Winter's Here with a Vengeance
I woke up one morning three weeks ago to six inches of snowfall and the oppressive but familiar sense that I hadn't finished the fall chores – which includes covering some of the more tender roses. My daughter, Melanie, stopped by at 7:15 AM and announced that her thermometer on the granary porch, not twenty yards away from the main house, was registering at that moment two degrees below zero. Now, in mid-December, there's more than a foot of snow on the ground, everything is frozen solid and mostly white, and we're not likely to see much else until March of next year. Perhaps the snow blanket will keep the unmulched roses through the winter. It's not as though this neglect hasn't happened before.
I'll never understand how roses and perennials evolved to the point at which they can shake off winter's effects – not to mention the neglect of their owners – to rise up bright and cheerful in March and April. The rambler, 'May Queen' (Van Fleet 1898), loses a cane or two, some of the ends die back a few inches, but otherwise she weathers the winter like a hibernating bear. This in spite of ice and snow crashing down from the granary roof onto her spot by the garage door, and a major renovation that saw her trampled practically lifeless two years ago.
When trying to make a guess at how a certain rose will perform in the garden, it helps to look up the parents. 'Leontine' comes from a cross of R. wichuraiana (China 1860) and 'Souvenir de Catherine Guillot' (France 1861). Northern gardeners can count on a rose with R. wichuraiana as a parent. It's tough and in some warmer regions, evergreen. 'Souvenir de Catherine Guillot' is also vigorous, arching to about seven feet and flowering in midsummer. Since R. wichuraiana reaches 20 feet, it's no surprise that 'Leontine' should spill over its 15-foot pole by August despite its massive die back.
It is a surprise, though, that this same R. wichuraiana is a parent of 'May Queen' whose canes, unlike those of 'Leontine,' stay green all winter and leaf out in the spring with little die back. Moreover, its other parent 'Madame de Graw' is a Bourbon. The Bourbons are delicate roses that are difficult to keep healthy through winters as cruel as those in Cache Valley. I have only one Bourbon, the deep crimson 'Madame Isaac Periere,' which manages to hold on in a protected spot on the south side of the house, but could hardly be called prolific. So in the case of 'May Queen,' the R. wichuraiana parent contributes the lion's share to this climber's hardiness.
The blossoms of 'May Queen' are a lilac pink, loosely double, with a light apple fragrance, and of a good size. There is a rebloom, though spotty, after its first generous flush in midsummer. Reaching to fifteen feet here, it climbs far past the garage roof. In the case of 'May Queen,' then, the vigor of its R. wichuraiana parent comes through in its natural immunity to our northern winters. On the other hand, I can only assume that R. wichuriana must be responsible for the amazingly vigorous regrowth of 'Leontine Gervais' in the spring after winter die back.
Of course, the importance of planting all roses in zones 5 and under with the graft three to four inches below ground level must be kept in mind so that die back, especially massive die back, will not result in loss of the variety above the graft. Lately, many of the roses I've been planting have been rooted cuttings with no grft to worry about. There are many nurseries now that offer roses from rooted cuttings, also called "Own Root " or "OR."
Ramblers and Climbers
'May Queen' is classified by most sources as a rambler and by some nurseries as a climber. Graham Stuart Thomas calls 'May Queen' a "large-flowered rambler" and Beales doesn't classify it as either. The difference between ramblers and climbers is muddy in any case, and they're not differentiated at all in the classifications of the World Federation of Rose Societies. As a rule of thumb, ramblers have finer, more flexible canes and (usually) smaller flowers, while climbers have thicker, stiffer canes and larger flowers. Ramblers mostly bloom only once, although there are some, like 'May Queen' mentioned above, that put out blooms sporadically after their first show in June. Climbers usually repeat their bloom throughout the summer, although there are some climbers, like 'Dr. W. Van Fleet' (shown below), that bloom only once.
Finally, neither ramblers nor climbers actually "climb," but must be helped upward or over arches by tying. Melanie mentioned to me not long ago that one reason why 'Leontine Gervais' dies back the way she does could be that she'd prefer being left to creep along the ground, and thus be well covered with snow during the winter. Instead, we tie up her canes where they're exposed to the alternate freezing and thawing of night and day temperatures. I'm inclined to agree with her, and I've let another plant of 'Leontine' grow naturally as a ground cover in another bed to see how her canes survive.
Once-blooming and repeat-blooming rambler and climbing roses do have one important difference, however, and that is in their pruning. If the gardener wants the biggest bloom the plant is capable of, the once-bloomers shouldn't be pruned (except in the case of obviously dead or damaged canes) until after they're finished in late June or July.
Dr. W. Van Fleet,
an Old Favorite
An especially vigorous climbing rose of R. wichuraiana parentage is the hardy climber, 'Dr. W. Van Fleet' (Van Fleet, 1910), shown at right. The plant we have is supported by a tall fence enclosing our apple orchard in an open location which can become rather dry. The plant loses perhaps a third of its canes over winter, mostly due to lack of water toward the end of summer. Nevertheless it makes up for it by putting out profuse and vigorous new growth starting in early April and a heavy bloom in late June. The only aggravating thing about the die back is yanking the dead canes out of their death-like grip on the heavy metal mesh of the deer fence.
The blossoms of 'Dr. W. Van Fleet' are of tea rose shape, arising from its tea rose parent, 'Sanfrano.' They open to a double soft pink and have a lovely fragrance. The bush is rather thorny, and because of the necessary pulling and hauling every spring of dead canes while teetering on a steep slope, we're thinking of extending the culinary water to this area to see if we could perhaps head off some of that die back.
The Mystery Roses
Another climber we have at DragonGoose Farm put out its first big bloom a couple of years ago. 'Complicata,' shown at left, is one of those mystery roses with no known ancestry, though Peter Beales reported that some rosarians attribute its beginnings to R. macrantha , a clear pink single of gallica origin, vigorous and arching.
'Complicata' grows to about ten feet here, supported by a 15-foot pole holding a bird house on the top. Its single, deep pink blooms, are often nodding (as in the above photo taken early in the morning). They come in a sweetly fragrant rush during the last half of June – a burgeoning cushion of loveliness behind a group of smaller growing R. gallica officinalis (the 'Apothecary's Rose').
A perfectly charming climber, another rose of unknown origin, "Victorian Memory," (study name, see note below) weathers Cache Valley winters beautifully. As can be seen in the photo to the right below, this sweetly fragrant rose is dark pink and loosely double. It's also a reblooming rose, with scattered blossoms appearing throughout the season.
We received this rose from High Country Roses as a rooted cutting. It was, as always with cuttings, very small, very slight, but once it took off, it grew like topsy, and has at most a couple of inches of die back by spring. As of autumn this past year, the nearly thornless canes had reached past the tops of the parlor windows.
As I write these words, snow is coming down like rain outside the study window. In fact, it might well be snow mixed with freezing rain. Is this good? Yes indeed! The snow pack in the surrounding mountains, the watershed for our summer irrigation water, is growing deeper by the hour. After three years of suffering through a "dry cycle" (drought's the word) and its dust, hot winds, and lack of irrigation water, all this snow is welcome as the flowers in May ... and June, and July, and August, and September!
Here's to mountains of snow all winter,
Joan Katherine Shaw
Click for more on Roses:
Moss Roses (January 2002)
Old White Roses
Prolific Climbing Roses for the North
Roses of the Middle East
Some Tough but Elegant Roses
All photos by Joan K. Shaw
Sources for roses:
'Leontine Gervais': Arena Rose Co. , Wayside Gardens , Vintage Gardens
'Complicata': Royall River Roses* , High Country Roses, Antique Rose Emporium
"Victorian Memory": High Country Roses
'May Queen': Royall River Roses* , Heirloom Roses
'Dr. W. Van Fleet': David Austin Roses , Roses Unlimitied
A good site for finding suppliers, as well as information on roses, clematis, peonies, and flower shows is Help Me Find
Excellent reference books on roses:
The Companion to Roses - a fascinating source book for both botanical information and the lore of legends; it's one of my favorite reference works on rose culture and history
The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book - a distillation of the world-famous rosarian's knowledge of the world of roses. Truly a treasure of information, drawings, and photographs
Classic Roses by Peter Beales - this is a book that, if you've declared a moratorium on buying any more roses, you should never open. Wonderfully erudite, yet easy to read, and filled with some of the best rose photography I've ever seen. Beales talks about roses here as part of the garden rather than as isolated plants
The Ultimate Rose Book - A sumptuous collection of more than 1600 roses with their full color photographs, descriptions, breeders, and years of introduction
Link for browsing for more rose books:
enter the American Rose Society site
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All contents copyright (c) starting 2000-2009 by Joan K. Shaw. All rights reserved.