This is an article I wrote for my Rocky Mountain News column in 2005. Keep in mind that the list of xeric roses are of COLD HARDY roses that would likely struggle and fail in areas where the ground does not freeze, or where there is at least a sustained winter chill period. There are VERY few on that list I would even THINK of trying here in Tampa. Enjoy, John
Fragrant Shrub Roses: Sweet Yet Tough
Roughnecks for Colorado Landscapes
Have you ever pulled into your driveway and felt utterly underwhelmed by the bland "mustache" of boring junipers strangling the front of your home? Do you feel hemmed in by the insipid privets that form passionless parentheses constricting your property like cheap bookends? Is your shrubbery in general about as exciting as reruns of "Dragnet"? Do your hands ever lurch instinctively for the loppers and shovel to frenzily render a radical juniperectomy, only to feel paralyzed once again by not knowing of alternative INTERESTING replacement shrubs that are are also drought-resistant, winter-proof and low maintenance?
Believe it or not, some obscure but beautiful and TOUGH varieties of richly-colored and deeply fragrant Shrub Roses slowly becoming available in Colorado can artfully fill the void created by joyously tearing out colorless, scentless, soul-less and prickly overgrown junipers and privets. And unlike the the frail, finicky, short-lived grafted "garden roses" that convince so many folks they have "brown thumbs", these nuclear war-proof Shrub Roses, when grown on their OWN ROOTS, mature into beautiful flowering landscape shrubs that need no chemical coddling, and little watering once established. Let’s face it; few of us lovingly admire a sprawling blob of junipers....many of us would be awed by a privacy hedge bearing hundreds of richly scented pink, red, white or yellow roses each summer, a hedge that perfumes the yard while providing luscious Victorian style bouquets for the dinner table, fragrant petals for potpourris, plus bright red hips for winter color and attracting wild birds.
While many different kinds of near-xeric, cold hardy yet lusciously fragrant varieties may be lumped under the catch-all label of "Shrub Roses", those listed below share the same minimal care needs: one optional annual pruning in early to mid-July after last petal drop, a 6"-8" deep mulch of tree grindings (usually free from a tree trimming service) to keep their root zone moist, 1 or 2 deep waterings per month in summer, and one annual feeding of organic nutrients in April (try 2 cups each of horse manure, Epsom Salts, kelp meal, alfalfa pellets and cottonseed meal per bush). All are remarkably resistant to disease, insects, drought and winter freeze damage, yet are (mysteriously) rarely offered for sale by Colorado nurseries. Beware: those offered for sale in some quite famous mail-order catalogs are almost always GRAFTED onto a rootstock often grown in mild southern regions near the Mexican border; avoid these wimpy wannabes! These grafted, namby-pamby impostors are rarely vigorous or long-lived despite the alluring pictures in those glossy catalogs; bu only OWN ROOT Shrub Roses if you want the hassle-free toughness of junipers and privets PLUS wonderfully fragrant roses to plunge your nose into......breathe deep!....life is good!
Before FINALLY nuking those junipers though, seek out their replacements from this list of fragrant Shrub Roses known to thrive on the plains of Colorado with minimal care; those followed by an (R) can bless your landscape with a Repeat flush of blooms in late summer and early fall. Remember that Own-Root roses are generally small when when purchased...a turn-of-the-century saying about own-root roses’ slow initial growth rate is: "First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they LEAP!". Unlike grafted roses, they initially expend their energy forming an admirable root system THEN get big, living for many decades. That is why so many very old ones are seen thriving in abandoned cemetaries and old homes and farmsteads..they are true survivors in our harsh climate and high pH heavy clay soils. And the sensual symphony of their heady fragrances and broad range of colors can create a water-wise annual jolt of joy where monochromatic junipers once induced a near-coma with their numbing sameness.
So if you’ve ever felt you had to choose between keeping big boring bushes or yanking them only to have a starkly empty landscape, just remember Mr. Spock’s truism: "There is always a third alternative". And own-root Shrub Roses are that alternative, one deserving the long-overdue attention of our eyes, noses, minds and souls.So go ahead....DO that juniperectomy!....here’s the delicious menu you can select from:
Desiree’ Parmentier (Gallica, circa 1848). Deep pink, very sweet, full of petals.
"High Country Banshee" (unknown) Light pink, Victorian-style roses; very fragrant.
Harison’s Yellow (Hybrid foetida, 1830) Bright yellow, odd scent, indestructible.
Therese Bugnet (Hybrid Rugosa, 1950) Old-fashioned pink sweet roses (R).
Alba maxima (Alba, circa 1100 A.D.) Petal-packed wonderfully scented snow white roses.
Great Western (Hybrid Bourbon, 1832) Crimson-purple "cabbage roses", incredibly fragrant.
Complicata (Hybrid Gallica?, ancient) Big pink single (5-petals) fragrant roses, winter hips.
Baronne Prevost (Hybrid Perpetual, 1842) Rich pink, gloriously fragrant Victorian roses.
Fruhlingsgold (Hybrid Spinosissima, 1937) Giant arching shrub, fragrant light yellow roses.
Rosa eglanteria (species, circa 1551) Small, single pink roses, delightful apple-scented leaves,
abundant winter hips.
Rosa glauca (species, 1830) Silvery-plum colored leaves, scentless small single pink roses,
tremendous numbers of winter hips for wild birds.
Blush Damask (Damask, 1759) Medium pink, lusciously scented Victorian roses, big bush.
Sir Thomas Lipton (Hybrid rugosa, 1900) Clusters of fragrant white roses (R).
"Victorian Memory" (study name; Boursault hybrid?) Oddly-scented lilac-pink petal-packed
blooms on a tall thornless arching shrub-climber (R).
Austrian Copper (species hybrid, circa 1100 A.D.) Single, oddly-scented blooms of bright
orange-red and yellow.
Persian Yellow (species, 1837) Fully double, oddly-scented bright yellow roses.
Variegata di Bologna (Hybrid Bourbon (?), 1909) Fully double, cupped VERY fragrant
roses of pure white striped crimson and purple...very dramatic.
American Pillar (complex hybrid, 1902) Barely fragrant bright pink single roses in clusters
on a BIG arching shrub-climber. Indestructible.
Pink Clouds (Hybrid Multiflora miniature). This MONSTER rambler bears hundreds of small, very
sweet single pink roses. Gillions of winter hips!
William Lobb (Moss, 1855) Wonderfully fragrant, decadently dark purple-crimson Victorian
style big blooms on an arching shrub-climber. A living treasure!
"Champagne Arches" (study name) Big arching shrub bears scentless peachy-pink roses.
Rosa paulii (species, 1903) Single, sweet white roses on a low groundcover plant.
Rosa woodsii (species, 1820). Native to Colorado. Single, fragrant rose-pink roses followed
by numerous hips. Colonizes by runners.
Rosa spinosissima (species, prior to 1600). VERY cold hardy. Single, sweet, creamy white
blooms early in spring, numerous and beautiful black hips.
Rosa multiflora (species, 1868). Rampant rambling shrub, hundreds of very fragrant white roses
like apple blossoms. Multitudes of winter hips.
Alba suaveolens (Alba, prior to 1750). Very sweetly-scented, semi-double snow white roses
followed by flavorful red hips.
Hansa (Hybrid rugosa, 1905) Fully double, CLOVE-scented violet-magenta big blooms
followed by BIG flavorful hips. (R)
"Fairmount Red" (study name). Wonderfully fragrant, crimson-magenta Victorian-style
"cabbage roses" in clusters on a big arching shrub. Discovered in historic
Francis E. Lester (Hybrid Musk, 1946) Monstrous climbing shrub, big clusters of medium size
single roses of palest pink fading to white. WONDERFUL fragrance. Oodles
of winter hips for the wild birds to feast on.