Roses Come Clean

An organic approach to rose care yields healthy, beautiful results.

By G. Michael Shoup


Roses Love Company 

Gardeners often show their devotion to roses by planting them in monocultures. The unfair burden on roses to perform in isolation from other flowers reaches its extreme in formally styled beds of modern hybrid teas. Blooms are expected to be perfect all the time, sprayed and fussed over in straight rows of sameness. Old roses need not be put in this secluded prison; in fact, the beauty of antique roses is that they thrive in combination with perennials, annuals, shrubs, and flora of all types. Thus my final words of advice: Don't plant rose gardens—plant gardens that have roses in them. 
Once again, nature shows us the way. Forests and prairies are composed of a diversity of plants that ebb and flow through the seasons, with ever-changing foliage, flowers, and fruit. We now strive to replicate this "natural" success in our ornamental gardens and landscape. In a mixed planting, the diversity of so many plant types creates year-round beauty even when roses are not at their peak. The burden is not on the rose to be perfect all the time, because the companion plants add their own layers of form, texture, and color. Old roses love company.
At the Antique Rose Emporium, the ability of roses to collaborate with other garden plants allows us to have several themed gardens within our demonstration area. The children's garden has sunflowers and whimsical yard art integrated with the roses. Herbs and vegetables mingle with roses in the kitchen garden, while the Southwestern garden has grasses and agaves as companions to roses.
So instead of "-cidal" sprays, we're applying aerobic compost tea on a weekly basis and renewing mulch twice annually. This program, along with a diversity of proper plant selections, makes gardening fun again. The plumpness of leaves, the vigor and color of our gardens is vastly different than in the days of using synthetic fertilizers and store-bought chemicals. Most important to me, the gardens are now what they should be: a place where I can listen to the contented conversations of visitors as they stroll along paths populated by scented flowers, birds, and butterflies. It makes the garden a much bigger place than just a collection of plants.
10 Roses for Organic Growers
This outstanding group of antique and modern roses has performed admirably with our organic regimen. All are repeat bloomers, which means they flower in waves from spring until frost.
'Old Blush'. This China rose dates back to the 18th century and represents all that is good in old roses: long life, repeat bloom, ease of care. As a parent for rose breeding, 'Old Blush' is responsible for giving its ever-blooming quality to modern roses. Hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6.
'Souvenir de la Malmaison'. Large, multipetaled, blush pink flowers with a spicy perfume are borne on a 4-foot spreading shrub. This rose embodies romance. Zone 6.
'Marchesa Boccella'. Fragrant, pink cabbagey flowers sit atop the foliage of this 5-foot upright shrub. Zone 5.
'Belinda's Dream'. The Texas extension program designated this pink, full-flowered rose a "superstar" because of its fragrance, ease of care, and cut-flower quality. Zone 5.
'Perle d'Or'. Often called the "Yellow Sweetheart Rose," 'Perle d'Or' has fruit-scented 2-inch flowers that are pale apricot and look like frilly crepe paper. This rose flowers throughout the growing season on a compact 4-foot shrub. Zone 5.
'Caldwell Pink'. A "found" rose of uncertain heritage, this flouncy lilac-pink variety exhibits superb blooming qualities even in the heat of summer. A bonus is the dramatic fall foliage of reds, oranges, and yellows. Zone 5.
'Penelope'. Soft, peachy blooms in bouquetlike clusters are noted for their rich perfume. The sprawling shrub can reach 6 feet. Zone 6.
'New Dawn'. This climbing rose bears lightly fragrant, soft pink blooms on vigorous 20-foot stems. Foliage is dark, glossy, and resistant to black spot. Zone 5.
'Crepuscule'. Clusters of orange flowers nod under their own weight, lending a romantic effect to the garden. 'Crepuscule' is a climbing rose of excellent vigor. Zone 7.
'Stephen F Austin'. One of the Antique Rose Emporium's own Pioneer Rose introductions, this 6-foot shrub has shiny leaves that act as a foil to the fragrant flowers, which open pale yellow and mature to creamy white. Zone 5.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This list is based on the author's experience in an area of Texas with hot, humid summers and relatively mild (Zone 8) winters. However, many of the roses described here are widely adaptable except in the coldest climates. To learn which roses excel in your region, contact your state's Cooperative Extension Service.