Ciscoe Morris’ garden column moves to Pacific NW magazine; in his debut, he gives you the lowdown on the best new roses.
WHENEVER I CATCH the scent of a fragrant garden rose, I am instantly transported to childhood memories of working in the garden with my grandma, Maude O’Hara. Maude was famous for her quick Irish temper. I loved working with her because it was great fun to rile her up so she’d chase me with the broom she always kept nearby.
Maude loved roses. Not just any rose, though. Only the most fragrant roses earned a spot in her garden. Unfortunately, in those days, most fragrant roses were highly susceptible to black spot, a disease that causes the leaves to turn yellow with ugly spots before falling off prematurely. It was a constant battle, requiring frequent spraying, to keep the foliage looking good. Maude was constantly looking for roses that were resistant to disease, but there just weren’t many to choose from, and very few of those had fragrance.
Fortunately, times have changed. Now a number of top rose growers are breeding highly resistant plants with fragrance a top priority. To find out which are some of the best, I asked two renowned rose experts to recommend their favorite new, disease-resistant roses.
• John Christianson is the owner of Christianson’s Nursery in Mount Vernon. The nursery is famous for its spectacular mixed borders, where staffers trial newly introduced roses for a year before deciding which ones to recommend to the public. One of Christianson’s favorites is ‘Princesse Charlene de Monaco’. This practically disease-free hybrid tea features 4-inch, fully double blossoms of pastel pink with warm apricot highlights and a strong fruity bouquet. If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” you’re sure to love another of Christianson’s recommendations: Named for the Countess of Grantham, ‘Violet’s Pride’ is a floribunda with luscious, spicily fragrant, 4-inch lavender-purple blossoms centered with deep magenta, creating a gorgeous two-tone effect.
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• Nita-Jo Rountree is author of the newly released “Growing Roses in the Pacific Northwest.” Of the new roses, she recommends the award-winning ‘Polar Express Sunbelt’. This shrub rose produces fragrant clusters of long-lasting, shimmering white blooms backed with dark-green, glossy foliage. It took the 2016 Biltmore International Rose Trials by storm last fall, winning Most Outstanding Rose, Best Floribunda and Best Growth Habit. Another of Rountree’s favorites is a new David Austin introduction, ‘The Ancient Mariner’. It features big, radiant flowers centered in deep pink, surrounded by a halo of paler petals at the edges, and it’s scented in rich myrrh.
By the way, if you’re like me and can’t resist growing a few of those spectacular, but highly susceptible, heirloom roses, try the method Maude taught me to help prevent disease problems in her rose garden: After we finished the spring pruning, when the new growth on the lowest branches reached about a foot tall, it was my job to go out and remove all of the new leaves within 11 inches from the ground.
Maude knew that black-spot spores fall to the ground in winter, and then reinfect the plant when they are splashed onto the lower leaves by spring rain. If there are no leaves near the ground, the disease is prevented from gaining a foothold.
It isn’t a panacea, though. Susceptible roses eventually require sprays as the summer wears on, but the onslaught of the disease is significantly delayed. The method was so successful, neighbors rarely failed to tell Maude that her roses looked the best in the neighborhood, especially if her broom was nearby.