Elements of Design with Roses
Determining a Design Schema
AbeDarbyTrim Phot

There are, of course, an infinite number of possible ways of getting at design. The use of space is of central importance, but that is an issue more of landscape architecture than of gardening. We will assume here that most of the planting spaces have been defined. Given this, there are three useful considerations in planning rose plantings.

1) Plant roses in groups. The eye likes continuity. And where continuity does not exist it appreciates rhythm. And where rhythm does not exist it needs to be able to group things together into a heirachy of large chunks. It is for this reason that roses on arches look best when arches follow each other in succession. And it is for this reason that many kinds of roses that bloom at the tips of the canes are planted in vast beds, all of the same color. This grouping rule presents unique problems to plant collectors. They must be careful to arrange roses that have similar habits and compatible colors in ways that meet this rule.

2) Color is bad. This is a patently silly rule for rose gardeners. After all, the rose is planted precisely because it produces color. But remember that most of the year the rose is out of bloom. Plant a garden that looks good without the help of the rose blossom. This means that plants ought to be beautiful in form and foliage. Rugosas, albas, hybrid musks, and english roses will be good bets. Most of these have gentle colors that will naturally blend with each other, requiring little thought as to how to combine roses.

3) Cool and faded colors are good, Hot and strong colors are bad. People with a flare for combining color can simply ignore this rule, if they want. But those who are not completely sure of their artistic sensibilities in the garden will definitely want to pay some attention. Cool, faded colors tend to blend in with the landscape and make it feel welcoming. Hot colors stand out from it, calling attention to themselves. Many of the best gardens create special spaces for hot colors so that they do not overpower other colors. This is a really good idea, because a garden without warm colors can look a little too prim. One with badly coordinated colors is unsettling.

These rules are suggestive, not normative. Often, the best results are created when the rules are strictly followed in most instances in the garden but violated dramatically in certain instances.

In the verdant gardens of England the whole world is a rich green color, except for the flowers. Hot colors present two problems. One is that the dark ones are difficult to see against the green. A second is that strong yellows frequently clash with cool pinks. A third is that hot-colored plants draw attention from cool colored ones. Because of these issues most serious English gardens feature soft or cool colors: purple, white, mauve, pink, sky blue, delphinium blue, and primrose. Of course, once a garden is enclosed in a wall, all bets are off. A light colored wall might call for dark-colored roses.

In America where the sun is brighter and the air drier bright colors look both more vibrant and more natural; nevertheless, I find it quite difficult to use mustard yellow, gold, russet, and vermilion. If not used with care they can overwhelm the things they are used with. They work with dried grasses, gray foliage plants, and structures painted white or tan or even pink.

Hot colors, if you use them, cry out for bronze and dark purply foliage. When amply provided with dark foliage, hot colors sing beautifully. I happen to love dark-leaved cannas for exactly this reason. Other useful purple plants include red barberry, Husker Red Penstemmon, and purple smoke tree.

I keep trying to plant rudbeckias in a way that makes them look natural and they keep clashing with other plants. But they clash with just about everything except green foliage, in my opinion. Van Oehme and Sweden depict them with sedum 'Autumn Joy.' It's a great look until the sedum turns pink. Then, I think it will create the same effect as listening to two different radio stations at the same time.



There exist quite a number of gardening styles. In deciding how to style a garden one might consider the following issues:

We do not have the space to discuss these issues individually, but will make some observations germane to many of them.

Near the end of the book 'Gardens of Spain' the author states that a garden is' an outdoor living space.' This seemed to me an audacious, even an outrageous claim after having spent much time reading about cottage gardens.

But the beauty of the photographed space was undeniable. It's the only photo I can recall seeing in two completely unrelated books. It graced the back cover of this one on Gardens of Spain, and it is found in another on Gardens of Russell Page. The photo showed blue sky and water, concrete pavement and wall. No plants; no color. It was a garden stripped to its bare essentials. It serves to illustrate how essential structure is in the garden. And how our expectations of a garden's plants are contingent on the environment. Such a space might seem incogruous in the English or Thai countryside, but will seem completely natural in a Mediterranean setting. And in such a space with painted stucco walls one would be happy to find a single brightly colored bougainvilla or climbing rose. Or a potted brugmansia.

A garden without plants is at one end of the spectrum of planting styles. It is formal, private, sparse. It really is an outdoor 'room.' It is highly artificial, it requires regular maintenance to look it best, and it has no positive ecological impact.

At the other end of the spectrum is the cottage garden. It is informal, semi-public, dense. It has a naturalistic look, requires some maintenance, and has a generally positive ecological impact if it is executed according to organic gardening principles.

Monet's garden is an artist's garden. It's soul purpose is to inspire the artist to paint, or the photographer to take photos. It has density approaching that of the cottage garden. But it has a formality borrowed from the Latin tradition. But most cottage gardens exist for the cultivation of vegetables or herbs, and this function is missing at Giverny. It is the most photogenic garden one could hope to find. This quality could not exist in a garden less dense.

The disadvantage of Monet's garden is that it requires almost three dozen laborers to keep it at its peak. And it is probably not two acres in total size. One would have to be very wealthy indeed to retain this sort of gardening staff. Monet did not. He had a gardener and a wife, but not much more help than this.

Karl Foerster is credited with creating a naturalistic style that includes large shrubs, native plants, and grasses. His inspiration is carried on in the US by van Oeme and Sweden, illustrated in their 'Bold Romantic Gardens.' These will typically feature a relatively small number of cultivars planted in very naturalistic ways that echo the landscape. It is a very attractive style, but most roses would look out of place here. Some albas, gallicas, hybrid musks, or rugosas might work. Integrating roses into naturalistic plantings is an act that requires quite a bit of creativity.



Roses for Every Garden