THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS
By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins
I, alas, am subjected to garden manias. Over the years I have suffered through many of these obsessions: ornamental grasses, tropical plants, daylilies and even salvias. Ten years ago, sustainable roses hit me over the head — and now a sub-category of this mania has appeared: I am now officially besotted with climbing sustainable roses.
My acre perennial garden features a handsome wood fence designed to keep out neighboring deer and copperheads. This allowed me to spread the roses throughout the garden rather than installing them in two parallel rows. Because the roses were sustainable, I no longer had to worry about incessant spraying while an occasional appearance of blackspot was not a cause to panic.
However, I had a bare fence that cried to be covered. So I had to research what kind of climbing rose I wanted.
Now let me explain something about climbing roses, a misnomer if there ever was one. Climbing roses don’t climb. These are not vines that can grasp and wend their way around supports. Climbing roses simply put out long canes that cry out for a support system, such as a column or a trellis.
Many roses do not satisfy the gardener’s desire for instant gratification so patience is in order. Climbing roses need several growing seasons before they begin to put out an adequate number of blooms.
It took my Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae) three years before she deigned to throw out any flowers. She only puts on a show in the early spring but her foliage is quite attractive, covering a large trellis in full. An added advantage is that she doesn’t have any thorns so training her canes is pain-free. One caveat: Do not plant her in zones below zone 7.
Peggy Martin who does well in zone 6, grew and grew her first year with nary a flower. Now she’s my pride and joy when she’s in full bloom — and she’s blessed with attractive foliage so if she’s a guest in your garden, make sure she can be the centerpiece.
When choosing climbing roses, here are some factors you should consider:
- Most climbing roses are variations of pink or red, but yellow, coral and white are available.
- Make sure the rose is “disease resistant.” Why plant a rose only to lose it to blackspot?
- Some of my favorite climbing roses, such as Mermaid, come with vicious thorns, thereby requiring good rose gardening gloves that extend to the elbow for protection. If you choose to go the thornless route, you can always choose Peggy Martin or Lady Banks.
- Some climbing roses are more vigorous than others, so be objective about the space you want covered. New Dawn can produce canes 20 feet in length. If you place New Dawn on a 6-foot trellis, you will end up asking yourself, “What was I thinking?’
- Repeat blooming. Many roses will put on a show in the spring and early fall. Some roses, believed by rosarians to demonstrate greater disease resistance, only bloom once.
- Shade vs. sun. No rose will grow in shade but some will do well with just four hours of sunshine. Most need a minimum of six hours of sun, however, so be sure to check on the plant’s requirements.
- Own root vs. grafted roses. If a rose isn’t grafted it will have “own root” in its description. I only have own root roses in my garden as the grafting roots typically come from undesirable roses.
The result of this current mania is that about one-quarter of my fence is covered. It’s a slow process but give me time as I’m working on it. After all, patience is a virtue.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org