In my own gardening exprience a handful of factors determine a rose's success in my garden. Vigor is the most important. A vigorous rose will manage to overcome lots of kinds of obstacles that trip up other roses. it can overcome poor soil, recover from disease or drought, and so on. A rose with lack of vigor needs everything to be just right in order to survive.
Sometimes a rose will get some disease, but its vigor will make up for the problem. In other cases, a rose will not get disease, but its inherent lack of vigor will make it a little difficult to grow. Mary Webb, for instance, is just barely vigorous enough to keep in my garden, but the plant suffers from no fungal problems. Same holds for Gallicas Versicolor, Duc de Guiche, and Duchesse Angouleme. On the other hand, Constance Spry always gets downy mildew each season but this makes precious little difference in iits ability to grow.
Every location will have a different set of easy care roses. If I gardened in a slightly cooler location I would list several rugosas: Blanc Double de Coubert and Roseraie de l'Hay, but where I live we get dry seasons during the summer and supplemental water is mandatory. I have lost a few rugosas to this problem and will not list them because of it. Better gardeners and ones living in cooler or damper climates will find rugosas ideally suited to their own low-maintenance gardens. Rugosas grow like weeds by the roadsides of downeast Maine.
Most floribundas and Hybrid Teas have languished or perished in my brutally lean soil. It has even challenged several of the Albas. Ballerina and Felicia have done well. Madame Plantier, Goldfinch, and Zephyrine Drouhin are rampant. City of York is slow, but each year it is much better than the last. I don't think I can garden without Graham Thomas - whatever his flaws. The particular character of the flowers wins me over every time I see them. And each time it is like re-discovering roses.
Phyllis Bide is one-of- a kind. I have it planted near the corner of a wooden fence and after three years it fills that corner - two eight foot sections six feet high. And it blooms heavily most of the summer. Really, there is no plant that comes close. Not every garden may have the right space for this, but any that might, will be greatly improved by its addition.
The cheery effect of yellow is continued with Autumn Sunset. I've not been successful in planting this rose in exactly the right location, it keeps getting shaded or crowded out. But where it has half a chance it is a beauty. And it is of very easy care and is extremely beautiful.
Felicite et Perpetue produces perfectly round, mathematically shaped pompon roses that always look prim and proper in photographs and in real life. The plant grows strongly and is without disease. A sempervivens hybrid, it is covered with foliage more of the year than most roses. For this reason it seems to tolerate some shade. Considering how densely it is covered with lovely foliage, it is always surprising to find that it is also quite tolerant of poor, dry soil. One might wish that it repeated, but its season of glory is quite good, and it lasts perhaps two weeks. That is about as good as it gets for 99+ percent of the good, gardenworthy roses.
Madame Plantier has approximately the same list of merits. The flowers are a bit less prim, but they are deliciously fragrant. Keep it pruned, for it will produce so many branches and flowers along them that eventually it may sort of get crushed under the weight of its flowers - an unusual state of affairs for roses.
Konigin von Danemark may produce the most satisfactory shrub of any rose extant. I have never seen better, though Felicia and a few OGRs might aproach it. The flowers, too, are perfect, highly fragrant, and long lasting. I can think of no rose that is better suited as a hardy landscape plant. Any gardener who wants easy care and fragrance from roses will find it hard to do much better.
No rose has thrived so marvelously in shade as Complicata, shooting up eight feet in one season with perhaps two or three hours of direct sunlight per day. Bloom is another matter. Its twin in the sun is not five feet high, but blooms happily.
When I planted Goldfinch it was soon after seeing it in a photo covering a building. I imagined that this sort of thing was theoretically impossible in my own garden, owing to the unique set of problems imposed on roses in terms of terrible soil and dry weather and lack of care. But in its third year Goldfinch has clearly gotten too big for the large fence it is on and I realize it needs to be pruned severely and transplanted to the shed. I am confident that in ten years it will manage to swallow the small building whole. And that will be fun.
Henry Kelsey, gratefully, has proven slightly less rampant, but it is no less vigorous. It produces long, flexible, healthy canes and flowers appear along their length. It was planted to grow on a small arbor with a gate. But three years later we have still to choose and install the arbor. It does need the structure, not because it is not sufficiently self-supporting, but because it tends to hang its canes in people's faces. That's my fault, not the rose's.
Rosa glauca I bought for the dark leaves - they contrast nicely with sedum 'Autumn Joy' but they are a little sparse. The flowers are even less conspicuous; but the hips turn shades of orange and red that stand out perfectly against the glaucous foliage. So it is only technically a rose. I cannot claim to grow it for flowers.
- MOVE TO GARDEN DESIGN SECTION -
I have seen Cardinal Richelieu in full bloom at the local rose garden and I am always awed by its dark, chaliced, purple blooms. And I am impressed by the shape of the shrub. But the darkness of the flowers puts them in the realm of shadows, and makes them all but impossible to see. So I could not grow it as a garden plant. Who knows, perhaps the blossoms would make good cut flowers in tandem with Constance Spry. But this, I imagine, is a general problem with dark flowers. And I think it is possible that nature has conspired to make flowers reflective. Many of the purple flowers we find to be dark glow a luminous violet to the pollinating insects that visit them. Our visiual system is hard wired to see light as subject and shadow as background. The Cardinal's shadowy nature makes it more difficult to entrust a corner of the garden to him.
Surprisingly, Highdowniensis does not seem to suffer from a shadowy problem, nor do Alexander Girault or Alexander McKenzie. The latter two are close to the middle of the brightness scale, but by rose standards they are dark. Still, with each of these three roses, the dark colors are set off best by lighter ones. I've seen Carefree Delight and Bonica planted in front of A. McKenzie and the effect is brilliant. I have seen Henry Kelsey, Fantin Latour, and Constance Spry planted in front of Highdowniensis to great effect. Ballerina looks good too. A great surprise is that this huge rose makes a perfect backdrop for other big shrubs like Westerland or Celsiana.
I have failed with a lot of roses. The reasons have frequently been related to my siting or care practices. That said, in most cases other roses have taken up where failures left off.