I was speaking with a friend the other day, when the discussion turned to roses. My friend looked at me and said, ‘Oh, that’s right – you don’t like roses.’ I was taken aback, almost insulted. Who doesn’t like roses? And I had just spent the prior two weeks working with our volunteers, rebuilding the rose beds at the Wood County Arboretum and planting a couple dozen roses from Chamblee’s. Many are fragrant, so we made a stepping-stone path into the middle of the bed so visitors can enjoy their full beauty. Of course I like roses!
I grew up with roses; Mom and Gram always had roses in their gardens, and bouquets of roses on their kitchen tables. Gram started most of her roses from cuttings from neighbors’ roses. She would root these cuttings under Nescafe jars in her ‘nursery bed’ by her back door, and then move them out to her main garden. One of Gram’s favorites was a rambling rose with clusters of red-to-pink flowers called ‘Seven Sisters’; this spring-bloomer took over the whole yard on the west side of her house. Mom used her coupon savings to buy bare-root hybrid tea roses like ‘Peace’ and ‘Kordes Perfecta’, each with a fragrance as lovely as its blooms. Mom and Gram under-planted their roses with other flowers to use every bit of garden space. Throughout the growing season, their roses were surrounded with the foliage and blooms of lilies of the valley, Shasta daisies, lupines, campanulas, and snap dragons. What a floral feast for the senses!
I’ve grown roses myself – I even tried roses when I lived in Florida, until my landscaper neighbor convinced me to grow plants that were more appropriate for the sub-tropics. When I moved to DFW, I built garden beds on the southeast side of my house, and filled them with red sandy loam soil, compost, and lava sand, a perfect mix for roses. I grew many old garden roses such as the yellow Lady Banks, a once-bloomer that spilled over my 6’ fence; Old Blush, a nearly-thornless pink rose that bloomed almost every day of the year; and Mermaid, a colossal climber with huge single yellow blooms and long branches that consumed my gazebo – this rose sank its fishhook prickles in my scalp each time I walked past. I planted other favorites like amaryllis, iris, salvia, and catmint in the beds as well. But I grew roses, just like Mom.
Then I moved to a wooded property in east Texas, where my gardens are tucked among huge oak trees and towering pines. My soil is sugar sand, white and sterile, so I brought in a truckload of compost and amended it, as in previous gardens. I bought a dozen or more Buck roses and planted them, then watched them slowly die. While I could improve the soil, I couldn’t provide enough sun – roses need six hours or more of sun to thrive. So instead I found the sunniest spots in my gardens to plant a rose or two. My first success, and by far the easiest rose that I’ve grown, is a white climbing rose that I planted by my fence – it thrives with absolutely no care. It blooms for a few weeks in the spring and looks spectacular, then just attacks me as I open the gate for the rest of the year. I have also found some success with the low-growing landscape roses called ‘Oso Easy’; they seem to bloom throughout the summer. And, with respect to my Gram’s legacy, I started a rose from a cutting of one of her lovely pink roses – it’s not as pretty as it was at her place, but it’s a fragrant reminder of where my love for roses started. And once again – I grow roses.
I still find myself looking for roses I might add to my garden, by visiting public gardens such as the Wood County Arboretum and the heirloom rose garden in Tyler. I recommend that you frequent these gardens beginning in April so that you can see these roses at their peak blooming beauty; after all, the Queen of Flowers deserves to be admired. And maybe you can find a rose you’d like to plant in your east Texas garden.
Lin Grado is the garden manager for the Wood County Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of the roses that have been planted at the Arboretum. She is also available to answer your gardening questions at the Wood County Arboretum each Wednesday from 9 a.m. till noon.