My love affair with roses
I have been conducting a very long love affair with roses, and they and I are not done yet! After over forty years of gardening, I have grown almost every kind of rose, not every variety, of course, but still …..an awful lot. Over the decades, I have found out a few things about them through trial and error (mostly error) and I thought it might be of value to enumerate a few:
- Roses in general love clay – and I reckon the heavier and claggier the better. Though they will grow on the chalky alkaline soil of my Eastbourne garden, they HUGELY prefer a rich clay loam, and the more you can give them that, the happier and more flowery they’ll be.
- I have now given up spraying them against aphids. I have come to the conclusion like many folk that insecticidal sprays are too blunt an instrument. I am not prepared to jeopardise all our precious pollinators for the sake of slightly fewer perfect blooms. I stroke them off with my hand if I see them, or jet them off with a water-sprayer; otherwise, I leave them for the birds and ladybirds to feast on them.
- Miniature roses are extremely difficult to grow successfully for any length of time, and I don’t bother with them any more. They can look extremely sweet in the garden centre, and then they might flicker on for a couple of years with you (meaning ‘me’) before I chuck the spindly things out as being not worth the space. And they’re horrible to weed around!
- Roses grown on their own roots have a naughty habit of producing suckers all over the place. My sister tells a nightmare tale of a rooted cutting of the glorious old rose ‘Charles de Mills’ that I gave her, which then suckered all over a corner of her garden. It had to be killed off and the whole area left fallow for a year. Ooops sorry, Sis
- Old rose varieties IN GENERAL have the glorious cabbage-like blooms, a swooning scent, the propensity to blackspot and only flower once (yes, I know there are a few exceptions). Modern roses mostly have less scent, more resistance to disease, and flower all summer. But: David Austin English roses have it all – the petals, the perfume, the disease-resistance, the repeat-flowering………they may be expensive, but utterly, utterly worth it, and a helluva good investment.
- Some roses are really rubbish in the rain – I’m mostly talking about the very double-flowered kinds here. I have a deep pink rose called ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, for instance, whose scent is to die for, but a quick summer downpour turns all her emerging flowers into browning soggy balls of mush, which really isn’t a good look.
- Epsom Salts are very good for rose bushes – the magnesium makes them stronger, more resistant to disease and better able to absorb Phosphorus – another essential ingredient for healthy growth. The generally-accepted dosage is I tablespoon of salts to I gallon for each foot of rose bush. Purists apply this treatment every month through the growing season. I do it when I remember, and sometimes even just sprinkle some round the bottom of the roses to let the rain and the worms take it down to the roots.
- While the cabbage-roses are fabulous, I have come in recent years to appreciate the single-flowered roses much more, and now grow lots of them. Bees and butterflies love them for the ease with which they can reach the nectar – indeed a large bush of a single-flowered rose can often resemble a huge flock of dancing butterflies – delightful!
- Roses aren’t just for one season. I have learnt to look for varieties that have plum-coloured shoots that look fabulous with spring flowers, or bear beautiful rosehips and autumn leaf-colour – the rugosa types score highly here.
- Lastly, roses are mostly tough old things and they are quite hard to kill. They can usually put up with a lot of mistreatment (wrong soil, wrong pruning, wrong feeding, wrong position…. – believe me, been there, done all that). They might not thrive as they would if you got it right, but they are quick to forgive you when you do.
And then they will repay you in spades.
I am one of the3Growbags – three sisters (all getting on a bit now!) who write a popular light-hearted weekly blog about gardening. I am actually a retired Classics teacher and have a small garden in Eastbourne (open yearly for the National Garden Scheme) and a much larger garden in Lower Normandy created from a field.
Please visit my website to find out more http://the3growbags.com