‘I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck,” said Emma Goldman. Not the most likely quote from an anarchist, but one that gardeners can identify with. This most evocative of flowers deserves a place in every garden. With a huge variety of roses available now in garden centres, and even more bare root available by mail order, there is no better time to plant your own jewel garden.
There are new roses introduced every year and the choice can be bewildering. You can go for an old favourite, or for a more recent introduction, but ensure that it is scented for maximum pleasure. Below are a few popular colour choices to start you on your quest.
The sapphire rose is the holy grail of rose breeders and as a result many roses have ‘blue’ in their name to show how close they have come. Rhapsody in blue, Blue for you, Blue moon and Veilchenblau are all variations on a theme of mauve rather than blue. There are rumours of a genetically modified blue rose developed for the cut flower industry using the blue pigment found in pansies, but for conventional rose breeders, the search continues.
Rosa Graham Thomas named after the famous rosarian is often said to be the best yellow, but Arthur Bell named after the whiskey maker has a suitably strong character and flowers that mellow. The fragrant Absolutely Fabulous was rose of the year 2010. Elina is a lovely primrose yellow; Buff Beauty with fragrant apricot to yellow double flowers can also be grown as a climber as can Canary Bird, which flowers earlier than most with single flowers in bright yellow.
There is a multitude of pink roses but Bonica is a particularly free flowering healthy one. Cornelia has a musk scent, Tickled Pink is lightly scented with a strong upright habit, while Fritz Nobis is clove-scented with good hips. St Swithun and The Generous Gardener are two shell pink David Austin roses, both with good scent. Constance Spry is a good pink climber with a delicious scent.
Velvet Fragrance is an 1980s introduction with velvety petals and a fabulous scent, but may need spraying against disease. Etolie de Hollande also has velvety petals and a strong scent; some say Papa Meilland is the best red hybrid tea rose, with its rich scent and single flowers on long stems.
Joie de Vivre is a peachy-flowered compact floribunda that has been trouble-free for me. Another compact rose is Just Joey, deservedly popular with its shapely blooms. Abraham Darby is an Austin rose with beautiful petal-packed blooms, but long arms that seem to stretch everywhere. Warm Wishes has won numerous accolades and its shades change according to the weather.
Jude the Obscure comes highly recommended and its scent is anything but obscure – a strong fruity aroma similar to that of sweet white wine. Gertude Jekyll is a well-known and loved scented cerise pink, and the names Fragrant Cloud and Summer Fragrance speak for themselves.
A trio of roses with names inspired by the Irish coastline and raised by McGredy of Portadown, make good dependable climbers that flower profusely. Dublin Bay is a sumptuous red although not scented; Galway Bay and Bantry Bay are shades of pink – the latter stands up well to rain as a good Irish rose should.
Handel, another McGredy rose with two-tone pink-and-white flowers, is a pretty one. The classic Rambling Rector can ramble up to 30 feet and can also grow in shade.
Two French white-flowered beauties are also worth considering: Madame Alfred Carrière is a floriferous climber; and rambler Félicité-Perpetué, which flowers spectacularly (but all at once). The latter is named after two early Christian martyrs.
Speaking of martyrs, roses are often thought of as such to blackspot and other diseases. But not necessarily so. At the Dillon Garden over a decade ago, the 65 or so roses were edited down to around ten that earned their keep without the need for spraying.
Among those that survived the cull were Rhapsody in Blue, Souvenir de St Anne and Canary Bird. Even with roses that resist disease, you need to keep an eye out for pests. This year I found little green caterpillars making latticework of my rose leaves.
Modern rose bushes flower on the current season’s growth, so if pruning is neglected they will not have the flush of new growth and abundant blooms to follow. Thankfully, the process of pruning bush roses has been demystified in recent years as trials showed that shearing the tops off with a chainsaw is actually better in terms of encouraging more blooms. However, I will be sticking to the secateurs.
Pruning should be complete by early March. Old Shrub roses, or shrub roses that flower only once, do not need pruning, just a little tidy up, but be sure not to prune off the colourful autumn hips. While roses themselves are the gems of summer, the amber and ruby hips are valuable ornaments of autumn.
Most garden centres have a good choice of potted roses. Good selections of bare root roses are available from the following:
What to do in the garden now
If ordering bare-root plants, do so as soon as possible to have the best choice. Once your plants arrive, soak them in water for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a final planting position prepared, ‘heel them in’, that is make a slit in ground, place the roots in and cover with soil until ready to plant permanently.
It’s getting late for planting many bulbs other than tulips, but if you have any unplanted bulbs, plant them now. Tulips like to be planted in November, as the later they are planted the less likely they are to suffer from the fungal disease tulip fire.
Be sure to label or make a note of where bulbs are planted. Alternatively, plant in pots so they can be moved into position when in flower and are safe from garden spades.
The Weird and Wonderful World of a Plantaholic, a talk by plants person Deborah Begley in the SMA Hall in Wilton, Cork, on Tuesday at 8pm. See irishgardenplantsociety.com/events.