Monday, June 4, 2012

June is a Rosey Time

My Zephirine Drouhin - she is a sweetie
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer's morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I am a Rose!
- by Emily Dickinson

My sister adores Emily Dickinson but abhors roses. I certainly can understand why some people might not want to lovingly embrace this flowering plant. Roses can be beautiful with their intoxicating fragrance and velvet-like petals in copious colors and edible seed pods (rose hips) rich in Vitamin C; but with sharp sickle-shaped prickles aligning their canes, they can be quite uncomfortable to be around. They are like that handsome yet unapproachable person you had a crush on in college—every time you tried to get near that person you were stung by their cruelty.

Since roses do need to be pruned (removing old blackened canes to inspire newer growth), handling their thorny branches can be about as much fun as sticking pins in oneself.  In addition, the ubiquitous hybrid tea roses are very “high maintenance;” like a spoiled fairy princess, they require constant attention (deadheading, fertilizing and debugging). This much work for a pretty bud just doesn’t appeal to me. So I get that some people just don’t go for roses. What if we could have the beauty without the bane?

Some years ago I worked for a large rose company, and since I enjoyed learning about all things botanical, I spent my time there absorbing the good, bad and ugly of the genus Rosa. I fell in love with hardier roses—roses that are on their own root stock and survive with a minimal amount of fuss or bother. Many antique and heirloom roses fit this description. I also learned there are exceptions to most rules in the world of flora—not all roses have thorns. There is a rose that offers hefty hardiness along with ever-blooming beauty, powerful perfume, and the pièce de résistance—it is thornless! The name of this rose is “Zephirine Drouhin,” a “Bourbon” rose that traces its origin to France in 1868. It is a lovely deep pink and can climb up to 12 ft. You can safely get close to this one without getting hurt and you will swoon over its perfume.  Bourbon roses are rumored to be a cross between an “Old Blush” China rose and the "Autumn Damask."  The hybridization brought together the cold-hardiness and repeat-blooming of the Chinese rose with the strong fragrance of the rangy Damask rose. It was a good marriage.

After growing many roses in my western garden I found a few thornless roses you may want to try along with a little trick of the trade.  If your roses do succumb to the common blackspot fungus or powdery mildew (usually due to sprinkler systems rather than high humidity), try this safe inexpensive remedy:
Zephirine Drouhin on June 1

Blackspot Recipe:
1 quart of water
1 Tablespoon of baking soda 
2-3 drops of dish soap

Mix well and spray on the leaves. The fungus does not like the alkaline environment created by the baking soda—the dish soap helps the formula stick to the foliage.

A list of my favorite thornless roses below:

  • Cecile Brunner - another antique (1881) rose; it is a vigorous climber with a multitude of small light pink blooms.
  • Goldfinch - a buttery yellow abundant bloomer, flowering in late spring/early summer. 
  • Mme. Plantier - an Alba rose with a peachy-white double bloom.
  • Mme. Legras de St. Germain - a pure white and very fragrant Alba rose reminiscent of a camellia.
  • Zephirine Drouhin - see above.

Colorado, with its ubiquitous sunshine and dry climate, is great for growing roses and one can find wild roses blooming along the banks of Cherry Creek and the High Line Canal right now. If prickles (or what most folks call thorns) were keeping you away from roses, try a “thornless” rose.  They are exceptionally easier to love.


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