Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Roses

The Rugged Roses (page 2 of 3)

by Thomas Christopher

Fragrant Flowers

The blossoms of the rugosa rose are sweet scented, with a hint of clove, and as Verrier says, they "throw" their perfume. To savor a rugosa you don't have to stick your nose in the flower -- it assaults you as you walk by.

If rugosas have a single weakness it is that they are not especially good as cut flowers. Rugosas carry their medium to large blossoms in clusters with very short individual stems. To get enough stem to put in a vase, you must cut the whole cluster. But the buds open one at a time, and the individual flowers unfurl quickly and last only a day. In the garden, rugosas can be covered with fresh flowers daily. In the vase, their fragile beauty passes too quickly.

Rugosa blossoms vary in form, especially among the hybrids, which inherit floral characteristics from their non-rugosa parents. For the most part these flowers are open and saucer-shaped -- airy assemblages of large petals that seem fashioned out of silk crepe. The colors tend toward complex shades of rose or wine red, though there are pure white rugosas and true scarlets, and even a couple o yellow-flowering hybrids.

Which Varieties Are For You?

There are a fair number of old hybrid rugosas that date from the turn of the century and earlier, back before the time when the hybrid tea drove nearly every other type of rose out of the garden. And there is a modest explosion of new hybrids now.

The best of the older rugosas build on the natural strengths of this species. They tend to be big, bold shrubs, well adapted to use as a flowering hedge or windbreak, or for planting at the back of a flower border. Rosa rugosa rubra, for example, a red-flowered form of the wild species that dates back at least to the 18th century, makes a six-foot-tall mound of foliage and single (five-petalled) blossoms. The white form alba is of similar size, but has denser growth.

During the settling of the midwestern states and Canadian provinces, rugosa hardiness was recognized as potentially valuable to gardeners. Pioneers among North American rugosa hybridizers were Professor N.E. Hansen of South Dakota and Frank Skinner of Manitoba. But as their elegant Gallic names suggest, most of the older hybrid rugosas came from France. 'Roseraie de l'Hay' (1901) and 'Blanc Double de Coubert' (1892) are examples.

Old-time American hybrids of note include 'Sir Thomas Lipton' (1900), a six-foot-tall shrub that performs better in the South than in the North, and 'Sarah Van Fleet' (1926). 'Delicata', an American hybrid of 1898, foretold a move to somewhat smaller rugosas.

'Max Graf' rises only to two feet if left to itself -- it's a creeper. Its long canes will spread over an area of eight feet or more, rooting where they touch the ground, so it's most often used as a groundcover. It bears yellow-centered, bright pink blossoms in one long flush in early summer. But 'Max Graf' can also be trained up a trellis or over an arbor -- as can 'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer', a vigorous lanky shrub of 1899 that bears pink, hybrid-tea-type blossoms. Its flowers are unusual, but it has retained the wrinkled, healthy rugosa fond so has its white-flowered sport (a spontaneous mutation), 'Nova Zembla'.

For modern breeders, the challenge has been to transform Rosa rugosa into a more compact shrub. Canadian breeders have led the way in this, for their harsher climate forced them to take a serious interest in hardy roses very early. In 1963 Georges Bugnet of Alberta released 'Marie Bugnet', a compact three-foot shrub with white, camellia-like flowers.

"The Canadian Explorer Series" of hardy roses bred by the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa includes a lot of rugosa in its bloodlines. 'Henry Hudson' (1976) for example, offers classic rugosa foliage on a spreading, three-foot-tall shrub. The semi-double, clove-scented flowers are white and recur through the summer. 'Jens Munk' (1974) is something of a throwback, a brawny rugosa five feet tall and wide, but with its startlingly pink, spiced blossoms and handsome, mounded pattern of growth, it is too good to pass over.

The most exciting of the new rugosas, however, are coming out of Germany -- the series of "Pavement Roses" are now available at some rose nurseries. The unattractive name refers to their suitability for streetside plantings; rugosas are particularly good near roads because they tolerate high levels of salt, whether from sea spray or snow removal.

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