What says romance more than roses? The plants are rooted deeply in culture and lore. But what do we really know about them?
Well, let’s start with their origins. Certainly rose cultivation and popularity reached its zenith in England. Even today, many of the most desirable rose varieties spring from English breeders. But England is not the well spring for most original varieties of roses. That distinction falls to Asia. Certainly there are some species that had their origins in Africa, Europe, and even North America but the majority come from Asia. Just like citrus fruits, which we tend to associate with Florida or Arizona.
The next common misconception about roses is that they have thorns. Not so. Technically, what roses have are prickles. I know, to paraphrase, ‘a thorn by any other name …’ but there is a biological distinction. Thorns are modified stems. Short, pointed stems which originate from nodes on the stalk or branch of a plant. Prickles, on the other hand, are eruptions from the outer skin of a plant (referred to as the epidermis, just like in mammals). If you’ve ever broken a ‘thorn’ off a rose stem, you’ll have noticed that there is a distinct ovate break in the skin of the stem but no underlying anchor or node.
Many, if not most of the roses we buy at the nursery or big box garden store are grafted
roses. Now grafting is a fascinating subject all on its own. In fruit trees, it’s possible to graft a branch from one variety of fruit onto the rootstock of another and still get the branch part’s fruit. Our orchard club is talking about closing in on a ‘fruit salad’ tree which produces apples, pears, and cherries all from one piece of rootstock. Amazing!
Back to roses. So, a grafted rose is one where a sturdier or faster growing rootstock has a different stem, or scion grafted to it. This can make for a more climate tolerant or modern disease resistant rose. Not bad things, but like most things in life, there can be downsides to grafted roses. Our first experience with a downside came when we were living in Nevada. We found this lovely rose with petals that were red on the top side but white underneath. We planted it in a prominent part of the front garden and enjoyed it, for a year. That winter, the plant froze back to the roots due to an unexpected and freak weather event. The rose grew back but the blooms were now those of a rather nondescript red rose – due to the rootstock.
The other disadvantage to grafted roses is the potential for suckers which are those little thin shoots that come off the rootstock. They tend to weaken the grafted portion of the rose and they require constant trimming once they start to appear. Annoying to say the least.
The other kind of rose that you can buy is one grown from a cutting. Cuttings produce plants identical to their parents. So, in the case of a hard freeze that takes your bush out to the ground, the plant that returns the next spring is the one you expect.
The downside of cutting grown roses is that they are expensive. Not all rose cuttings
sprout roots very easily and there is a relatively high failure rate for many them. However, once they do root, they are generally quite hardy and many are now bred for disease resistance. On the up side, roses from cuttings tend to mature and flower relatively quickly.
All of this leads up to the fact that we have an ongoing love affair with roses. They do take some work, especially here in the wilds of Western Washington. However, the results are well worth the effort. We tend to favor more unusual varieties of roses. Some of ours are ‘cabbage roses’ with dense clusters of petals. Some have more than 100 petals per bloom. Others have what appear to be multiple centers. We tend to be quite eclectic on our selections, choosing color and characteristics (and disease resistance). Some of our roses are floribunda or, many bloom per stalk types. Others are single roses chosen for fragrance. Others still are chosen for their resemblance to wild roses. These have only five petals per flower but they can be quite striking.
In a later post, we are going to talk about our hugelkultur rose beds. If you’ve read our ‘About’ page you’ll recognize that word. In the mean time, here are a few pictures of some of our favorite roses. It is not an exhaustive list. Trust me. I’ve dug the holes for each and every one of these little darlings. I’m here to tell you, I remember every single one.
To learn more about roses, visit one of our favorite websites Heirloom Roses. It’s where all our varieties come from. And, danger of dangers, they ship!