Frequently Asked Questions
What to Plant?
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AARS awards have been given to Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses since the 1940's, and more recently to roses in some other classes. Peace, Apricot Nectar, Bonica, Garden Party, Grenada, Pascali, and First Prize are examples of AARS roses that are popular decades after their introduction. They prove AARS awards are useful guides.

But most of the roses that won AARS awards have proven to be forgettable. Of the five hybrid tea roses rated highest by ARS members, only one was an AARS winner; of the twelve highest rated only two are AARS choices.

To the extent AARS awards fail, it might be because they test mostly roses bred by American Breeders. These breeders work from sunny parts of California where fungal disease is almost non-existant, where temperature is ideal, and where there is always plenty of sunlight. Probably 98% of American gardeners have less favorable conditions and know less about how to deal with problems. How can they hope to experience roses in the same way as the breeders?

Another problem occurred when a single supplier had most of the clout in the market place. It was able to garner favorable ratings for roses that may have been no better than - and in some cases were measurably worse than - the competiion. The rose market is a little more open today than it was in the ninteen seventies and the AARS ratings strike some objective viewers as being more indicative of a rose's quality.

Yet another strategy - especially for those who live in cooler and damper geographies than California - is to look to roses that were bred in Europe, have done well in Europe and are now doing well in the US. Many of the roses that clear all these hurdles are necessarily above average. A few are far and away better than the run-of-the mill introduction stateside. The disadvantage of this strategy is that any rose selected is likely to be 5-25 years old, leaving one far from the cutting edge. But a large portion of the hyped roses of today will be footnotes ten years from now. A typical rose lover might not be able to name 200 cultivars off the top of his head, and this is something like 2% of all the roses registered

The truth is that the bleeding edge in roses is like it is anywhere else. Only a small fraction of introductions survive 25 years or more.

A much smaller fraction survive the 100 years it takes for things to fall out of style and then back into style. So there is much to be said for being a little out of step with the times.

Bear in mind that most of the hype in rose marketing is generated to sell new roses because that's where the money has been. While it may be true that each year brings one truly good and gardenworthy rose; it may take ten or fifteen years to learn which one that is. If this reasoning sounds right to you, you might be happiest buying from smaller suppliers that specialize in off-patent roses and roses whose names are not trademarked. They will specialize in roses that have proven their worth to gardeners in lots of situations.

Find a supplier that meets your expectations for quality and buy more from them. Visit their web site from time to time and read about their offerings. Visit local gardens and spot roses that strike you as exceptional. Be ready to admit when a rose does not work, and dig it up. After planting roses, digging up ones that do not please may be the most important step in keeping a garden full of lovely roses.

This depends on taste, ambition, and geography. If you live in a northern climate and garden on poor soil, you might consider growing albas, gallicas, rugosas, and kordesii and wichuriana hybrids. Most will do well without much further attention.

If you live in a very warm climate you might consider noisettes, chinas, tea roses, and banksian roses. You get good remontance, good health, vigor, longevity, and delicious smell from most noisettes.

If you want lots of color through the season but don't care much about fragrance, plant polyanthas, miniatures, groundcover roses and floribundas. No other kind of rose and few other kinds of perennials or shrubs can line a path with more flowers than polyanthas.

If you have a fence or wall that needs dressing up, grow some climbers. There is a climber for just about every need.

If you wish for huge exhibition blooms and are willing to tend your roses diligently, plant hybrid tea roses. Some miniatures and floribundas win at these competitions, too.

Of course, hyrid teas and floribundas can be woven into the fabric of almost any bed or border. And if one desires a rose that needs little care there certainly are floribundas and Hybrid Teas to meet these requirements.

When I gardened on poor soil in the NE US, most hybrid tea roses failed for me. Old roses and David Austin roses did much better. So, too, did hybrid musk, polyantha, and shrub roses. Floribundas were a mixed bag. In the mountains of Arizona, I find hybrid teas grow a little better, if they are provided ample moisture. The most thirsty roses, rugosas and some polyanthas prove more tweeky because of dry soil issues.

Don't write off old roses. Some of the Bourbons are excellent; you get remontance and fragrance in a somewhat shrubby plant; but blackspot can be an issue. The same is true of Portlands.

In the humid American South, tea roses can be good choices. Some Buck roses are pretty good. and if one is very picky, one can find roses from just about every class that will grow. Check out the TAMU Earthkind roses program.

ARS (American Rose Society) ratings will tell something about how easy a rose is to care for and how much it pleases when it is cared for well. I've managed to kill a lot of highly rated roses, but my batting average with them is, I think, a little better. ARS has thousands of members and has been rating roses for over 50 years, it is by far the most reliable body of information on roses in the continential USA. Furthermore, I recommend that any rose lover in the US ought to join the ARS to participate in this important work and get regular updates.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gives awards to roses and other plants of special garden merit. For anyone living in maritime growing zones (Northern Europe, Northwestern USA), these awards should be highly reliable. I find that they are extremely useful in northeastern USA as well.

Occasionally a rose will be given a Gamble Award for Fragrance. Usually these roses are exceptionally fragrant.


Roses for Every Garden