Nancy Burns has decided to retire from the Gardener’s Garden column so that she can spend more time in her garden, and with her husband and new cat. She has left a standard of garden advice which will be hard to follow, but as an equally passionate gardener, I look forward to being its caretaker, and will continue to share information on horticulture with you, including local gardening opportunities and sources.
I am a master gardener, vice president of the Belle Haven Garden Club, chairwoman of the landscape committee at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and author of the garden blog "Belle Haven Garden Maven." Ideally, those of you who are similarly obsessed with your gardens will share your thoughts and tips with me, so that this column will be more of collaboration than a dissertation.
It’s May, and roses have begun to burst into bloom throughout area gardens and in our local garden centers. Instead of a bouquet of cut flowers that will last at most a week, why not celebrate Mother’s Day by giving the mother in your life (or yourself) a living rose bush?
Roses have long been the universal language of love, and a living rose will express that love every year. May is a great time to choose your rose, as you will be able to see it in bloom.
Worried about keeping that gift alive? Roses no longer require the excessive care and constant spraying of pesticides to keep them disease and pest free. The desire to cultivate plants without the use of pesticides has been a prime goal in the rose industry for at least the past 20 years, and a number of rose growers have come forward with roses that are heat tolerant, winter hardy and disease resistant, and bloom repeatedly from spring to frost.
As a result of these comprehensive efforts, the plant industry has developed proprietary brands of roses designed to accentuate the most desirable features. Some trademarked names to look for when you are choosing your rose are Knock Out® (developed by the Pennsylvania based Conard-Pyle Co.); Earth Kind® (developed by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service); Drift® (also from Conard-Pyle); Fairy Tale™ (from the German company, Kordes Sohne) and Easy Elegance™ (from Minnesota’s Bailey’s Nurseries). Most of these roses can be found at local nurseries and even big-box garden centers.
Of these brands, the Knock Out® roses are the most familiar to Washington-area gardeners, as they have been widely available since they were introduced in 2000 by rose breeder Bill Radler of Conard-Pyle. Rose growers were wowed by their repeat blooms and easy care.
They range from blush pink to red in both double and single blooms. Because they are relatively compact, averaging 3 feet wide and 4 feet high, they are a great addition to a mixed border. The one thing they traditionally lacked — fragrance — is no longer an issue.
The newest member of the Knock Out® rose family is called Sunny (Rosa "Radsunny") and bears a multitude of fragrant bright yellow flowers that will fade to a buttery cream. Although she is a new cultivar, you will not find it difficult to find "Sunny."
I have found her, along with her older sisters, in local nurseries and garden centers. The Merrifield Garden Centers featured Knock Out® roses this past week; Holly, Woods and Vines on Richmond Highway just got a large shipment, as did the Home Depot and Lowes also on Richmond Highway. I recently found a standard form of Sunny that is now thriving in a large pot in a sunny spot on my driveway.
Knock Out® roses can be grown as container plants as long as you give them sun; they will bloom most profusely with six hours of sunlight per day, but mine are blooming well enough in my somewhat less sunny garden (I have oaks and other large trees keeping sunlight to a minimum).
You must be sure to water container plantings regularly. Put a Sunny Knock Out® in a sunny patio garden, and you will have the added bonus of fragrance throughout the summer and fall.
The Easy Elegance™ rose series from Bailey’s Nurseries in Minnesota offers fragrance as well as disease resistance and hardiness. Rose breeder Ping Lin was determined not to sacrifice color or form in their development, and the company makes it easy to choose the types of roses suitable for a homeowner by providing a list based on zip codes.
It also offers homeowners a two-year guarantee that no complicated pruning or chemical applications are necessary to keep its roses blooming. Like all roses, however, these require five to six hours of sunlight and regular watering. Among those suggested for our area are: All the Rage, Coral Cove, Como Park, Grandma’s Blessing and Kiss Me Easy. You can find Easy Elegance™ locally at Hybla Valley Nursery, Holly, Woods and Vines and Home Depot.
The small-space gardener will really love Drift® roses -- another development from the Conard-Pyle company. A cross between full-size groundcover roses and miniature roses, they grow from 2 to 3 feet wide and 1 to 2 feet tall and repeat their bloom every five to six weeks until frost hits.
There are six varieties ranging in color and flower type from the new blowsy pink "Sweet Drift" through double-flowered varieties Apricot, Peach, Coral and Red. These compact Drift® roses are perfect container plants, and they can also be used as low hedge plants along walkways or in garden beds.
Drift® roses should be pruned back in early spring; gardeners with limited time can cut them back with garden shears, and they are hardy enough that novice pruners won’t harm the plant. The only drawback to the Drift® rose is the lack of scent. Combine them with annuals such as sweet alyssum or herbs such as thyme, and you might not notice the lack of fragrance.
The Knock Out® and Drift® roses are readily available and, with good reason, have become a familiar plant in corporate as well as home gardens. But if you long for a rose that most other gardeners don’t have and want a more romantic blossom, the new series of repeat-blooming floribunda and shrub roses called Fairy Tale™ roses from the fifth generation German rose producers Kordes Sohne have the look and fragrance of grandmother’s roses.
With names like Brothers Grimm ™, Cinderella ™, Pomponella™ and Lion’s Rose™ you can understand the allure. These roses, like the cultivars from Conard-Pyle, have been in production since the early 2000s; they have been bred to be cold hardy and resistant to black spot and powdery mildew — two of the worst garden problems in the mid-Atlantic.
The cultivars "Brothers Grimm"™ and "Cinderella"™ have been rated “top performers” by the New York Botanical Gardens. Cinderella™ is a shrub rose with large, ball-formed double petal flowers in a light pink color. The foliage is dark green and very glossy; the bushy shrub grows to about 28 inches wide and 60 inches high with an arching spread.
The intense fragrance is vaguely apple scented. The only drawback to these roses is that they are not yet available at local nurseries. You can find them on-line at Newflora and Roses Unlimited. You might be able to convince one of the local nurseries to order these for you.
A great benefit of all the roses mentioned above is that they are not grafted but grow on their own roots. This means that a hard winter, or over-eager pruning, will not deprive you of the blooms you planned on.
Rose varieties that have been grafted onto a different (and perhaps more vigorous) rootstock can sometimes revert to the original bloom. This can be a wonderful accident. After being drastically cut back to accommodate a house renovation, my New Dawn climbing rose now blooms concurrently with the deep red roses of its original rootstock and the lovely blush pink of the cultivar.
I love the result. I have two flower types in a lovely arch over my garage — but some gardeners might find the additional color and blossom type very frustrating.
These trademarked roses have made rose growing easier, but you do not have to rely on them if you love more old-fashioned roses. Many public gardens, including our own U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington and Fairfax County’s Green Spring Garden Park, have begun developing “sustainable rose gardens” by interspersing other plant material such as salvias, herbs and perennials into the rose garden.
The Rose Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden is a testing ground to determine which rose varieties will thrive in the Mid Atlantic region without the use of pesticides. By introducing other plant materials, insect pests are diverted from attacking the roses, and by judicious pruning of the roses to encourage air circulation, diseases such as powdery mildew and black spot can be minimized. The Rose Garden at Green Spring Garden Park in Annandale is good place to check out a sustainable rose garden.
As you can see, there are plenty of options among roses to brighten anyone’s Mother’s Day, even if only to reward yourself for mothering that all-important garden.