Gardeners are placing roses into beds and borders, growing them up screens and fences, and potting them up. New varieties can be used as hedges and ground covers, mingle in borders or live in containers.
RUFFLED, FRAGRANT ROSES might be the most iconic, and perhaps most beloved, of all flora, but they’re also practical landscape plants.
Remember when we used to grow them in rose wastelands, one hybrid tea after another, with the smell of pesticides and herbicides nearly as intense as the roses’ own perfume? Unfortunately, some public gardens still follow this bleak approach, which is more roses-on-display than roses as part of the garden.
But there’s been a big change in recent years as gardeners integrate roses into beds and borders, grow them up screens and fences, and pot them up. A head-spinning number of new types and varieties allows for roses as hedges, ground covers, mingling in borders and living happily in containers for years. Who would ever have classified roses as easy-care? But now some of them really are.
And these newer kinds have caused us to go back and look at old favorites, like the apricot Rosa ‘Westerland’ (so healthy and vigorous, but beware of its nasty thorns), and species roses like our native Rosanutkana, or the Nootka rose, and Rosa glauca as the landscape plants they’ve always had the potential to be. The former grows into bristly, wildlife-attracting thickets covered in soft pink single blossoms, so give it plenty of room. R. glauca has little, starry pink flowers and unusual pewter-colored foliage. Grown as part of an overall garden scheme, we can better appreciate roses in all their stages, from color-infused buds to full-on open blossoms, to silky petals fallen to the ground.
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I hypothesize that the shift in our rose consciousness started with David Austin’s English roses, which are as flagrantly fragrant and deeply double as any of the old roses, yet bloom as long as modern ones. We respond to these roses emotionally, with their evocation of romantic gardens past, yet some are downsized enough to slip into small urban gardens. And all are superb for cutting to bring indoors, with each flower so voluptuously ruffled and scented that a single stem makes for a complete bouquet.
Check out the new-for-2016 Rosa ‘The Poet’s Wife’, a buttery yellow with an intense lemon fragrance. This beauty (I might have to grow it for its name alone — Austin is a great marketer) grows into a low, rounded shrub with double flowers that bloom all summer.
While these showgirls of the plant world got us excited about roses again, it’s the more utilitarian carpet roses that expanded the possibilities. No roses are tougher, easier-care (they’re self-cleaning and drought-tolerant), longer-blooming and more disease-resistant than these low-spreading ground covers. Planted thickly, they even smother out weeds. Their big flaw is that they aren’t fragrant — and a rose without scent is just so wrong. But now there’s the first scented one, Flower Carpet Amber Rose, that blooms extravagantly all summer. The buds come on red, open to peach and fade to seashell pink.
With the new small-scale patio roses, you can enjoy fragrant blossoms close up in pots near the house. The Sweet Spot Calypso rose is an especially showy little shrub rose, with pink and yellow flowers. R. ‘Honey Perfume’ grows just 2 feet high, with strongly fragrant blossoms that come on golden and fade to cream. With these smallest roses, look for disease resistance, as it can be stressful for a rose to live in a pot for years. And make sure they are long- or repeat-blooming so your containers are filled with flowers all summer long.