YOU’LL be stuck with your purchase even if you’re scunnered with it after a while because you can’t easily plant another one in the same place. As a rose gets established, it builds up resistance to an ever-increasing number of pathogens in the soil. But a young replacement succumbs to attack from these pathogens and quickly dies. Dealing with this rose replant sickness isn’t easy.
When deciding which of the 150 species roses or the many thousands of cultivars to buy, start with a clear idea of where you want to plant the rose and what the soil is like there. And, whatever you do, don’t impulse-buy in the garden centre or when excitedly thumbing through a catalogue.
If you’re lucky enough to have the classic “fertile, free-draining soil”, the world’s your oyster. Your new rose will readily perform as the catalogue predicts, readily reaching its anticipated height and spread.
Otherwise, tread cautiously. The poorer the soil, the slower the rose will grow and the more vulnerable to pests and disease it becomes. You should select cultivars that are described as growing vigorously and have good disease resistance. Struggling plants are much more susceptible to black spot, powdery mildew and aphids. Also, cover the surrounding area with compost or pelleted chicken manure and mulch generously to conserve moisture.
Alternatively, of course, you could use these challenging growing conditions to control thugs such as Rosa rugusa. I find this rose lives modestly and happily in a steep, grassy bank, where soil and moisture are in short supply.
When plumping for a variety that appeals to you, nothing could be more personal than its colour. But we all see and describe shades differently, and remember this personal view applies to descriptions in the catalogues as well. Even the shades differ between the catalogues, how our browsers pick them up and when a photo is taken. Colours change as a flowers develops.
No matter how reputable the nursery, you can’t rely 100 per cent on their descriptions. So the only solution is to cross your fingers and check out several websites.
As regular readers must know, roses are one of my favourite flowers, so nothing would suit me better than having one that flowers all summer long. But sadly my species plants produce the subtlest blooms for such a frustratingly short time. In compensation, the hips of these briefly flowering species brighten the garden throughout autumn and early winter. The white flowers of spinosissima are followed by masses of unusually black hips. Roxburghii’s chestnut-like hips have given this classic rose its common name, even if they frustratingly fall off when only yellow. But that hasn’t stopped the Chinese from developing seedless hips to soak in syrup for a tasty nibble.
All too often, we underestimate the importance of hips – catalogues are full of pictures of the flowers, but rarely the hips.
But some cultivars, such as the shrub rose, Morning Mist, put on a good display of generous red hips – provided, of course, the obsessive deadheader stays the clippers to let the final flush of flowers develop hips rather than new extension shoots.
It’s also critical to get the final size right. Patio roses, such as Greenalls Glory, are usually 30-45cm, so stick to roses of that height if you want to grow in a pot and recognise that larger specimens rarely appreciate a restricted life. Most of us have limited space, so should choose relatively well-behaved climbers for scaling a wall and pruning easily. Unless you’ve got a high wall, shed or tree, steer clear of giant ramblers. You’ll never stop Kiftsgate spreading 10 metres in every direction or Paul’s Himalayan Musk effortlessly soaring to 12 metres or more, as I’ve found.
When plumping for a variety that appeals to you, nothing could be more personal than its colour. But we all see and describe shades differently, and remember this applies to descriptions in the catalogues as well