Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Rocky Mountain News commissioned this article from me a few years ago


No other flower so moves the human soul as does the rose....our eyes and nose are drawn irresistibly into that sensuous swirl of silky petals, our hands cupping each spectacular bloom as it holds our hearts. So why not invite the majesty of easy-to-grow roses into our lives and landscapes?

"But roses are hard and I’m too busy!" you may protest. So I asked five of the world’s greatest rosarians here and abroad to share with us their advice and wisdom about the ease of growing the Queen of Flowers, even in our harsh climates and way-busy lives.

Rose lovers around the world rejoice at the lovely creations bred by David Austin, Sr. in England, beautiful roses like ‘Abraham Darby’ and ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘Tamora’ and ‘Evelyn’ and ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ and more. The soulfulness of his hybrids is echoed in his answer when I asked him what he would say to Colorado rose lovers....."Roses are probably unique in the plant world in having the greatest variety of quite different fragrances. There are 5 basic types – Old Rose, Tea, Myrrh, Fruity and Musk with a whole array of others that don’t come neatly under these headings like orris, heliotrope, nasturtium, green (cucumber like), and various flower blossoms. Others are a wonderful mixture of two or more different fragrances, the dominating fragrance changing quite radically with time, season, weather and stage of flower. So any roses that you plant in your garden should be fragrant. There is no excuse – many varieties have it, health and fragrance."

And with long-lived "own root" roses now so widely available (as short-lived roses grafted onto the ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock plunge in popularity), we can easily heed this brilliant rosarian’s advice. "But roses are so demanding and so fussy!" you may be thinking. Author and lecturer William Grant, who dazzled the world with his stunning rose encyclopedia ‘Botanica’s Roses’ , and dazzled me with his 1 ½ acre, all-organic rose garden north of San Francisco a few years back, reveals that quite the opposite is true...."Roses are just about the toughest plants alive. They can survive insults, lack of water, no fertilizer and still produce blooms. But if you treat them as royalty, they will repay a thousand times more".

That means simply to plant "own root" roses in a big, 20" wide and deep hole half filled with compost, about 4 inches deeper than they grew in their pot to protect them from the extremes of climate, keep them deeply mulched with 4-6 inches of chipped tree trimmings or autumn leaves or alfalfa hay, feed them in April and July in cold climates, and February, July and September in very mild climates, with a good organic soil food like "menhaden fish meal" from a feed store or ‘Mill’s Magic Rose Mix’ or ‘Mile High Rose Feed’ (in Colorado only), water deeply weekly (at most) through the growing season (monthly in winter in harshly cold yet snowless regions), and take plenty of bouquets.

Cut them back by one third after the first flush finishes to keep the giant once-bloomers contained, and to encourage the repeat bloomers to do it all over again. Growing perennials and annuals in amongst them invites beneficial critters to dwell in your rose garden to control insect and fungal pests for you vs. the hassle and environmental damage of spraying weekly a sterile garden of only roses standing like lonely soldiers under the assault.

Award-winning hybridizer Tom Carruth at Weeks Roses, whose lovely creations like ‘Barbra Streisand’, ‘Fourth of July’, ‘Scentimental’ and more bless many hundreds of thousands of gardens around the world, asked me simply to relate that he is testing all his hybrids now both as grafted and "own root" plants to address the needs of folks in both mild and cold climates, and that Weeks Roses now offers a great many "own root" roses: just look at the tag for the prominent words "own root". In 1998 he dazzled me with his own vast rose garden in Hollywood, boasting both grafted and own root roses and lush perennials, all never sprayed in his VERY busy schedule as a world traveling lecturer and rose judge.

"But what about hard winters killing roses soon after I plant them?" you challenge. Sure, those grafted roses ARE frail and little better than annuals, but "own root" roses persist for decades in old cemeteries, gardens, even alley ways, and thus can easily outlive US! Author Peter Beales, whose first book, ‘Classic Roses’, is what made me go over the "deep end" for roses back in 1989, reminds us of this: "Norfolk is one of the coldest counties in England, latitude 52 degrees and at approximately sea level. There are times in winter when the North East wind comes uninterrupted from Siberia, so we need to pay attention to hardiness. I become more and more impressed by the Canadian Explorer series; quite apart from their hardiness they are my type of rose. Nothing frilly or garish about them."

And thanks to Merle Moore, director of horticulture at the Denver Zoo, there are hundreds of no-spray, "own root" roses thriving all over the zoo grounds, including a full collection of these very Canadian Explorer roses! Go there in June and swoon and be inspired by the awesome display. But don’t forget to look at the animals too!

"But what about drought? We can’t water much!" you then grouse. Hey, my 200 roses in my northeast Denver yard, now a managed rental, were not watered ONCE in 2003, the 8 inches of mulch I applied the fall of 2002 trapping all snow melt and rain water in my rich soil fed only once a year. My water bills have always been low, even before the drought. But grow grafted roses in bare soil and you’ll have "water hogs" to be sure!

"What about diseases and bugs?" Each spring, the sparrows and warblers come in and feast on the aphids on my new growth. A sharp stream of water from a garden hose will blast the rest off. And you can feed your rose garden each spring with a light sprinkling of "Ringer Lawn Restore" (garden centers) and "Calf Manna" (from a feed store) to add a whole range of beneficial bacteria and fungi that out-compete the disease-causing ones. I have never sprayed in 15 years in my Denver rose garden, nor 4 years here in Tampa, and none of my Colorado or Florida clients do either. Why? Healthy, well-fed, deeply mulched own root roses fight off bugs and infections just like we do when we eat and rest well. And those two biological soil foods are like when we eat yogurt to be sure the "good critters" are keeping our bodies balanced and free of candida overgrowth. Spraying with pesticides kills off these natural allies, and the sad spiral into frustration and failure begins.

So this spring, as you seek out "own root" roses at nurseries and respected mail order sources, be inspired by the words of Brent C. Dickerson, whose eight books, including ‘The Old Rose Advisor’ , have infected countless souls with "rose fever" :"Old Roses challenge and sophisticate our tastes and our endeavors, not only in horticulture, but ultimately in all of life. ‘Challenge’ in that they accost us with an aesthetic so different, so independent from what normally surrounds us in our daily experience that, at first, we are taken aback; ‘sophisticate’, in that, our tastes being challenged and yet intrigued, we learn to appreciate a wider range of ideals, thereby gaining insight into the different times and cultures that produced these ideals; ‘in all of life’, in that, appreciating this diversity in roses, in horticulture, our ever-curious and clever minds begin to discern the wonders of diversity beyond horticulture and throughout our world. To become a lover of Old Roses and all the variations they encompass is finally to become a lover of the richness of Life itself".

Roses anyone?
Harlequin Market, Boulder- 303-939-9403
Birdsall, Denver- 303-722-2535
Tagawa, Denver- 303-690-4722
High Country Roses, Utah- 1-800-552-2082
The Antique Rose Emporium, Texas- 1-800-441-0002
Chamblee’s Roses, Texas- 1-800-256-7673
Mill’s Magic Rose Mix 1-800-845-2325

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