LUSCIOUS BUT EASY ROSES FOR FLORIDA GARDENS
Even though as I write this in my summer home in Denver, with my gardens blanketed by snow from a 3 day April blizzard (!), I am a native Floridian and organic landscaper from Tampa who has been servicing his Tampa Bay clients 2-4 times a year these last 16
years. So while my Denver landscape has 130 “own root” rose cultivars ( all but 8 of which need a colder climate than Tampa’s) I have planted in Tampa Bay area gardens hundreds of “own root” subtropical roses that require little maintenance beyond 3-4 feedings per year, deep weekly waterings, and an occasional lye soap spray (“Octagon” bar soap like Grandma used on shirt collars, or if she caught you cussing) for aphids, winter mildew or black spot in summer. And 140 of them will soon grace my new yard in south Tampa. These roses belong to 3 classes of Old Roses called Chinas, Teas and Noisettes, and are sometimes seen in Old Hyde Park or Seminole Heights or similar older neighborhoods in central Florida¼.Malcolm Manners has a spectacular collection of them ( grown mostly budded onto Fortuniana root stock and sprayed routinely) at Florida Southern College. A century ago these subtropical roses thrived all over Florida and up into the Deep South; it is my hope that they, and new hybrids of them, will once again fill our landscapes with their voluptuous forms, unique fragrances and admirable toughness.
The Teas and Chinas were the critical ancestors of most of our modern roses, bringing their precious gift of repeat blooming to Europe from mild regions of southern China, beginning in the mid 1700’s through the early 1800’s. They thus also brought with them a tenderness to cold temperatures. The Noisettes were born in South Carolina around 1807, the result of a chance mating between the fall-flowering and spicily scented species Rosa moschata, and the first China rose to arrive here, ‘Old Blush’ (1752). Noisettes soon merged with the Bourbons, Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals to create the Hybrid Tea class, and lent their heady scents, climbing habit and fall blooming urges to the genetic mongrel that is the Modern Rose.
Central Florida’s acidic, nutrient-poor, nematode-laden sandy soils, and mild winters offering very little dormancy, can make growing grafted modern roses a challenge for the busy family person and home owner, though exhibitors may enjoy meeting that task head on with special pruning and spraying regimens. But for very “spread thin” folks who’d still
love to have the beauty of organically grown, pesticide free roses in their yards and for occasional bouquets for the table, the old-fashioned Teas, Chinas and Noisettes, being subtropical in heritage, can thrive in the heat and humidity with little fuss. Just buy them as “own root” plants, choose a full sun location, incorporate 5 cups of dolomite, 2 cups of Ironite and half a bag of cheap clay cat litter plus 2 gallons of compost into their deep planting holes, and keep them thickly mulched with coastal hay, wood chips from a tree trimming service, or alfalfa hay. A spring, summer and fall feeding of a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or fish meal (which also supply sea minerals), or fresh horse poop spread out in a thin 1 inch layer around each rose, or a generous sprinkling of cottonseed meal, can reward you with lush growth bearing beautiful blooms throughout the year. For the spring feeding I also like 1-2 cups each of Epsom salts, kelp meal and Ironite to supply extra vital minerals for each rose bush. (ask feed stores supplied by Manna Pro to bring in 50 lb. bags of kelp meal for about $40 !!) A good DEEP weekly watering is ample IF the mulch is kept thick¼a monthly sprinkling of that cheap clay cat litter over the garden will, in time, slowly “clayify” that sandy soil and make it much more water retentive. Remember, these are SUBTROPICAL roses, so disease issues are minimal, vs. the fungal nightmare of grafted Hybrid Teas in our hot humid summers.
Now the fun part¼choosing which ones to grow! Teas lent their classic form to the modern Hybrid Tea, along with the tendency of long stems to bear singular blooms. My favorites for central Florida gardens include the dusky pink ‘Mrs. B. R. Cant’ (1901), the shell pink ‘Duchesse de Brabant’ (1857), the pastel yellow ‘Perle des Jardins’ (1874), the rich apricot ‘Mlle. Franziska Kruger’ (1880), the soft yellow ‘Etoile de Lyon’ (1881), the brick-and-salmon ‘Monsieur Tillier’ (1891) and ‘Mme. Berkeley’ (1899), which offers a charming blend of rich yellow, apricot and warm pink.
Chinas are exceptionally resistant to harmful nematodes in our sandy soil, quite tolerant of drought once established, and tease a hungry nose with rich fruity perfumes wafting from a steady stream of blooms throughout the year. I like the snow white‘Ducher’ (1869), the rich pink ‘Old Blush’ (1752), the yellow-then-pink-then red ‘Mutabilis’ (ancient China), the cherry red ‘Louis Philippe’ (1834) and the infamous indestructible Mystery Rose of old central Florida neighborhoods, the “Pink Cracker Rose” often seen thriving with no care, frequently as a climber if not pruned.
Not only do many of the Noisettes make fine climbers and offer heady scents, a few bear blooms toned in the rich apricot and buff tones rarely seen in healthy roses. My favorites are the light pink, spicily scented ‘Blush Noisette’ (1817), the bronzy yellow ‘Reve d’Or’ (1869), the VERY vigorous tangerine-apricot ‘Crepuscule’ (1904) and the very first Noisette, ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster’ (1811), which wafts a potent cinammon-clove perfume and can get huge, easily 10’ X 10’ !.
So if you want to beautify your yard with roses but are swamped with job, kids, and housework, try some of these reliable old beauties which can do double duty as exhibited blooms in local rose shows, if you wish. A very trustworthy mail order source of them that provides large 2 gallon own root plants expertly shipped is “The Antique Rose Emporium” in Texas at 1-800-441-0002¼their $5 reference guide is educational in tone and beautifully illustrated with accurate color photographs. Picture your dinner table graced with a fragrant bouquet , or harvesting the pesticide-free petals for teas and potpourris. Imagine growing a low hassle rose that is REALLY fragrant like a rose SHOULD be but rarely is at the florist. You don’t have a “brown thumb” when it comes to roses, you just haven’t been buying roses suited for our hot muggy climate. But own root Teas, Chinas and Noisettes have “Florida” written all over them!