In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2006
Regional Report

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This 'Old Blush' rose is thriving even with minimal care.

Roses for the Landscape

Roses are the queen of landscape flowers. Nothing entrances a gardener or even a nongardener like a rose. Who can resist stopping to gaze at a newly opened rose blossom or to lean over for a whiff of the fragrance. The traditional rose garden is filled with hybrid teas, with their long stems and perfect rose buds ideal for cutting. These rose bushes are best kept behind a formal hedge to hide their lanky form and disease-prone foliage, which often requires frequent spraying.

Now, I have nothing against a rose garden and the gorgeous varieties that are destined for fresh cut displays. However, when it comes to landscape plants, we need choices that are more carefree, that are attractive and able to withstand our climate, pests, diseases, and soils, while providing a little seasonal color.

There are a number of roses that make good landscape shrubs. The basic qualifications are that they are dense with attractive foliage and are not prone to disease problems. They also need to be well adapted to our warm southern growing conditions, and bloom well, too.

Abandon Rose Prejudice
Many of the best landscape roses have not made it big because of what I call "rose prejudice." Most people think all roses need to be pampered and are bewildered at the confusion over proper pruning techniques, but I am talking about roses that are able to survive and bloom even if you don't spray them. Pruning them usually amounts to a big shearing in winter and a light shearing or two in summer.

Another form of rose prejudice is the idea that rose blooms need to look like a long-stemmed hybrid tea. In fact, roses have many forms -- from simple single blooms with five petals to shaggy multipetaled forms to the traditional tea forms, just to name a few.

The loose, pink blooms of 'Old Bush', the shaggy flat blooms of 'Caldwell Pink', the five simple petals of 'Nearly Wild', or the large single blooms of 'Mutabilis' that change from creamy yellow to burgundy red over a period of days are all quite different from the traditional rose bud. Yet they are wonderful in their own ways.

I propose we change the name of these great landscape roses. Let's make up another exotic name and say they are the new, hot plants that everybody wants -- the latest trend. If you could pull that off, you'd have people lined up around the block to get one.

I must admit a strong partiality to the old roses. There is something simple about their beauty and admirable about their tenacious ability to withstand our climate, even without pampering. Not all are disease-proof, but many seem to either avoid diseases or to take a hit and bounce right back. A recent drive through an old cemetery brought this point home. While few plants had survived this low-care environment, a handful of old roses were putting on quite a bloomin' show.

There are a number of roses not old enough to be called antiques, and some just plain new arrivals that offer disease resistance, beauty, and a nice shrubby growth habit. Many are superior to some of the best old roses. 'Belinda's Dream' and 'Knock Out' are two examples of such outstanding performers.

If you have avoided roses because of their need for care, consider giving some shrub roses a chance in your landscape this fall.


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