Now that winter’s here, a rose-lover’s dreams turn to roses. Those of us whose hearts beats faster with the instant gratification of plants bought in flower won’t be thinking roses til spring. But for gardeners who plan, and who have specific shopping lists, winter is rose-buying time. Pruned, bare-rooted and dormant they can be wrapped in plastic and easily shipped around the country from grower to gardener.
So what might be on that rosy shopping list? I asked a rose-lover for advice. Marian Crambrook is president of the Cottage Garden Club, Sydney’s biggest gardening club, and has grown roses in every garden she’s owned. She won’t be bothered with hybrid teas. Though she admires the flowers and their often-heady scents, she finds the bushes themselves ugly and the plants overall too much trouble. If it’s not black spot, it’s scale, or aphids, or thrips. “I only have the weekend in the garden and I don’t want to spend it spraying,” she says. “I’ve never sprayed a rose.”
Crambrook’s go-to for total trouble-free rose gardening is Rosa mutabilis. The name refers to the way the butterfly-like flowers on this hardy shrub change colour as they age, from apricot to hot pink. The flowers curtain the bush in spring and autumn, with a couple of lighter flushes in between. Crambrook is growing them as a mounded semicircle in her Kurrajong garden, backed by an eleagnus hedge, and with alstromeria growing through the front of the rose mounds. Mutabilis is a rose for a big garden, even a single specimen will need at least 2 metres to lounge in.
Crambrook’s other must-haves are in the tea rose family. Tea roses are the results of 19th century rose breeding, mostly in France. The teas are particularly cold-tolerant and are close to evergreen in our climate. They make much more versatile garden plants than hybrid teas, of which they are a parent. While the flowers don’t pick as well as hybrid teas, tending to flop on their slender stems, the bushes are bushy, not bare, and the flowers have an appealing looseness. Oh, and then there’s that trouble-free, no spray requirement. Crambrook does nothing but give them a trim in late August, pruning the bushes back by about half. “You lose some foliage, but it comes straight back fast, and by late September-October you are into the spring flush of flowers,” she says.
Her favourite teas include: ‘General Gallieni’, with lightly scented blooms coloured with the warm pinks and golds of a tropical sunset; apricot-copper ‘Lady Hillingdon’ (make sure you get the bush version, not the climber); and pale pink-edged ‘Jean Ducher’, which flowers especially well in winter. Not currently in Crambrook’s garden, but another good tea rose for Sydney conditions is ‘Souvenir de Malmaison’. Like ‘Jean Ducher’ this rose is especially good in the winter. In the summer heat she has a tendency to ball up like a used tissue, but in the cool, she shows off beautiful multi-petalled pale pink blooms. If you fancy roses, prepare your shopping list now.