Share on Google+

Taking Time to Smell (And Grow) the Roses

It never fails. Every time I press a fragrant rose to my nose and take a deep breath, my grandfather’s image is conjured up. Tall and tan, with sparse, snowy hair, he is walking with me through his extensive maze garden filled with roses. I am transported back to 1965, and I can vividly recall holding his gnarled hand, while he bends a long rose stem toward me so I can sniff it.

I take a deep breath and my 4-year-old brain forges a life-long connection with Grandpa and the perfume of roses. At the end of our walk, he lets me choose a rose to pick for my mother. This is a treat, as he usually chooses the best roses to sell to the local florist shop.

I’ve learned so much about growing roses and other plants, but how I wish he could have shared with me everything he had learned about gardening.

Pete loves roses as much as I do, and we have grown many over the years. Some successful, some not so much. We lost a really tall climbing tea rose called ‘Joseph’s Coat’ to the elements this winter.  A good friend built us great trellis a couple years ago and the canes had climbed about 15 feet.  There is new growth at the bottom, but it will take a few years for it to reach its full glory again. The full sun exposure which made it great in summer was its eventual downfall, as we lost at least six plants on the south end of the house in winter 2015.  I’m not giving up on roses though.  The Julia Child roses look great, the Knock-Out is loaded with buds and the David Austins are filling in beautifully.  Zepherine Drouhin is another climber that can tolerate a lot of shade and that is doing just fine on the northwest corner of the house.  I can hardly wait to smell the heady, bourbon fragrance and the deep rose-pink profusion. An added benefit? Zepherine is thornless!

David Austin roses are just great. Austin himself is a rose breeder extraordinaire, and his roses grace gardens all over the world.  He has successfully married the old garden rose form and fragrance to the modern notion of recurrent bloom and disease resistance. Graham Thomas, bred by Austin in 1983, is deep golden yellow and highly fragrant. It grows five to seven feet tall with an upright, vigorous, narrow growth habit and excellent disease resistance – perfect for Nantucket gardens. Heritage was also bred by Austin, and combines outstanding fragrance, dependable repeat bloom and a true old garden rose form. It grows five to six feet tall, has almost no thorns and carries a double soft pink flower that smells like fresh lemons. David Austins are highly successful in Nantucket gardens. See the website for descriptions of all the varieties

A Knock-Out Rose® is a great choice for you if you’ve never grown a rose before. The first one was introduced in 2000 and there are now seven colors. They bloom all summer, are very disease resistant and are very easy to care for.

Rose breeders, looking for the best attributes in different roses, discovered that the multiple blooms of the polyantha (literally “many flowers”) rose and the fragrance and color range of the hybrid tea would combine to make what is known as the floribunda rose. Notables in this class are Iceberg, Gruss an Aachen, and Betty Prior. Iceberg grows to about four feet with multiple three-inch blossoms on each stem. Floribundas can thrive in a wide variety of conditions, too.

At the heart of the rose-growing culture on Nantucket are climbing roses. New Dawn simply can’t be beat. It’s the pink climber that is most popular in ‘Sconset, seen climbing up on cottages, large and small, often reaching and creeping over the ridge of the roof. The world’s first patented plant, New Dawn blooms reliably, is quite disease-resistant and, lucky for us, is very hardy, withstanding winters that are windy and very cold.

Once you’ve decided to grow roses, understanding their basic needs will go a long way in giving you enjoyment. Most roses need good air circulation and six to eight hours of sun.  Regular water and fertilizer are essential.  Espoma’s Rose Tone is an organically rated fertilizer that is readily available.  Use 1 to 1 ¼ Cups of Rose tone and 2 cups of greensand per plant in early spring, and again when the first flush of blooms is ending, and that is all the fertilizer you need. This will provide enough phosphorous, potassium and trace elements to ensure exuberant flowering.  Feed your roses when the soil is moist and they will have improved nutrient uptake. Mulch is also important to help eliminate weeds and insulate the soil against summer heat. Take care to not mound the mulch around the base of the plant.

As your roses start to grow, be on the lookout for insects and fungus. Aphids, Japanese beetles, mites, thrips and midges can all be found at various times throughout the rose season. There are several organic products that can be found commercially to mitigate common insect damage, or you can enlist the services of a commercial applicator to keep the pests under control. If you go this route, be sure they have a Massachusetts Certification for applying pesticides.  Safer and Bayer both have products that work on insects or fungus or both. The key is prevention, and not waiting for a problem to occur. In particular, it’s important to apply a fungicide before you see the tell-tale black spots that indicate a problem. Always follow the directions on the label.

Growing a few rose plants will give you reason to ‘stop and smell the roses.’ I appreciate the beauty, the colors, the fragrance and the different forms. But remembering my grandfather is reason enough to have several in our garden.