Saturday, September 14, 2013

the search for the perfect rose

Iceberg rose in the front courtyard

Since TMHG began, and I had room to investigate larger plants, I have been searching and researching for The Perfect Rose. I'll give you the ending before I hardly begin: there is no such thing.

I started out searching for the perfect rose for my entry courtyard. I'd always dreamed of a garden of white roses, bordered with dark purple lavender. I love that color combination, and I imagined the fragrances intermingling on a warm early summer afternoon or early evening. The courtyard was the place I'd make it, since hopefully the courtyard would keep the fragrances enclosed. So I began looking for fragrant white roses...and if you know me, you know that it's not that simple. It would have to be a white rose, with strong fragrance, which doesn't burn in the hot NM sun, which has a graceful form to the bush, gets tall enough to peek over the top of the 4 foot adobe wall, but doesn't turn into a monster, and which blooms consistently (being the entry garden), and can take a bit of shade. I didn't care how thorny the rose was, which was the only thing that I was flexible about, really. A very tough bill to fill. By the way, I do not like hybrid teas for their stiff and ungainly growth. I think they only look good in a vase.

I could have chosen Blanc Double de Coubert, a rugosa which is said to be tough, reblooming (although maybe not in this climate), with a strong fragrance but a thorny suckering beast, that for some reason I could not smell. I could have chosen Darlow's Enigma, which has small flowers in big clusters, a tough plant that can take shade, and has a fragrance that people say can be smelled from a distance, but very thorny, and very large (tall and wide). I could have chosen Boule de Neige, a white bourbon with a strong fragrance and intermittent bloom, but not terribly floriferous in the ABQ rose garden. I could have chosen Madame Hardy, an old rose with a fantastic once a year performance of luxuriously fragrant flowers. After months of research, I chose...Iceberg, the most commonly planted rose in the world. Sigh. Why? Because nothing beats Iceberg in terms of ability to bloom continuously, even though it may not have the best looking foliage (on the yellow side), or the best form of flowers (I like them) and even though people say that it is almost scentless. I planted six in April and they have bloomed almost continuously since then. I am delighted to say that I am one of the few people who find them wonderfully scented.

Marie Pavie

I'm trying a bunch of different roses in the back yard. I had had disappointing results at Casa Coniglio with Madame Isaac Pereire. She is said to perhaps be THE most fragrant rose ever, and the flowers were indeed beautiful and fragrant, but the flowers came out just as the summer heat began, and the flowers fried. I began searching for the most heat tolerant roses.  One of the first ones that I chose was Marie Pavie. On the rose boards (Garden Web), Marie Pavie is said to be heat tolerant, disease resistant, white with a pink blush when first opening, and with a "wafting" fragrance. I planted her against a west facing wall. Soon after I planted her, the temperatures soared to 100F for weeks. Unbelievably, she took it like a champ, no fried leaves, no sulking, and just put out new growth. Flowers were on the plant when it arrived in the mail, and it has bloomed almost continually with a soft yet rich rose fragrance. Best of all the flowers amazingly did not fry in the blast-furnace heat of the west-facing wall. Flowers They remained pink throughout their life spans. But Marie Pavie has proven to be the best performing rose I have so far. Almost perfect. I would have rather had white flowers. Her main fault: she holds onto the dead brown flowers like a tight fisted parson. Despite that fault, she may be my recommendation for the best rose for this climate.

Mrs. B R Cant

I am also trying Mrs. BR Cant, a tea rose. I chose her because she is described as being incredibly heat tolerant, very fragrant (of raspberries!), flowers have a "cabbage" form, and she is a fairly large bush (I wanted to fill a space in front of a wall). She is described as "silvery pink." She might not be hardy in this climate, but what's life without a little risk? Since she was planted this spring, she put on slow but steady growth, and in the last few weeks put out a couple of monster 3 foot canes with large thorns (GO Mrs. BR Cant!).

Mrs. BR Cant, first year

Mrs. BR Cant, long pedicel
She has steadily pumped out flowers, which do fry a bit in the heat and...which are almost scentless to me. I have learned that not all people can smell tea roses. I have also learned that scent is very subjective, and some roses are described by HelpMeFind as "mild to strong fragrance" perhaps for that very reason. Some roses produce fragrance only when certain qualities are met: more in pots or more in the ground, air temperatures, acid or alkaline soil, water quality, humidity, etc. Some produce fragrance only after they have been established for a few years. Whatever the case,  while I find the flowers of Mrs. BR Cant beautiful, they are lacking the the scent department...although today, on a warm afternoon, and after 4 inches of rain this week, the above bloom does smell like raspberries...faintly.


I'm trying William Shakespeare 2000 (who I affectionately call "billy") because he is said to tolerate heat, be floriferous, and because I love the color and form of the flowers in the photos. The plants arrived from High Country roses, with flowers that may be the most heart-stoppingly beautiful roses that I'd ever seen and a delicious fragrance. Then they promptly wilted. The whole plant collapsed. They recovered after some TLC, and went into a richly prepared bed. They have grown maybe 1 inch. In the sun, the leaves yellow. Most of the summer, the two little plants put out flower after flower on 1/4" stems, so the plants are still 6 inches tall. Flowers fry after a day in the sun. The jury is still out. I'll see what happens next year. I'm thinking of replacing them with Souvenir de la Malmaison (AKA Queen of Beauty and Fragrance, but is .... light pink).

AnneMarie's rose
My friend Anne Marie gave me rooted cuttings of a couple of roses from her mother's yard in Louisiana. Her mother got cuttings from her aunt, who in turn got them from her great-great-grandmother. There, they call them Bourbon roses and are thought to have originated around 1848. She gave me a red and a pink. I brought them into the garage last winter since I do not know how hardy they are, and they languished there. The red one died. The pink produced a few small flowers in the early spring, and the plant looked miserable. Tired of looking at such a miserable thing, I planted it out in the yard, where it took off like gangbusters.

Anne Marie's rose, in the ground

Flowers became darker, and more star-shaped, lasting a couple of days with a light sharp sweet-pea fragrance, in great umbels of sequentially flowering buds. They stayed 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Although cut flowers fade after a few days, the cut stems grow roots in the water. Anne Marie says this plant can take over an entire yard. We'll see if it survives the winter.

Anne Marie's Red

Anne Marie's rose, winter in a pot

I first said that there is no such thing as the perfect rose. I don't know if that's the case, but I'm still looking. Someone posted this question on Garden Web, "Your MOST Perfect Rose." What I learned from this is that maybe there is such a thing, but like life itself, discovering it is a personal journey since that rose is different for each person. Each person appreciates different color, size, form. There are different sensitivities to fragrance. The roses grow differently in different locations, even from the nursery to the garden and even in different areas of the garden. Each individual has to find their perfect rose on their own. I'm going to try Madame Isaac Pereire again.

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