Throughout history, roses have been the most celebrated flower grown. You can read about roses in history at least as far back as the pharaohs in Egypt. They also have been mentioned in poetry verse and you see them in old, as well as new, paintings. “Roses can signify love.” They are the flower of Valentine’s Day. Roses can communicate friendship when given away. Roses are not only beautiful when in bloom but if they are fragrant, the scent can make a lasting memory.
My love for growing roses began shortly after I was married. We moved to the country after living in town for about two years. Here, I had plenty of room to plant a rose garden and I could not wait to get started. I had never grown roses before, but I knew I could learn and hoped to have a beautiful garden one day. I was not as much of a reader of how to garden in those days. I spent more time asking people I would meet how to grow things and this was especially true when it came to growing roses.
Driving into town to go to the grocery store, I discovered a home that had a beautiful rose garden that was near the street where anyone passing by could see it and enjoy its beauty. I admired this garden and would actually drive this route just to see the roses when they were blooming. One day, I got up enough nerve to stop and ask the gentleman who was tending his rose garden, what his secret was for growing such prolific and beautiful blooms. I told him I grew roses but mine were nothing like his. He introduced himself and said his name was Herman Whitaker. He was flattered that I was interested and agreed to come look at my bushes and see if he could offer any suggestions. This started a lifetime friendship.
Mr. Whitaker and I became fast friends and until he died, we gardened together and I learned a great deal from him. The first thing he told me was to remove the black plastic between the roses that I had been told by another rose grower to put down so I would not have to weed. Next, he helped me select roses that would perform in our hot, humid climate. I had chosen ones that had pretty photographs in the catalog but were not necessarily hardy roses. He showed me the ratings of roses put out by the American Rose Society and told me we had to start with ones that were quite hardy.
Once a year, he would come get me and I would go with him to clean out a chicken house so that I could have old composted manure to put on my roses. He was a great teacher and a wonderful mentor with roses as well as all other aspects of gardening. This is where I got my real start growing roses.
Thanks to Mr. Whitaker for sharing his knowledge and teaching me I now have the rose garden I had hoped to have when we moved to the country, many years ago. I have outstanding roses in the spring and again in the fall. I do have some in the summer, but my main crops come at the beginning and end of the season.
One of the things I have learned about roses is that water is very important. A sufficient amount of water for your roses is 1 inch of rain or 5 gallons of water per week per plant. A soaker hose is also good. If you live in a cooler climate, you might get away with less but in the hot southern states, water is key to growing pretty roses. Also, having a layer of mulch will help hold in the moisture.
The location you choose for roses is also very important since they need at least six hours of sun. Morning sun is ideal because the hot afternoon sun tends to make the flowers fade quicker. When I first chose the spot for my roses, it was 100% sun. Over the years, some trees have grown and now they get morning sun and afternoon shade.
When I started, I did not realize that all roses were not fragrant. I learned that when rose breeders were working to have re-blooming roses with prettier flowers, fragrance was bred out of many of them. That is changing today. There are varieties of roses that are bred for fragrance and I am starting to slowly add some of these to my hybrid tea rose garden.
Roses have had a spectacular rise in popularity in recent years because of the breeding work that has recently been done to make them hardier. In the early 60s, David Austin had the idea to come up with a new rose, one that would have the repeat blooms of the hybrid tea roses and the fragrance of the old English garden rose. He worked for years and finally came up with a line of roses that are beautiful repeat blooming roses with fragrance.
In 2000, another line of roses was introduced called “Knockout rose.” These roses are what is known as landscape roses and they bloom almost nonstop all summer. These roses along with another line of roses called “drift” roses are quite popular today.
Roses deserve to have a spot in a garden. Many roses are long-lived and produce elegant flowers. Roses will add beauty to your garden and will add a lovely touch to any room when you bring them into your home.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.