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Gardening Roses

TheStrawberry Hill rose, from breeder David Austinwhich, is one of many modern shrub roses that captures the look and fragrance of old-fashioned roses.

Seeing gardens awash in rose blossoms this time of year is undoubtedly what prompted my sister-in-law to call me for suggestions on what roses to plant. We'll see if she can sustain her enthusiasm until early fall or spring, which would be better times for planting.

Not that you couldn't plant roses now — if they were purchased growing in pots and were diligently watered (1 gallon of water per plant, first on a daily schedule and then tapering off to a weekly schedule).

As for what type of roses to plant, that's a matter of taste. I cautioned her to consider, above all else, disease resistance, which varies considerably among classes and varieties of roses. 

Hybrid tea roses have pest problems

Fortunately for me, my least favorite roses, hybrid teas, also tend to be those most susceptible to disease. They're OK for cutting, but not in the garden. Still, if someone likes hybrid tea roses — and they are the ones most commonly planted — some, such as Friendship, Paradise, Secret and Sheer Elegance, do resist disease.

For that hybrid tea shape on a more landscape-worthy plant, grandiflora or floribunda roses are the ones to grow. Both bear their blossoms in clusters, with grandifloras having fewer but larger blossoms than floribundas. Some of the better grandifloras are Gold Medal, Prima Donna, and the original, making its debut in 1954, Queen Elizabeth. 

Antiques and species roses

Shrub roses are an ill-defined group that can include antique roses, species roses and even some fine new hybrids. What they all have in common is that they are full-bodied bushes — not necessarily large, but lush with leaves and blossoms.

Antique roses are those cultivated before 1867. Antique roses are grouped into families with names evocative of romantic, old gardens: Gallica, Damask, Alba, Centifolia and Moss. Variety names such as Belle Isis, Gloire de France, Maiden's Blush and Belle Amour complete the image.

Blossoms of antique roses have distinctive fragrances and pastel petals crumpled atop stems like crepe paper in a teacup. Many antique roses are cold-hardy and disease-resistant. One of my favorites is a Damask rose named Rosa Ispahan with intensely fragrant, pink blooms.

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Species roses, another kind of shrub rose, are garden-worthy wild roses that have been moved over the centuries into gardens. Cold hardiness and disease resistance reflect their wild heritage. Father Hugo's rose is a species rose whose ferny foliage provides the show all season long, after the cheery, lemon-yellow blossoms have faded.

Modern shrub roses have it all

Most antique and species roses flower but once a season, which is undoubtedly one reason why their popularity was eclipsed by hybrid tea roses. 

Enter now modern shrub roses. Some have it all: full bodied-plants, disease resistance, and blooms with old-fashioned shapes and colors that appear all season. "Modern shrub rose" is a broad category, and includes what might be called English roses, David Austin roses, Romantica roses and more.


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