrid Teas (HTs).
The range of size and form of rose bushes is quite staggering. It runs from the six-inch miniatures for rockeries or edging plants, through short, medium and tall shrubs, to forty and fifty-foot. Roses can be used for permanent bedding, formal or informal, and climbers used for permanent bedding, formal or informal, and climbers and ramblers can cover your house, grow up pillars, cover arches and pergolas and fences, or wander at random through trees, which is one of the loveliest ways of growing them. Standards or weeping standards give height to a rosebed or can form colourful focal points on their own as solitary specimens. HTs, floribundas and shrub roses can be used as hedging plants, low hedges to line a path or divide off part of the garden, spreading undisciplined hedges of medium height using some of the hybrid musk roses like ‘Penelope’ or ‘Vanity’ or some of the rugosa rose, which will be one mass of bloom for many months. Or again, you can have hedges up to nine feet or so, like a line of guardsmen with pink hats, if you use a variety like ‘Queen Elizabeth’. The thorns of many will make them intruder-proof.
Many of the shrub roses mix quite happily with other shrubs and those with long, arching sprays, laden with blossom along their whole length (’Fruhlingsgold’, ‘Fruhlingsmorgen’, “Canary-bird’, ‘Nevada’), give a new dimension to rose growing.
Inevitably someone will say: ‘But they only flower once, don’t they?’ If that is your criterion, you should fork up your forsythias and blow up your buddleias for the same crime. But in any case it is not true of many shrub roses. There are plenty that are continuous or repeat flowering, and a great many of those that do flower only once have a bonus in the form of most decorative heps in the autumn.
Some roses can be used for. The parent of many ramblers, Rosa wichuraiana, and some of its hybrids like ‘Max Graf’, will grow prostrate along the ground, rooting as they go. Their shiny, dark leaves smother and their white single flowers (pink for ‘Max Graf’) appear in late summer and are borne over a long period.
Roses are still remarkably cheap, cheaper than most other shrubs, and live, unless you get a dud. For fifteen, twenty, or more years. They do not really take a great deal of looking after, though they will certainly perform better with regular but not particularly arduous attention. How, then, to get the best out of them?
The most usual and very effective way of using HTs and floribundas is as permanent bedding plants. For some reason — these two kinds of roses do not mix very happily with other border plants. This is especially so with HTs and it is best to have them in beds on their own. The size and shape of these beds will probably depend on the size and shape of your garden, but try if possible to surround them with grass, which makes the best framework of all, with paved paths as a fairly close second.
Island beds in a lawn have a great attraction, but do not forget that you will have to cut and edge the grass round them. If you are still under fifty you will probably think it is worth it, but even then it is wise to remember that straight-sided beds are easier to deal with than round.
It will save a good deal of work if you have at least your main rose beds backing on to walls or hedges round the lawn and here it is possible and much more attractive to have the front of the bed coming out in a wide, sweeping curve. This will break up the rectangular outline of so many gardens and the mower will take such a curve with ease. But beware.
Hedges, especially those made up of privet, suck the goodness out of thelike a vacuum cleaner. Plant your roses at the very least eighteen inches from the hedge. And walls? Near them, particularly the walls of a house with overhanging eaves, the soil is likely to be very dry. Roses need plenty of water (but good drainage), so here again do not plant them too close.
Very large or very small beds can be successful with a mixed planting of only one or two of each variety. Medium-sized beds can look spotty except during the main flush of flowers. If you want different varieties in an average-sized bed, group four or more of each variety together, but when you are choosing them, bear their relative heights in mind as well as their colours.
A round bed can be very attractive (and if you have a mower with one wheel larger than the other, practical) with varieties planted in concentric circles, rising towards the centre by staging the heights. Or you can group different varieties like the spokes of a wheel, widening from one bush near the centre to three, four or five at the circumference, depending on the size of the bed. A standard or half-standard makes a centre-piece to top it off and probably it is best to choose a contrasting variety for this.
Colour blending is important. Strong colours may clash or kill each other, and whites, creams and pale pinks make good dividers. An unusual and striking bed can be made by starting at one end with white and shading to cream, apricot, pale pink, pink, light red, scarlet, orange and finally yellow. Mauve roses can look washed-out if not placed carefully, but go well with yellows and whites.
All this applies equally to HTs and to floribundas, though it is probably best not to mix the two as their habit of flowering is so different. An edging of low-growing floribundas for a bed of HTs can, however, look well and will probably give colour to the bed during the rest period of the HTs in August. Miniature roses, too, can form an attractive edging and they start into flower very early, before most HTs. Leave them plenty of room, though, or their bigger neighbours may grow forward and swamp them.
On the subject of edging, another useful pointer is that grey-leaved plants always look well with roses and help to set them off. Try dwarf lavender or pinks round a bed or a clump of Senecio laxifolius at one end of a bigger bed to give contrast.
Shrub roses can be grown in a mixed group on their own (making sure that the taller ones are at the back) or interspersed with other shrubs, provided that they can get plenty of sun. The more lax growers will welcome the chance to strap-hang on to stronger branches growing through them. All of the bigger ones make wonderful solo specimen shrubs, perhaps on a lawn, but once again do not forget that you will have to cut round them. The seven-foot, arching growths of varieties like ‘Fruhlingsgold’ and ‘Nevada’ will, like a hypochondriac, catch anything. One of the most beautiful ways that any of them can be grown is in a bed of heather, which gives colour in the winter. They can be mixed there with other shrubs, but leave at least a three-foot circle of clear earth round each one for mulching and so that the roots of the heathers and the roses do not rob each other.
There are several ways in which climbers can be used. One of the commonest is on the walls of a house, but do not just have roses there, particularly if they are once-flowering only. Grow them through something else. Soft blue ceanothus for yellow roses, for instance, or chaenomeles which will flower before the roses. Or grow a climber like one of the many clematis up through them. If you choose the right varieties you can have bloom on your wall right through to the autumn.
Almost any climber or rambler of reasonable vigour will look wonderful wandering up at random through old trees, provided that their habit of growth is not too stiff. If it is, they are apt to send out shoots at rather awkward and ungainly angles, and what is really wanted is pliable canes that will weep clown with the weight of their flowers. Two wonderful roses for this, provided you have a really big and really strong tree are Rosa longiscuspis and Rosa fiilipes ‘Kiftsgate’. Another is ‘Wedding Day’. All three have really huge clusters of small, sweetly smelling, white flowers that will hang down like a vast lace shawl from the branches. But they are not for very. Try ‘Purity’, ‘Sanders White’, or the almost-blue ‘Veilchenblau’ for them. And if it is pink you want, ‘Chaplin’s Pink Climber’ is showy and has a long flowering season.
As an off-shoot from growing your roses, you may want to show some of them at your local show. If so, choose varieties of HTs with large blooms that have high, firm, pointed centres, have reflexing outer petals, and that keep their shape well and do not open too quickly. They should be shown in the half to three-quarter open stage as a fully open rose will never win a prize. As almost all roses will open much more quickly in a hot show tent it takes a good judge of timing to achieve this, and Keats was surely in the marquee, staging his blooms, when he scribbled: ‘As though the rose should shut, and be a bud again.’ on the back of his show schedule.
Some good varieties for showing, that are also good garden roses, are ‘Rose Gaujard’, ‘Pink Favourite’, ‘My Choice’, ‘Stella’, ‘Fragrant Cloud’. ‘Perfecta’, ‘Grandpa Dickson’, ‘Mischief, ‘Silver Lining’ and ‘Peace’, though most of them, if not all, will need the removal of all but the main bud on a stem if they are to achieve their best size. Floribunda trusses for showing should have the maximum number of unfaded and undamaged blooms out at one time. Almost any variety will do, provided the trusses are good ones for that particular variety.
Exhibiting is good fun and can make you a lot of friends.