Habits of Roses and their Uses
Designing with Low Roses, Shrubby Roses, Climbers
AbeDarbyTrim Phot
Short Roses.

By short, we mean roses that are normally knee height or less in height or can be kept to that height without much pruning. We include groundcover roses that might reach waist height. Certainly the non-climbing miniatures are included. Certainly the non-climbing polyanthas are as well. Many floribundas will be included for the same reasons, but there are a lot of 'sticky' floribundas. Where those floribundas remind us more of hybrid teas than of polyanthas, we will call them 'sticky' rather than short.

This is not a very strict definition, and there will be a lot of roses that fall between or within the overlap of 'sticky' and 'short.' But most that do will not be worth growing. One counts on a rose of any height (except climbers) to take up a square foot or more of real-estate. Ones that fail this criterion are not marketable or ought not to be, except perhaps as potted house plants.


Climbing Roses

These are roses that normally reach more than head-height. The particular way that they grow and branch makes them suitable to training on a pillar, arch, arbor, lattice, or wall. Sometimes they will be extra-tall sticky roses. In such a case they will be very spindly plants. In some cases they will be very well branched and the laterals will be long and well branched. Such roses are sometimes referred to as ramblers.


Shrubby Roses

There are two primary considerations in determining shrubbiness. One is that the rose is well branched and covered with foliage. The second is that it is not too terribly small or too much like a climber. In a way, one can think of the other categories as a sort of odd deformity of roses that is easy to identify on account of its oddity. Thus shrubby roses are roses that look more average or natural. The species rugosas are a good example. Hybrid musks Ballerina and Felicia, Albas Great Maiden's Blush and Konigin von Danemarck would be other good examples. Even roses classifed as shrubs can be a little spindly or open. Sally Holmes, who counts Ballerina as a parent, can be quite an open shrub - as shrubs go.


Using these Categories

The rules of landscaping involve working from the big things to the little; from the permanent to the transient. The practical constraints that make this rule pretty much immutable are too obvious to explain.

Thus, if one is considering planting roses it would seem obvious that the first thing to do would be to define the structures in the garden - the paths, pergolas, walls, pillars, and so on. And then to plant the climbing roses and shrubs. Finally, to fill in the spaces and the areas nearest the paths with low-growing roses, perennials, and annuals.

And those gardeners who covet cut flowers will place a cut flower garden bed in some inconspicuous corner of the garden. Or perhaps plant some other not-too greedy plant with the roses.

This is the formal, top-down approach to transforming an empty space into a formal garden. It is always the best thing to do. It is always the right thing to do. I think it is perhaps the least likely approach to be followed by an ordinary home gardener or rose lover.

Those of us who approach roses as collectors, will choose first the roses that appeal to us. Then we will find spots in the garden where we hope they will look good. If it turns out that we were wrong, we dig them up and change thigns around. There are lots of times where this approach works.

The truth is that gardens almost always evolve. One lays out plans and buys plants. Some don't show up. Some don't survive. Some don't look good where they are planted. Soon what's in a bed or border bears only the roughest most incidental resemblence to the plan. The evolutionary forces conspire to foil the central planning schemes. And again the garden is a microcosm of life, reminding us of why we took it up in the first place.

- More on Using Roses -




Roses can be grouped into four shape and size catagories for use in landscape design:

This list is not very good at describing the shapes of roses as plants. It is only meant to describe how one might most usually catagorize roses by their treatment.

There are, of course, great hazards to such a categorization scheme. One is that many roses can be squeezed comfortably into two categories. Many modern shrubs can be trained as climbers or as shrubs. Lots of floribundas are stick-like, while lots of other floribundas work like short roses.

But these observations to not obviate the advantages of using this schema for categorizing roses. To illustrate, I recall a conversation with a neighbor. At the height of rose bloom season she wanted to know something about Constance Spry, Madame Plantier, Konigin von Danemark, and Rosarium Uteresen which were all covered in blossoms and spilling into her yard. "Are those all shrub roses?" she asked.

Technically, the answer is no. But in the world of a weekend gardener the functional answer must be yes. They are used as shrubs, not as cutting roses. The course of action suggested by this information is to go to the local nursery and ask to inspect the shrub roses.


Sticky Roses

The history of rose development has taken two paths. One is the path of developing the rose for the beauty of its cut flowers. This path emphasizes size, and formal shape first. Then color. The vigor of the plant or the shape it grows into in a garden are incidental. This path of development has been followed in the generation of Hybrid Perpetual and Hybrid Tea roses.

Frequently the result is cut flowers of great beauty and sometimes ones with almost heroic lasting power. Often the result is a rose with little fragrance. Quite regularly the resulting plant is spindly or 'sticky.'

The solution to this sticky problem has for over a century been to plant such roses relatively close together in beds. When the roses are pruned relatively near to the ground, and not allowed to get too tall, they can branch enough to create quite a number of blossoms, giving the plants a reasonably attractive garden presence.

I have seen growing in Houston some hybrid teas grown on fortuniana root stock that were six feet high and almost as wide, well branched and densely covered in foliage. This suggests that a combination of warm weather, the right rootstock, and superior feeding can result in cutting roses that come from a plant that looks like a shrub. This is an enviable situation, but one not so likely to be encountered by people living in cooler season locations.

In any case, most hybrid tea and most hybrid perpetual roses fall squarely into the 'sticky' domain. Many bourbons will do so as well. Grandiflora is not an officially sanctioned rose class, but the idea is that they are foliferous, well branched hybrid tea roses. Not many roses are categorized as grandifloras. And still fewer hew closely to the idealized form. Generally, we expect most grandifloras to be of sticky form.

Certain hybrid musks might actually fit best in this category. Vanity, for instance, can be very broadly open in habit. While its sticks are not vertical, its open habit creates a kind of stiicky matrix that fits in this category, loosely. Ballerina, coincidently, would be a perfect example of a hybrid musk that does not belong in the sticky category.

As much as we would like it to be otherwise, the English Rose class has been developed using a lot of 'sticky' roses and if one compares most English Roses with the shrubbiest modern shrubs and hybrid musks they are quite stick-like in comparison. Compared to the 'stickiest' of hybrid teas, they go a long way in the right direction toward shrubbiness. Still, the large and well-formed nature of the flowers suggests that English Roses will sometimes be treated as cutting garden plants and might be grown in hidden beds for this purpose.



Roses for Every Garden