Rose gardening pet peeves

Be aware, this is one of those moments when the rosarian rages. I’ve flown off the handle over some of the comments I’ve read about roses (and David Austin roses in particular), especially in some of the garden forums on the interwebs.

“David Austin roses grow ‘octopus arms'”

This one practically drags me to the edge of an aneurysm. It is, frankly, completely unreasonable as a complaint. The vast majority of DA roses are not bred from tiny, dainty little floribundas. They’re tough plants with genetics drawn from several breeding lines, with include Old Garden Roses and short climbers. As such, their robust genetic heritage may occasionally manifest as vigorous, enthusiastic growth. These are shrubs, so keeping them in line is a simple matter of giving them a haircut.

Referring to vigorous canes as “octopus arms” makes about as much sense as complaining that a Great Dane has “elephant paws”. If you adopt a Great Dane, you at some point face the reality of cohabitation with a large canine. You get used to it, or you send the pup off to live with your Aunt Henrietta in Duluth. Then you get a Pomeranian.

“Roses all smell the same”

One need not spend much time commuting into NYC to recognize that an alarmingly high percentage of our population seem utterly lacking in olfactory senses. No, roses do not necessarily smell the same, nor do they necessarily smell like feminine body care products. A few truly unfortunate varieties do, but roses belong to the same botannical family as many of the fruits we eat. They are capable of a huge range of scents, all the way from berries to peaches, apricots, and apples. Tea (black or green) scented varieties are especially captivating. And my personal collection includes a number with citrus-based scents. Neptune smells more like Ruby Red grapefruit than a Ruby Red Grapefruit. Wollerton Old Hall is sometimes a dead ringer for Canteloupe.

So, this comment is approximately as informed as saying “Asian people smell like ginger.” Kindly refrain from stereotyping the roses. And we probably should not stereotype the people either.

“Wow, she is beautiful!”

Firstly roses, much like earthworms, possess both male and female parts. Secondly, why is a 10ft tall briar, armed from head to toe with razor sharp thorns, automatically assumed to be female? Do we say the same for blackberry bushes? (Examine the leaves of both, and you’ll see how closely related they are). Thirdly, some roses open to show their stamens — anatomically, this is as close as it gets to having a football player sit on a bench with his legs splayed open.

Kindly refrain from projecting human gender types onto the roses.

They are disease prone

Certainly not always. Nor should you allow fear of disease to block you from some of the more endearing choices out there. I have acquired a few varieties that certainly are disease prone — and some of these happen to be my favorites. But my collection also includes some varieties that seem downright impervious to disease.

The David Austin varieties Graham Thomas, Strawberry Hill, and Claire Austin have been essentially indestructible for me, as has the old tea Lady Hillingdon. And while two of my roses have contracted the fatal Rose Rosette Disease (RRD) in the last two years, it’s worth noting I’m replacing both with the exact same varieties.

Roses need all-day sun

This steaming pile needs to be buried deep under the shrubs, along with National Enquirer-grade fad diets like “don’t eat white foods.” It’s pure horse dooky. All of my best performers sit in part shade — some receiving only 3-4 hours of sun per day. And the selections I planted in full sun have, too often, sulked in the burning heat of New Jersey summers, which ends virtually all growth and blooms as the poor plant gasps for breath like a Labrador locked in a matte-black Lincoln in Phoenix.

How much sun a rose needs depends entirely on the variety, and your climate. In fact, I would say the further south you are, the more shade your roses will need. There are heat loving varieties, to be sure. As well as rugosas that will grow in Alaska.