Promise Me a Rose Garden

Writer: L. Beth Bonifant

Do you dream of filling your garden with fragrant, brightly colored roses?
There are thousands of hybrids with hundreds of new introductions each year. Even a novice can find scores of carefree, easy-to-grow varieties.
My mother gardened and my father planted things. I’m not sure what the difference is, but my father was not the kind of man that fits the “gardener” profile. He didn’t wear gloves and a wide-brimmed hat or walk around behind a wheelbarrow like I do. He planted something, said “grow dammit” … and it usually did.
When my mother wanted a formal rose garden in the 1960s, I don’t remember my father complaining. Never mind that hybrid tea roses are fussy flowers that require an arsenal of chemicals and constant upkeep. Ours was a family affair from the start; dad sprayed cannisters filled with fungicides and pesticides, while we supplied plenty of free child labor.

It wasn’t difficult to convince a kid that plucking Japanese beetles by hand and plunking ’em into jars of soapy water to drown can be fun. Our other job was sanitation, picking up discarded leaves from the ground that harbor and spread disease.
And last but not least, our dear mother was in charge of deadheading spent flowers and administering pruning cuts at just the right junctures. Finally, each fresh cut would be sealed by coating it with a thick black tar-like substance.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, we never seemed to mind.
Dad told about the name of each rose and which ones he liked most: Tropicana bred in 1960, a perpetual favorite with bright orange-red blooms and fruity fragrance. Mr. Lincoln, winner of the All-American Rose Selection award in 1965, a velvety deep red rose with sweet damask scent. Peace, perhaps the most admired hybrid tea of all time, and Chrysler Imperial were earlier introductions from the 1940s and ’50s whose popularity never waned during the “Mad Men” era of cultivated roses.

Since that time social mores and moods have changed. While many retro roses can still be found, there are scores of carefree, easy-to-grow-and-enjoy roses on the scene today.
Roses belong to the genus Rosa. According to the American Rose Society there are three main groups: Species (wild roses), Old Garden Roses (Heirloom; classes in existence before 1867) and Modern Roses (classes not in existence before 1867).
Within each of these groups are numerous classifications and abundant cultivars. In fact, there are thousands of hybrids with hundreds of new introductions each year.
Hybrids are the result of crossbreeding two genetically different plants to produce a third. To understand this better; species roses are the original roses while everything else is hybrids derived from them.
Parent roses are selected for unique characteristics and features such as color, overall size and growth habit, cold tolerance, and disease resistance as well as flower form and scent.


Species roses are the wildflower of the rose world naturally occurring in open woodlands, fields and roadsides.
Both the pasture rose (R. carolina) and swamp rose (R. palustris) are native throughout eastern portions of the U.S. Found in marshes, stream banks and swamps the aptly called “swamp rose” thrives in wetland locations.
Each of these North American native plants display 2-inch single blooms with exactly five bright pink petals. Listed as invasive, multiflora rose (R. multiflora) is an Asian species infesting many Maryland hedgerows; it blooms on sprays containing white 1-inch single flowers.
The romantic beauty of Old Garden Roses relies on their variety of flower form, color and heady fragrance. Some only bloom once each season during their initial spring crop of flowers. However, approximately one-third are repeat bloomers, such as the China rose.
Last year I finally purchased the China rose Mutabilis, also known as the Butterfly Rose. This plant becomes a large shrub covered with multi-hued single flowers resembling brightly colored butterflies. Mutabilis indicates the mutating color of the blossoms that begin as yellow, changing to pink and finally crimson.
After years of fantasizing about how magical this must be fluttering in a gentle breeze, I just had to see it! But most of what you’ll find in today’s gardens are considered Modern Roses. These are the roses most people envision when contemplating roses.

Nearly all Modern Roses are perpetual or repeat bloomers, and though some are scented these roses were primarily bred for large flower size accompanied with continual bloom.
Hybrid teas became the first modern rose in this class when tea roses were crossed with hybrid perpetuals in 1867. They are the classic modern rose and an industry standard for cut flower and florist roses. One ample bloom alone can contain 30 to 50 petals.
These roses still get my little girl heart beating when I see ones I grew up with, and though they’ll always hold a special place in my memories, I’ll admit they don’t have a spot in my garden these days.
This is not meant to discourage; hybrid tea roses perform perfectly well in Southern Maryland when the right growing conditions are met and you’re willing to put in the work.
Shrub Roses, also called Landscape Roses are an undemanding alternative to more fussy, formal hybrid teas. While technically all roses are shrubs, the American Rose Society defines shrub roses as “hardy, easy-care plants that encompass bushy roses that do not fit in any other category of rose bush.”
Far from finicky, many bloom all summer with little intervention. These versatile plants easily fill garden borders and rose hedges, blending softly into more natural landscapes.
With its glowing red blooms, Knock Out shrub roses have been riding a wave of popularity since first coming on the scene in 2000. Quickly becoming the best-selling garden plant in America, color options have grown to include hot pink, blush, yellow and rainbow.
Easy to pop into perennial beds, Bonica is another virtually indestructible shrub rose; a small (4 foot by 4 foot) pretty plant with dainty clusters of candy pink flowers that produce hips.
Rose hips are brightly colored orange and red seed-filled “fruit” that forms on some rose bushes after flowering. Besides being an attractive accessory, hips are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Often used for medicinal purposes and as a natural ingredient in teas and preserves, hips are a wonderful source of nutrition for wildlife as well.
I once witnessed our old labs, faces buried in the cottage rose hedge, snacking on rose hips.
While all these different roses vary somewhat in preferences and maintenance requirements there are some basic guidelines to help ensure success. Full sun locations with a minimum of six hours direct light are ideal for most types of roses.
Plant grafted roses where the knobby part of the trunk is 2 to 3 inches above the soil line; roses grown on their own roots should be planted with the crown slightly above the soil.
High humidity and poor air circulation are major contributing factors in rose diseases; avoid crowding to reduce competition for sunlight, air, water and nutrients. Roses don’t grow well in poorly drained soils but try to maintain even moisture during dry spells by watering at the base to minimize leaf wetness.
Roses grow best in slightly acidic soil with a pH range between 6.0 and 6.5. Apply fertilizers during the growing season after the soil has warmed up between spring and early summer. Use slow-release fertilizers such as compost, liquid organics and Osmocote, and before treating plants with pesticides look for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies already in your garden.
Pesticides can’t discriminate, and you may already have these natural allies working for you.

Pruning to remove dead or diseased plant material shapes plants and promotes healthy growth and flowering.
Hybrid teas and floribundas only bloom on new growth; cut these bushes back each year in late winter or early spring. Remove a third to half of the previous year’s growth until you find healthy, live centers inside the canes.
These roses benefit from light, medium or hard pruning depending on their current condition. Only prune arching shrub roses and climbers lightly to enhance their natural shapes.
Train long canes on climbers horizontally or vertically to encourage lateral shoots, removing canes that rub or cross. Deadhead repeat roses to encourage reblooming.

Clear the top layer of old mulch each spring before reapplying fresh mulch and provide good sanitation throughout the growing season.
It’s best not to compost anything you rake up directly around rose bushes. It helps to remember the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Treat serious cases of powdery mildew and block spot with products for these conditions but be realistic and know that roses probably won’t always look their best.

Now that you’ve grown such lovely roses let’s bring some inside!
Cut roses in the morning or in the evening while still dewy fresh with sharp blades. Roses will last longest if harvested when the petals are just starting to open.
Recut stems at a 45-degree angle right before putting in a vase and always remove lower leaves below the water line. Change water and recut flower stems every few days to prolong freshness.
If you’re still not convinced hard work has its own reward maybe your mother didn’t have a rose garden, but ours did … and we never seemed to mind. •

American Rose Society Rose Classifications
Alba, Ayrshire, Bourbon, Boursault, Centifolia, China, Damask, Hybrid China, Hybrid Gallica, Hybrid Perpetual, Moss, Portland
Hybrid Tea & Grandiflora, Floribunda & Polyantha, Miniature & Miniflora, Shrub (Classic & Modern), Large Flowered Climber, Hybrid Gigantea, Hybrid Wichurana
Did you know the rose is the National Flower?
President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on November 20th, 1986 certifying the rose as our national flower in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.