An argument for roses

I have heard that there are gardeners in the world who don’t love roses and I think I can almost understand why. For starters, they’re pretty common and might not appeal to gardeners who prefer oddities and rarities. To that I’ll just show one of my annual portraits of Rosa chinensis ‘Viridiflora’ (below left). That plant definitely satisfies my lust for the weird. There are even roses for gardeners who prefer native plants to exotic ones. (Alas I have no picture of R. virginiana because we don’t have that yet.)

I know some gardeners don’t like roses because they’re high maintenance. No argument there unless you consider a rose like redleaf rose (Rosa rubrifolia/R. glauca – above right), which only needs to be cut back hard in early spring and then left alone to bloom once and make gorgeous orange hips. But I happen to enjoy maintaining roses. There’s nothing like deadheading in June when the dropping petals are silky soft and full of perfume. I could spend whole days happily deadheading (and have the thorn scars to prove it). And I Zen out raking black-spotty leaves, which in recent years we haven’t had to do as much of because the roses are so healthy.

But I’ve come to the crux of it. Roses are notoriously sickly and difficult to keep healthy and pest-free without spraying toxic chemicals in all directions. Thank goodness most of us have become too health and environment-conscious to be willing to do that anymore. Rather than chuck all the roses, which isn’t an option in our book, we concentrated on making them healthier from the ground up. Our efforts (replacing sick roses with disease resistant varieties; compost for the healthy, fertile soil they require; 3 applications of organic fertilizer through the season as they break and bloom; and a generously donated irrigation system to keep them from drying out and becoming stressed and vulnerable to insects and disease) have paid off in non-stop blooms and deep-green leaves. We also think roses look their best when they’re used in a mixed garden, planted with a wide variety of companions. Packing them into a garden might not give them the airflow they like but they bloom away just as happily and other plants can help disguise any unhappy foliage and naked stems.

I wouldn’t want to try to convince anyone who doesn’t love roses to give them a chance but I can’t help thinking that for anyone on the fence, our Rose Garden presents an argument in their favor – living proof that they can be healthy, relatively easy to care for, and even a bit out of the ordinary. Do you like roses? Have you given up growing them or found a way to enjoy them?