To Know a Rose

A sampler of hardy roses and the absolute truth about them.

| December/January 2002

  • Dawna Edwards

  • Dawna Edwards

  • Dawna Edwards

  • Dawna Edwards

We don’t have the last word on roses. There are gardeners who have devoted a lifetime to growing many more than we have, yet we can say we have explored one facet of the subject, hardy roses. About these we are committed to conveying a balanced view—we note attributes as well as failings—to help guide the uninitiated. Most hardy roses are thorny in varying degree, so we only note thorns if they are a prominent feature.

The roses described here, all hardy to Zone 4, fall into several categories: species or wild, unimproved types; antique or Old Garden Roses (OGRs); early rugosa hybrids; Explorer roses--named after explorers of Canada—a series begun at the Ottawa Experimental Farm in Canada in 1961 using Rosa rugosa and R. kordesii in their parentage (the former is vigorous, with white or purplish-pink scented flowers; the latter introduces true red flowers and a climbing habit), with the goal of producing extreme hardiness, repeat bloom, and resistance to disease; Parkland Roses—with “Morden” in their names—were developed at the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Morden, Manitoba, beginning in the early 1960s, for prairie and similar conditions using the wild prairie rose (Rosa arkansana) in its program to produce long-blooming, disease-resistant roses (with light fragrance or none) that quickly recover from winter dieback; and climbers and ramblers. By choosing wisely you can have roses in bloom from late spring to late summer.

Because we think it very important to dispel the notion that, unlike hybrid tea roses, hardy roses are large shrubs suitable only for specimen or hedge planting, we include here (see page 32) annuals and perennials we have successfully combined with hardy roses in a confined garden situation. As with the rose selection itself, we hope readers will use these recommendations as the beginning of their own explorations.

Annual rose companions

Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Pacific Beauty’); 18 to 24 inches. Sow seeds indoors when soil has warmed. An elegant variation on the cottage garden favorite, this seed strain produces long-stemmed, large, semidouble flowered daisies (some with dark centers) in colors that include cream, golden yellow, apricot, and orange.

Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile ‘Firmament’); 18 inches. Sow seeds outdoors in late spring or early summer. A dainty-appearing but tough, self-seeding annual with gray-green leaves and sprays of bright-blue forget-me-not–type flowers, indispensable in rose bouquets. ‘Blue Showers’ and ‘Pink Myster’ are taller forms.

Poppy (Papaver rhoeas ‘Shirley’); 30 inches. Sow seeds in the ground in late spring. These lovely variants of the wild corn poppy have an ethereal grace with their ruffled, nearly translucent, often rimmed flowers, single or doubles, in shades of pink, red, rose, salmon, and white.

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