I am not talking about the romance in your life, but in your garden, of course! For thousands of years, roses have been used for medicinal and ritualistic purposes and as symbols of lineage. But most people around the world view roses as the number one ‘token of love’. One of my favorite roses is Cecille Brunner which is also known as the “Sweetheart Rose”.
Just like the resurgence in the popularity of heirloom vegetables and flowers, antique roses are making a comeback in today’s gardens across the country. Antique roses, or what some people call “old garden roses”, are being sought after because of their hardiness, fragrance and disease resistance. My goal is to dispel the myth that roses are hard to grow, require hours of maintenance and are short lived. Roses, particularly the older varieties, come in just about every shape and size and they could possibly be the most versatile garden plant you can use in your landscape. In addition, they not only add beauty in the most exquisite colors but their fragrance is powerful.
The term “old garden rose” doesn’t mean just any old rose discovered on the side of the road or at an old home place. Specifically, the American Rose Society defines these roses as those introduced before 1867. The significance of that year is that the first hybrid tea, named ‘La France’, was introduced to the world, therefore, any rose introduced after that point could be a hybrid. This was the beginning of what is now considered “Modern Roses” which were developed by crossing European roses with China and Tea Roses from the Far East. Today’s common hybrid roses are often bred for form, disease resistance, and exhibition qualities. The standard for rose beauty changed from overall landscape performance to emphasis on just a few attributes such as a high centered bud on a long stem, what we think of as florist ‘s roses.
Just mention growing roses and the first reaction most people have is usually negative. Visions of a family member or a friend spending hour upon hour tending their rose garden is enough to turn them off ever trying to grow a rose. Granted, with the recent introduction of the famous “Knock Out” roses, you see more people using roses in their landscape than before. However, landscapes are beginning to lose their individuality if everybody is using the same varieties over and over again. Adding a Bourbon rose like Souvenir de la Malmaison which Empress Josephine Bonaparte grew at Malmaison and loved by Catherine the Great would definitely give your garden character along with a rich and wonderful fragrance. If you think of them as roses for a garden instead of creating a garden only of roses, you will find numerous ways to utilize them in your gardens.
If you don’t think fragrance is important in picking out a rose, think about what the first thing a person does when you hand them a rose? If they are like most people, they stick it up to their nose to take a sniff. Most of us have come to expect roses to have at least some fragrance. But just like heirloom tomatoes, roses have been bred to contain certain attributes that make it more commercially appealing while at the same time losing one of its best characteristics-fragrance. The perfumes found in old roses come mainly from oil gland on the lower petals, and sometimes on the leaves and flower stamens. These aromas are strongest during warm, dew-free mornings, as well as when temperatures are between 68 and 80 degrees and humidity from 50 to 70 percent. Some of my favorite for beauty and fragrance are Alister Stella Gray, Duchess de Brabant and Perle d’Or.
Caring for your antique roses is much easier than you think. Surviving for centuries on their own, old roses have adapted to a myriad of environments and are disease-tolerant. In fact, many of the new easy-care roses have been bred from the genes of antique roses. While resistant to diseases, old roses do contract the dreaded black spot and mildew but they have special defenses to fight against fungal spores. After contracting a fungus, the antique roses shed infected leaves and grow new ones.
Proper spacing for free airflow and dry leaves help to prevent many diseases from ever getting started. Go easy on the fertilizer as antique roses are used to taking what they need from the uncultivated soil. Many rosarians feed their roses rabbit food as it is a cheap source of alfalfa meal. Alfalfa supplies a hefty dose of slow-release nitrogen and trace elements and contains a growth stimulant. Coffee grounds and used tea bags slightly acidify the soil witch old roses love along with a banana peel or two for a dose of magnesium.
Plant your roses in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Although they can grow in poor soil, they are at their best in fertile, well-draining soil liberally amended with rotted manure, aged compost, or similar organic matter. Once established, old roses can grow without much water, but they will thrive with a deep soaking every week to 10 days, depending on temperatures. Repeat bloomers should be shaped in late winter or early spring. Just remove dead canes and shape and let them grow as natural as possible. Those roses that bloom only in the spring should be pruned right after blooming to as they bloom on wood from the previous year.
I hope that you will be willing to add an antique rose or two to your garden this spring. Not only will you be adding beauty and fragrance to your yard, but historical beauty as well.
Feel free to contact me at Beans to Blossoms at 753-4050 or visit our website at www.beanstoblossoms.com if you have any questions or comments.
Happy Gardening, Suzanne