Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Article From My Rocky Mountain News Column back in 2004


   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


Friday, March 16, 2012

Buds today....

on Old Roses that supposedly won't grow here in south Tampa on their own roots and all organically:

"Moroccan Rose" ( a gift from Mike Shoup to trial here) three years old, bloomed for the first time last year
'Baronne Prevost'

Abundant spring growth on:

"Fairmount Red"

'Louise Odier'

"Jo An's Pink Perpetual'

Buds AND blooms on:

'Francois Juranville'

"Barfield White Climber"

'Teasing Georgia' (on Fortuniana root stock)

'Mme. Antoine Marie'

"Pink Cracker Rose"

'Duchesse de Brabant'

 Francois Juranville
 "Pink Cracker Rose"
 "Moroccan Rose"
 'Baronne Prevost'
 'Mme. Antoine Marie'
 'Duchesse de Brabant'
 "Fairmount Red"
'Teasing Georgia;

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Fairmount Red"

Noticing this rose in Denver's Fairmount Cemetery in 1991  while on a bike ride turned me into a rosarian. I snuck back that summer with organic soil foods and pruners in my back pack and brought the sad bush from near death nestled up against a very old granite headstone. Years later, root sucker clones of it thrived in my Denver yard and landscape clients' yards.  I was obsessed with determining its true ID  for years. It shares much with 'Great Western' but when I showed the original plant to Mike Shoup, Fred Boutin, Bill Grant and Stephen Scanniello and others they agreed...very reminiscent but not the same as 'Great Western'.

I am so pleased that High Country Roses has carried it for years from cuttings I gave them, which is why I wrote about it  in 'Sunset Magazine' many years back in hopes that people from a wide mix of soil and climate types would give it a try. In Denver it is an arching, husky shrub rose, once-blooming June into July bloomer. It died for me a few times here in Tampa in the ground, as happened to a Sunset reader of mine who tried it in the Florida panhandle who moved there from out west. It thrives year after year in a Restricted Drainage Container Garden made from  a scavenged black plastic tree pot.

A specimen that Heather sold me  is now entering year four here in south Tampa, thriving in a Restricted Drainage Container Garden made from a scavenged 20 gallon black plastic commercial tree pot. It is SO cold hardy in Denver....I am baffled and delighted that "Fairmount Red" once again is bringing me joy with its vigor, saturated color, and evocative perfume.

I hope you enjoy the photos of it here....I will share the wonderful photos that my long time Denver friend Michael Mowry took of the original plant in Fairmount Cemetery one June in the late 1990s. So cool to see it go leafless as needed this mild is now breaking dormancy with swelling leaf buds. Tomorrow I will take cuttings.

An Article From My Rocky Mountain News Gardening Column Back Then....

In August of 1998 I had the honor and pleasure of visiting Americas top rose hybridizer, Tom Carruth, in southern California where he has created some truly unique roses for the joy of millions of gardeners. His keenly planned, and sometimes playful, swaps of pollen between two willing parent roses, have given us living gems like Scentimental, Flutterbye, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Fourth of July and the sleek cool Stainless Steel. As an amateur rose boinker myself I was profoundly awed and inspired by the sight of 26 THOUSAND tagged pollinations ripening in one half of a vast greenhouse at the Weeks Roses headquarters in Upland, California. It was a thrill to walk with Tom between the seedling benches filling the other half, seeing the often gorgeous and deeply scented first blooms of his newest creations, and to hear their widely varying parentages.

   Tom is a gracious host who made sure I got to prowl through a few unique nurseries for exotic tropical Salvias and Ruellias to plant in my Tampa customers gardens this fall. He saw to it I experienced fabulous private and public gardens, including those at Balboa Park and the legendary Huntington Botanic Garden. His own garden is a soothing composition of bamboos, herbs, roses, subtropical perennials, pools, and a stunning assortment of variegated perennials, defined and linked by paths and boardwalks. And I was a sponge, soaking it all in.

   One memorable high point in a week of many was our visit to Weeks growing fields in Wasco, California, nestled in Americas farming capitol, the San Joaquin valley....600 acres of roses, a psychedelic profusion of hundreds of colorful rows extending to the horizon! He took me to several acres where many hundreds of his own creations are grown for open-air testing, their having survived his rigorous and ruthless culling process in the greenhouse, his keen eye and mind discerning flaws that often eluded me until hed point them out. It was a thrill to walk with this amiable and talented man down those rows, me holding his breeding records and together looking up the parentages of roses we found especially attractive and/or interesting. Since Tom breeds specifically for fragrance (the main reason I became obsessed with roses) I had to sample them all, sneezing now and then, delighted at the intensity and quality of scent he often achieves. By using roses like Westerland and Autumn Sunset and Gourmet Popcorn and others, plus some of his own hybrids, Tom is creating a very eclectic family that includes Hybrid Teas, Miniatures, Shrubs, Climbers plus many that defy classification. Some of the fine yet nameless, number-coded roses I saw that memorable day will no doubt in the future enjoy acclaim and commercial success.

   Both Tom and Weeks vigorously support amateur rose breeders, (one reason he invited me)  and Tom pointed out some of their hybrids growing next to his in that testing field. And so it was a special thrill on this trip to submit to Tom one of my own mild-climate hybrids for stage 1 commercial testing in the Weeks greenhouse! And while the odds are slim mines will cut the mustard, he reminded me that St. Patricks and Sally Holmes and Baby Love plus many others were bred by amateur back yard rose boinkers like me.

   Back in his minivan, we drove further, passing thousands of roses till he stopped and pointed out one bright row of roses, saying that it marked the beginning of what lay before us....OWN ROOT ROSES as far as the eye could see!  Weeks is growing own root roses on a vast scale: Hybrid Teas, Shrubs, Climbers, his own hybrids, Floribundas and more, having sold 600,000 last year as cold climate gardeners continue to discover own-root roses advantages of longevity and vigor. Tom knows how prejudiced I am towards own-rootedness, and had saved this moment for near the end of my trip. It is a joy to learn that thanks to Tom and Weeks Roses, own-root roses are once again becoming mainstream as they were early this century, no longer coveted solely by a fringe group of fanatics!

   I saw and experienced so much in that intense week that in a future article Id like to share more, especially the highlights of visiting some excellent private and public rose gardens growing in a climate new to me, one that is neither Denver nor Tampa yet with elements of each. So imagine my surprise at seeing odd juxtapositions like  mild-climate Teas and Chinas and Noisettes and even Gigantea Hybrids (like Belle of Portugal) growing several yards from cold hardy Mosses and Hybrid Perpetuals and English Roses!  Id always heard it was rose heaven there; now I know why.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


This lovely deep red Hybrid Tea with velvety black shadings boasts a soul-stirring Old Rose perfume. It is one of my very favorite roses and is my most beloved red rose. What a joy to see it in bloom this spring.