Coming Up with Roses

– Posted in: Garden Plants


A bouquet of buds and blooms to Fran for selecting roses as the GGW Plant Pick of the Month for November! After days of snow showers, chilly winds, and temperatures barely above freezing, I’m so grateful for a reason to sort through my archives for pretty rose pictures.

When I moved to Hayefield nearly nine years ago, I brought several of my favorite roses with me. The very first ones I planted here, even before the house was started, were eight of the original Knock Out (‘Radrazz’), which a dear friend had salvaged from an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show. They lived in a bed in one corner of the field (and looked darn silly out there by themselves) for a year; then, once the house was done, I moved them up to be the foundation planting along the front porch. That lasted another year, then I moved them further out into the front garden (as shown above), where they’ve been happily growing in one spot for six years now. Some years I cut them back to 12 to 18 inches; some years, I don’t prune them at all – whatever I do or don’t do, they are stunning.

Pink Knock Out (‘Radcon’, above) is just as dependable, and it’s a much easier color to work with in the garden, as is the even softer pink Blush Knock Out (‘Radyod’, below). I still like the original hot-pink version best, though.

Another favorite that made the move with me is shown below: a species I acquired as Rosa achburensis from a tiny mail-order nursery that specialized in unusual herbaceous and woody species grown from seed. It flowers in late spring, with single white flowers over beautiful bluish leaves on upright-then-arching canes that create a handsome fountain-like form.

I don’t prize it for the flowers so much, though, because they’re around for barely a week in late spring. But I’m always happy to see the blossoms, because they lead to the plant’s best feature: an abundant crop of relatively large hips that begin turning orange in late summer and then red by late fall. The hips stay on so long that there are usually still some around when the next year’s flowers are opening.

Unfortunately, its days are numbered. I really hoped that it would be spared by the rose rosette disease that’s been giving me problems during the past few years. (I’ve written about RRD before, in Farewell to Roses and Rose Rosette Revisited.) But the symptoms showed up in full force this spring, and nearly every cane is affected, so I guess I’ll be digging it out soon. Sniff.

The eglantine (R. rubiginosa) has it too, but it has many more canes and only a few have shown symptoms. I prune off the damaged ones as soon as I notice them and the rest of the plant looks okay, so maybe I’ll be lucky enough to keep this one around for a while yet. The single pink flowers are charming, but as with R. achburensis, its best feature is the superb show of hips for winter.

Another RRD victim with an uncertain future is ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’. This Hybrid Multiflora has been a joy to grow, with its clean, bright green foliage and mostly smooth, flexible canes that are easy to wrap around a support – and, of course, because of its clusters of small but abundant peachy yellow blooms that age to ivory white. Below is ‘GdF’ in her full glory a few years ago.

After I cut out all of the canes that showed RRD symptoms this past spring, she was a shadow of her former self this year, and more damage has appeared. I think she’ll be shovel-pruned soon too.

But all is not gloom and doom among the Hayefield roses. The Knock Outs have all been fine so far, thank goodness, and so have many others. Growing right in between the affected R. achburensis and ‘GdF’ is the classic ‘New Dawn’. With her thick, relatively stiff, and decidedly prickly canes, ‘New Dawn’ has been a yearly challenge to keep trained against the porch posts and railings, but she’s worth it.

She’s also been an excellent support for several equally vigorous vines, including Clematis viorna and Lonicera japonica ‘Aureoreticulata’.

On the other side of the side porch is what I believe is ‘Awakening’, which is supposed to be a fully double sport of ‘New Dawn’. It too is sweet mingling with clematis and honeysuckle, and with tall perennials, such as purple ironweed (Vernonia).

When choosing new roses to try, I like to hunt out those that are more than pretty faces. I’m a sucker for great fragrance, for instance. When I was writing the current incarnation of Taylor’s Guide to Roses, I asked an expert rosiarian to look over the manuscript, and the only general objection the reviewer had was my emphasis on scent (or lack thereof) in the cultivar descriptions. But I ask you: What is the first thing a person does when you hand them a rose? They sniff it! I’m willing to put up with less-than-perfect flowers if the fragrance is outstanding. Miniature ‘Sweet Chariot’, for instance, develops brown tips on its blooms as they age, so it can look a little shabby a week or so after its first flush of flowers, but its perfumey fragrance is noticeable even without stooping.

In the spirit of seeking “something different,” I also like to look for other unique features. Bred in the late 1980s, ‘Moore’s Striped Rugosa’ was, I believe, the very first Rugosa Hybrid with striped blooms. The plant itself isn’t particularly good-looking, and the flowers seem prone to turning mushy quickly in damp weather, but there’s usually at least one blossom around at any point during the summer and fall.

Where roses are concerned, “good foliage” usually means that the leaves are not especially prone to disease damage. But there are a few that are definitely desirable for their leaves: blue-leaved (R. glauca), for one.

Considering the reddish young foliage, it’s equally deserving of its alternate name: red-leaved rose (R. rubrifolia).

The single pink flowers in late spring and showy hips in fall and winter are bonus features.

For true foliage fanatics, there are also a couple of rose cultivars with variegated leaves. One is the old Hybrid Tea ‘Verschuren’, with variable white and yellow flecking on a rich green background. It also produces double pink flowers, but the blooms are rather too large for the thin stems and tend to nod. It’s not a rose you’d count on as a beautiful border feature, but it’s cool as a curiosity.

And that brings to mind a cultivar with even more distinct variegation: R. wichurana ‘Curiosity’. Also known as ‘Wichuraiana Variegata’, it grows in a densely twiggy mass of slender green canes, with many tiny leaves flecked and stippled with white. The foliage is also heavily blushed with pink in cooler weather. Single white flowers appear too, but they’re hardly visible against the variegated leaves.

And one more simply for sentiment: the gorgeous Floribunda ‘Guinevere’, in memory of my dear Sheltie Gwennie (who happens to be hiding in the photo of ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ above). Here, ‘Guinevere’ mingles with ‘Axminster Gold’ comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) and a silene.

I know that many of you have your own beloved roses, and perhaps you too would enjoy thinking and writing about them for this month’s Plant Pick. Feel free to leave a link at Fran’s original post so the rest of us can find you!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

Latest posts by Nancy J. Ondra (see all)

12 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Pam/Digging November 20, 2008, 7:35 pm

What a treat to come over here right after reading Phillip’s rose extravaganza post at Dirt Therapy. You guys are making me swoon.

But Nan, I thought you told me you have deer? (I’m obsessed with deer since moving into a neighborhood infested with Bambis.) How do you manage to grow so many gorgeous roses with deer? Or maybe your dogs keep them at bay?

At any rate, I have to say that I love the Radrazz best, and I had no idea it’s been around for 9 years. It’s the only rose I brought with me from my old garden (OK, it was also the newest and easiest to move). That hot pink-red color may be tricky with other flowers, but it’s unbeatable with cool, blue agaves. I guess I’m more of a visual person than a nose person, since it doesn’t have much of a scent.

I’m just heading over to visit Phillip myself. I know he has some gorgeous roses and can’t wait to see his post!

Yes, I do have deer, and they nibble on and trample my Flower Carpet roses outside the fence. All of the beauties I wrote about here are inside the fence. The deer pop over the fence at times during the winter, but so far, they haven’t bothered the dormant roses when they do. No dogs left here, so I guess I’ve just been lucky.

How interesting that you don’t detect much scent from Knock Out. I’ve heard many other people say that too. But I’ve always found that the flowers have a distinct sweet fragrance that’s noticeable from several feet away. Just me, I guess.

Matriarchy November 20, 2008, 8:41 pm

I’m not so much a rose person. I have a rented yard that came with some roses. But I discover that really like rose hips. So, thanks for the post with new leads to varieties with great hips.

Welcome to GGW, Matriarchy! If you have enough room, do try the eglantine. Fragrant foliage, pretty flowers, and abundant, long-lasting fruits – it’s hard to beat.

Kerri November 20, 2008, 10:19 pm

Hi Nan, I wonder if the Knock Out roses, or others you’ve mentioned, grow as well up here in NY.
Your roses are an inspiration to me. I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven if I could grow a rose bush that looked like your GdF! I noticed your little Gwennie 🙂
We planted ‘Social Climber’ (our first climber) last fall and it grew very nicely this past summer. We’ll see how it does next year.
My wish list is always growing! 🙂

I think you need to try a Knock Out for yourself, Kerri! I hope it would perform as well for you as it does in many other areas, as evidenced by equal raves from Pennsylvania and Texas. ‘Social Climber’ is one I hadn’t heard of; what a great name! In my experience, the climbers just get better every year (as long as they stay healthy).

James Golden November 20, 2008, 11:40 pm

Nan, you have such a great eye for plant combinations, I’m green with envy. I really enjoy all your books.

Thanks so much, James! By the way, if you must be a color, how about chartreuse, or magenta? So much more interesting than green, don’t you think?

Jean November 20, 2008, 11:43 pm

Oh my, such gorgeous pictures as usual. I’m sorry to hear about your RRD. I’ve never heard of it before and I guess I’m glad I haven’t! Maybe I should be thankful for the army of insects and blackspot I fight. 🙂

I’ve seen so many photos of ‘Radrazz’ lately, and heard so many good things about it, that it’s got me thinking there’s got to be a good spot for it somewhere in my yard. Time to make another bed I guess!

Thanks for the great post!

Yay, another convert! I think ‘Radrazz’ has done wonders in changing people’s perception that roses are hard to grow. Around here, they’re even showing up in parking lots and other tough sites, and I sure don’t get tired of seeing them.

Layanee November 21, 2008, 12:52 am

Nan: I am remembering a picture you posted a while back of red Knock Out roses in front of a Persicaria polymorpha. I can’t get that vision out of my head. I need some Knock outs! Love R. glauca although it does defoliate here.

I like that shot too, Layanee, though I certainly wouldn’t have thought to put these two together on purpose.

Diana November 21, 2008, 7:35 am

Nan – your rose collection is stunning, and a welcome sight today. At first I thought the first photo was a current one! Silly me. I’m especially intrigued by the striped Rugosa, which is so unique and delicate. Looking at beautiful blogs like yours makes me want more of them, though I am limited because of the deer. But I do have a new bed in the fenced back yard that will have a spot for one rose bush. The only question now is, which one to choose?!

I don’t think you could go wrong with one of the Knock Out roses, Diana. Or, if you like white flowers and need a relatively compact plant, ‘Gourmet Popcorn’ is great too.

Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden) November 21, 2008, 11:25 am

Wow…love that persicaria with the roses!

I am a huge fan of KO ‘Radrazz’ and have 7 on the INSIDE of my cottage garden fence away from all of my “deer friends.”

We had a light dusting of snow this morning and the roses are loaded with BUDS! Not sure if they’ll bloom now. I can usually count on blooms from April through Thanksgiving—with a June vacation when I have to cut off the blooms to prevent Japanese beetle damage.


You have an even longer bloom period than we do, Cameron; here, they usually don’t start blooming until May. We too often have them for Thanksgiving, but with the January-like weather we’re getting this week, I’ve given up hope of getting any more for this year.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 21, 2008, 7:42 pm

When I was choosing my first Rose this year, scent was a requirement. I hate those florist Rose bouquets with no scent. So of course I don’t think you were off the mark to put such emphasis on scent.

Thanks, MMD. I realize that scent perception varies from person to person, and it’s really best to buy roses in bloom so you can do a test-sniff first. But when you have to resort to mail-order, as most of us do for all but the most mainstream roses, it’s helpful to have at least some clue as to the type and carrying power of the scent.

Blackswampgirl Kim November 22, 2008, 2:39 am

What a great post, Nan! I really like the deep color of the knockouts, the “story” behind the name of Ghislaine de Feligonde (yeah, I know, you didn’t include that–I just like it) and learning that there are actually variegated roses. I didn’t know about the variegated foliage varieties, but I do enjoy some with a good red tinge to them, and of course the rosa glauca.

I found a site with the story behind the naming of ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’, if anyone else is interested: click here (and scroll down to near the end of that page). It’s also a fun name to say!

Barbarapc November 22, 2008, 9:46 am

Great post – and glad to hear about your emphasis on scent in roses. When I worked in a nursery, that was the 1st question people asked, “Yes, I can see from the photo that it’s pretty, but does it have any scent?”

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, we don’t encourage people to just “stop and look at the roses,” do we?

Frances November 23, 2008, 7:12 pm

Hi Nan, you have many lovelies. The knockouts’ color has not been a problem here in the mass of many colors. But I am sad to report that that dreaded disease you wrote about has been spotted in my Moonlight and About Face, worse in Moonlight and even worse in offspring Semi’s huge Moonlight, from a cutting of mine. We are cutting off the bad parts but it does not bode well. I would love to have a rose with those large hips too for winter interest. Don’t know if there will be time to go through old photos for rose pictures, family is coming and the month is almost over!

Yikes, Frances; I’m so sorry to hear that rose rosette has reached you too.

Don’t forget that the Plant Pick of the Month runs on a different schedule than the Design Workshop, so the November wrap-up post doesn’t go up until December 9. Maybe you’ll have a little time to look for your photos after the Thanksgiving holiday?

Previous Post:

[shareaholic app=”recommendations” id=”13070491″]