fall 2019 garden lecture on roses

Me in the early to mid 1990s giving a talk at
Smith & Hawken about growing roses, especially
David Austin English Roses in an American Garden.

To follow is the talk I was asked to give way back in the very beginning of 2019 to the Philadelphia Rose Society.


At this point, I do not take payment or even an honorarium in return for small talks and garden lectures, but I am beginning to understand why people do charge. They charge because their time is valuable. I feel my time is valuable.


So, it came as quite the surprise when I checked in with the chair or president of the Philadelphia Rose Society to find out what I would need other than a computer when I came to speak in October. “We have a problem” they wrote to me.

They were double booked.

So even though they asked me in early March, 2019 to put aside my time and come and speak in front of their membership, and had referred to this scheduled time a few times, I got bumped for I presume someone they think is a better speaker. I got bumped for someone from the Rose Hybridizers Association.


I don’t wish to waste all of the time and effort I put into the presentation, so I am posting it here.


My name is Carla and I am a gardenaholic. I am a rabid gardener and I am not a Master Gardener. I come from people who gardened, so perhaps it’s genetic.

I am here to speak to you about roses, and how I grow and care for them and which ones live in my garden.


My love affair with roses began in a walled garden in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. My parents’ garden.


In that garden we planted a snowy white hybrid tea called John F. Kennedy. It was introduced in 1964, the year I was born. My father and paternal grandfather planted it in our garden a few years later. I think I was probably 8 or 10. It was the same year I planted my first herb garden and my first Roma tomato plant. I have tried to have a JFK rose in every garden since, and always have herbs. But with all the changes in the rose industry since I was a child it has sometimes been hard to find it and it is one of the few grafted roses I own.


With the dawn of the Internet, I joined my first rose group in the 1990s. An AOL rose board. I met rosarians from all over the country, including Robert Martin whom people now know as the President of the American Rose Society. I loved that group! I learned a lot from those members. Back in those days I gave my first rose talks. I used to do them at stores like Smith and Hawken. (See photo from the 1990s)


But when my parents sold their home, my extensive rose plantings went with the house. And then the new owners took out every single rose. There had been 56 different roses in that garden. All healthy.


After that, I still loved roses but didn’t plant many. I was living on my own in small places with small garden spaces, so I would have one or two, but no more for years.
Then I moved to Chester County. Suddenly, I had space to create again, and it’s my own space, so my roses have slowly begun to reappear.


This is a different garden, so I have honed what I like a lot more. My garden has some sun, but also extensive shade and woodland areas. Beyond the woods are farm fields.
Through trial and error apart from two roses, my roses are all David Austin roses and old/antique roses. These are the easiest and least problematic to grow. I also prefer the puffy beauty of old/antique roses and David Austin roses and they all have that lovely old rose fragrance.


A lot of new roses have essentially had their fragrance bred out of them. I grow roses to have them be part of the garden. I cut then to bring them inside, but mostly I admire them as part of my garden. I don’t show roses. While I appreciate that, its doesn’t interest me personally.


I will say right here and now that I do not consider Knock Out Roses and Flower Carpet Roses and their ilk real roses. I think they are an abomination and I am unapologetic in that opinion. The only thing they are good for is being the most susceptible to the mites and/or thrips that cause rosey rosette disease.


My brief segue into rosey rosette is I have not had it (knock on wood) but I have seen it. I remove the dog roses and other wild roses (AKA multiflora roses) in my woods as they crop up as they are great host plants for the mites or thrips. The disease itself is caused by a virus and the bug spreads the virus. And the little bug is literally windblown. So you don’t have to even be super close to the plant it is feeding on.
These newer, genetically engineered roses like Knock Outs and Flower Carpet are the most susceptible so you won’t see them in my garden. Grafted roses seem susceptible due to whatever root stock is used, so since I figured that out, I only buy own root roses. If you get a rose infected with rosey rosette remove it, bag it and do not add to a compost or brush pile. Another way to help prevent it is with good late winter and early spring pruning. I do that anyway because this garden because I am surrounded by woods and through the woods are farm fields, I am susceptible to borers. I seal my canes with nail polish or wood glue by the way.


Pruning roses makes some nervous. Kind of like pruning hydrangeas. I will prune in September for the pretty much last time of the year. I remove straggly, rangy canes, increase airflow. I remove about 1/3 of each bush all the way around. I shape it.
Fall is a great time to prune climbing roses. Unless it is a rambler, you don’t want to prune hard, you want to remove side shoots and increase airflow in the center of the bush. Climbing roses can turn into a tangled mess is not attended to. And before we get too late into the fall I will tie down any canes that could get whipped around in winter weather.


Truthfully, I prune my roses all season long as needed. My shrub roses will get tidied up in early spring after most of the fear of frost is gone. If you pay attention to each bush, it will tell you what needs to be trimmed. And that goes for any shrub or tree. Not just roses.


Because of the types of roses I prefer, they all need support. I use obelisks. I buy them when I need them either from Amazon or from Gardener’s Supply.


My roses used to be my ultimate garden obsession as well as my favorite garden element. They still are a favorite, but as I have grown as a gardener and as my gardens have changed over the years, they have become part of the garden, but not the center of the garden as they used to be. Some years are better than others growing them. That is just the way it is, as it is for other plants in my garden.


Once you have established a routine in the garden for your roses, you will not be able to imagine how you could live without a rose or two. Today I have 15, and that number may change depending on what makes it through winter in Chester County. I have three additional roses arriving bare root next spring, which will bring my total to 18.
I believe in good mulch for my roses and other plants. I use two things predominantly: wood chips my arborists chip down from my own hardwood trees and shredded and not shredded leaf mulch. Thanks to listening to Jenny Rose Carey at a lecture last spring I discovered the fun of having a leaf shredder. The one I purchased is by Worx and is rated number 1 in reviews and is very reasonable in price.


I mulch twice a year: in the spring for the growing season, and in late fall to provide a winter blanket.


In the spring, I no longer remove my old mulch because what I use now breaks down beautifully and enriches the soil. I still, however, clean up old rose leaves and bush and other debris.


Regarding mulch if you buy triple shredded mulch from someone, for God’s sake do NOT use COLORED mulch. That dyed stuff is awful. It doesn’t break down properly and the dye will get on your hands and feet and clothes as you garden and on your pet’s paws, babies’ feet and so on. I also no longer use the cocoa mulch ever because dogs eat it and as that is what chocolate comes from and chocolate is poisonous to dogs, I have erred on the side of caution. Besides the fuzzy mold that would grow got to be a bit gross.


I want my roses to breathe, so there is an approximately five-inch magic circle from the base of my rose that is free of mulch. It might be compost and fresh soil, or some mushroom soil broken up with something like grit. It might also be peat moss, although peat seems to have fallen out of popularity.


In the late fall when I apply my second mulch dressing, it merely goes over the old mulch and covers the crowns of my roses. This is where I especially like the shredded leaf mulch now. It is light and fluffy on my flower beds. Again, every plant will benefit, not just my roses.


As far as my soil goes, I used to follow the same routine every year. Now, I work any of the following ingredients into my rose and perennial beds depending on what I think is needed: peat moss, dehydrated cow manure, cottonseed meal, green sand, dried blood, bone meal, and some iron sulfate. I also like the lobster compost, chicken manure and mushroom soil.


Lobster compost is a newer obsession. It is made with chitin and calcium-rich lobster shells, compost and peat humus. The result is a dark-brown, complex soil that drains well and is ideal for conditioning beds and borders, vegetable gardens, herbs and annuals! The stuff I buy is usually made by Coast of Maine. Coast of Maine sells great products and if you look (or ask them) they can tell you locally where to find their products or on Amazon.


Happy soil equals happy rose bushes!


After the soil is amended when needed, I apply a weak Epsom salt tea to encourage new basal growth. I am always careful to use Epsom salt judiciously because it is not a good thing to build up too much of a magnesium residue over time. When magnesium is built up past the essential mineral level, it can stunt growth instead of helping boost new growth. This is why that throughout the growing season, I will give my roses and perennials and annuals a boost with Irish Organics Humic. It is one of my favorites – it is a kelp (seaweed) and peat mixture from the bogs of Ireland. This is my friend’s product and I was a test garden early on when they were first bringing it into the US. It is incidentally, certified organic in the US. (OMRI)


I also use banana peels and coffee grounds. I make a smoothie with water out of them and pour around the base of each rose. I used to bury the peels but living half in the woods critters will dig up the peels so I have had to get creative. I learned about banana peels from Old Wives Lore for Gardeners written years ago by Bridget and Maureen Boland. You can easily find copies on Amazon and Ebay if interested.


I do use chemicals with my roses. Primarily I use the Bayer 3 in 1. It provides systemic feed, insecticide, and fungicide. It comes in a granular and liquid drench form. In early spring, I use the granular version and as summer heats up, I use the drench. I no longer spray for fungus and pests and I can’t recommend homemade remedies because I have seen too many people exfoliate their roses.


Planting roses. I now buy exclusively bare root and own root. They are not grafted and make for much healthier plants with no worry of the grafted rose stock ever taking over. Own root roses are the same plant above and below the soil line.


I order my bare root and own root roses from 3 sources: David Austin Roses, Antique Rose Emporium, and Heirloom Roses. They ship carefully. They honor their plant warranties/guarantees.


When my bare roots arrive, I soak them 12 to 24 hours in a bucket of water up to their crowns. I add liquid seaweed or kelp to the water.


When planting a new bush, I always dig my hole at least eighteen to twenty inches wide, and at least as deep. If the soil has a large proportion of clay, then I add sand (or green sand), gypsum or Chicken grit (which is insoluble stone – often granite or flint) or ground up Oyster shells, lobster compost/dehydrated manure/mushroom soil (just depends what I have on hand at the time) and peat to break it up thoroughly.

The soil around my current house had a very high clay content when I first started to plant my garden, but I know it is improving with soil amendments, judging by my toadstool barometer. Toadstools and edible mushrooms only like to grow in good, rich soil!


When planting a potted rose, as well as a bare root rose, I have what I call my parfait theory. I visualize what a parfait looks like: layers. When I get to the top, that is when I dig in my granular rose food. You want in dispersed evenly in the top few inches so the roots as they establish grow out evenly.


When planting a bare root rose, bare root, I like my crown (looks like a knob to me) to be at soil level. I am careful to make sure that the roots are supported from underneath with enough dirt, as well as being careful not to break, stress, or crowd the roots rather than enlarge my hole if necessary.


Favorite garden tools that accompany my rose adventures include a spear headed spade, gauntlet rose gloves, and good pruners, bypass pruners, and loppers. By the end of one or two rose seasons, unless they are pruners I can get sharpened, I on to new ones.


Except for new plantings, roses should be fed once a month as they are heavy feeders. The new plants are not fed again for five to six weeks after initial planting and feeding. Then they go on the regular schedule.

As the season progresses, I do keep my rose beds clean, discarding dead and fallen leaves, etc. If you are a sprayer only spray early in the morning (before 7 a.m.) I have also learned if a rose is purported to dislike spraying (old garden and rugosa roses come to mind, for example), PAY ATTENTION! I have personally exfoliated a bush or two in my past spraying career!


For diseases like rust, blackspot and powdery mildew I used to spray when needed. But then I discovered drenches which are much easier on the rose. I use Cease Microbial Fungicide and Bactericide, which is OMRI Listed, by BioWorks. You can buy it from Amazon and other places. It is expensive but worth it. One of my other horticultural mentors taught me about using a biofungicide. It also is marvelous when I must deal with day lily rust.


Cease is an aqueous suspension biofungicide with proven effectiveness in controlling a wide array of both fungal and bacterial pathogens, while providing outstanding plant and environmental safety. Serenade is another biologic fungicide which works well. Once opened, it only has a shelf life of a little over a year.

I am a cancer survivor. I do not like using chemicals. But sometimes you just must in a controlled manner. I have a lot of time, money and sweat equity involved in my garden. I will treat it right. A website which helps find biologic alternatives is Forestry Distributing. I discovered them by accident when trying to learn in terminology I could understand what biologics did and how they worked.

I have also discovered that other old wives’ tales have some truth to them: planting pungent herbs are natural pest repellants. Plants in the edible Allium family are repugnant to aphids. Planting chives and garlic in and around my roses along with lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme has dramatically cut down my personal aphid population. I also plant purple sweet onions around and near my roses and other plants aphids like. I buy the starts in the spring.

Old wives tales also say that parsley planted near the feet of roses makes your roses smell sweeter. I don’t know it THAT is true, but hey! why ruin a good thing? I do it anyway! I can also tell you that it is very true that strawberries and roses get on well together.


I experiment every year with at least one new companion plant for my roses. If they crowd my roses or I don’t like the effect, I simply move that companion plant to a new location! I don’t like to ever waste a good perennial, bulb, shrub, or herb. Gardens are an evolution.


My garden is a layered one and is reminiscent of an English or Irish cottage garden. People like to say roses should only be planted with each other with nothing else around them. To that I say hogwash. Roses are best, in my opinion, when planted with other companions. To me a successful garden provides four seasons of interest.

Roses I have currently:
Mary Rose (Austin)
James Galway (Austin)
Winchester Cathedral (Austin)
Generous Gardener Climber (Austin)
Lady of Shallot Climber (Austin)
Abraham Darby (Austin)
Maid Marion (Austin)
Benjamin Britton (Austin)
England’s Rose (Austin)
John F Kennedy (Hybrid Tea)
Queen Elizabeth (Floribunda)
Mary Manners White Rugosa Rose (Antique Rose Emporium)
Caldwell Pink Rose – a “found Rose” originally- tiny clusters of puffy pink blooms continually- disease resistant Texas A&M rates it an Earth Kind Rose (Antique Rose Emporium)
Bayse’s Purple Rugosa Rose (Heirloom Roses)
Blanc Double de Coubert Rugosa Rose (Heirloom Roses)

Next spring I will be planting:
Comte de Chambourd (Portland) continuous bloomer
Eden Climber (Meilland Rose first bought from Winterthur late 80s early 90s)
Louise Odier (Bourbon) continuous bloomer

Thanks for having me! You can find me on my gardening blog The Nightgown Gardener or Chester County Ramblings
Or in my Facebook gardening group Chester County Ramblings Gardening Group

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