Satin-petaled and elegant, roses are the little black dresses of horticulture; no garden should be without at least one.
Luckily, there's a wealth of off-the-rack choices.
There are miniature roses the size of a silver dollar, long-stemmed, picture-perfect hybrid tea roses, the nearly-wild 'species' roses, whose flowers often morph into bright, Vitamin-C rich hips (fruits), great for making jam. There are climbers, ramblers and old-fashioned English roses, whose blooms exude fragrance. There are even scentless roses with eye-popping color.
"There really is a rose that can be appropriate for just about any situation," says Bill Ihle, vice president of Jackson & Perkins in Medford, Ore. "If you have a bare spot, you can do a ground cover rose. A tree rose can be a good focal point at an entry."
Like a little black dress, finding the right rose for each garden is a matter of style and fit.
"It partly depends on the space available," says Al Ford, Maryland Rose Society judge. "If there's a trellis or wall, I recommend a climbing or rambling type."
Climbers tend to rebloom throughout the season and max out at about 15 feet. Ramblers, like peachy-pink 'New Dawn,' tend to bloom once a season, but can envelop small buildings in a single bound, which makes them good for camouflaging ugly storage sheds and walls. Neither type twines like vines; they must be strategically attached, so take into account a variety's thorniness when choosing.
'Climbing Iceberg,' which produces months of white-linen blooms, is nearly thornless. That makes it both easy to work with and perfect for an archway or pergola because it won't jab or snag passers-by. A more restrained climber, 'Golden Celebration,' a buttered-honey 'David Austin' (English) rose, works well on a sunny trellis or partition. "If space is limited, I recommend a floribunda or a hybrid tea," says Ford.
Floribundas have clusters of blooms on single stems. Mid-sized hybrid teas have big, picture-perfect blooms on long stems - ideal for a cutting garden. Shrub roses, good in larger landscapes, include species roses and old-fashioned rose bushes such as fat-bloomed Bourbons, cabbage roses, China roses and the ancient damasks. Their enduring popularity stems from relative low-maintenance and fragrant flowers.
"I have a preference for floribundas and shrub roses because they outdo themselves in quality of blooms," Ford says. "Hybrid teas are larger roses and more spectacular, but they're temperamental."
Another thing to consider when fitting a rose into your garden is scent, which is a personal, beauty-is-in-the-nose-of-the-beholder thing. "Some people say a single stem of 'Sterling Silver' will fill the room with fragrance, but I can't smell it," says Roger Haynes, rosarian at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. "But 'Double Delight,' a red-and-white bi-color flower has a knock-your-socks-off fragrance."
Some people love "knock-your-socks-off" fragrance wafting in the windows; others hate it. A few are allergic. Be sure to check.
Planting and care
Brookside Gardens rosarian Roger Haynes recommends a soil test before planting. "Roses like slightly acid soil - 6.5 to 6.8," he says. "Some nutrients are not available if the pH is too high or too low."
Roses need six hours or more of direct sun each day, at least an inch of water a week and fertilizer about once a month. While many varieties are susceptible to black spot and powdery mildew, which means a spraying program is in order, others, including nearly all in the Knock Out series, are resistant. Yet even resistant varieties need good air circulation to stay healthy.
Japanese beetles and aphids are the primary rose pests. Beetles can be handpicked or trapped while aphids can be sprayed off with a strong water spray or insecticidal soap. Though there are tomes written about pruning, roses survive - and even thrive under - a wide range of methods.
"Our rosarian takes a hedge cutter and prunes across the top," says Jackson & Perkins' vice president Bill Ihle.
When the right rose is in the right spot - and loved - it can be very long-lived.
"We've had a rose garden that's been here since 1973," says Haynes.
444 E. Main St. Westminster 21157-5540 410-848-5422; 800-638-6334 carrollgardens.com
211 Haviland Mill Road Brookville 20833 301-774-2806
2412 Howardsville Turnpike Lyndhurst, VA 22952-2209 540-942-1617 sherandoroses.com
Jackson & Perkins
1 Rose Lane Medford, OR 97501 877-322-2300 jacksonandperkins.com
1 Garden Lane Hodge, SC 29695-0001 800-213-0379 waysidegardens.com
Maryland Rose Society
Hampstead 410-374-1070 www.mgs.md.gov/mdrose