For years, the idea of growing roses organically seemed like a fantasy. Many rose varieties bred in the last half of the 20th century didn’t perform well without chemical sprays, not to mention endless fussing and pampering.
Enter the Knock Out rose. Released in 2000, Knock Out quickly changed our perception of rose growing. Bred by Bill Radler, here was a rose that bloomed from spring through fall, thrived in widely varied climates, had many landscape uses, and needed no more care than other flowering shrubs. Knock Out combined the toughness and disease resistance of species roses with the repeat flowering of modern roses. Growing roses using sustainable methods suddenly went from fantasy to fact.
Radler followed his initial success with more shrub roses, including Sunny Knock Out and Pink Knock Out. As the Knock Out series revolutionized the way American gardeners think of roses, it spurred other rose hybridizers to undertake breeding programs patterned on Radler’s. The result is a new generation of undemanding, long-blooming roses. I call them simply “garden roses” because they are bred with garden performance in mind, as contrasted with the previous emphasis on perfect blooms for cutting or exhibition. Garden roses are useful in mass plantings, hedges, cottage gardens, and such.
The post–Knock Out generation allows gardeners to change the way we choose roses. We used to spend winter evenings browsing through catalogs filled with photos of beautiful flowers. These were hybrid tea varieties, for the most part, that bore glamorous flowers but displayed uniformly gangly growth habits; rose selection was based almost solely on the appearance of the flower. Today’s roses grow in many different shapes and sizes, ranging from groundcovers to shrubs of all sizes, climbers, and ramblers. It is important to first think about how and where the rose will be used in the garden before looking at the flower.
For example, if you need a mass planting that stays low, select from among the shorter groundcover roses. For a tall hedge, pick a variety with upright growth. Want to cover an arch over a garden gate? A well-mannered climber is the choice. When choosing among today’s easy-care roses, start by determining the rose’s purpose in the landscape.
To make the process easier, many roses today are sold in families or series made up of roses having similar characteristics. The following families of easy-care roses are widely available from garden centers and mail-order nurseries.
Photography by Patrick Montero