Roses As Shrubs
By KARL P. JONES, Barrington, Rhode Island
Reprinted from the 1974 American Rose Annual with permission of the American Rose Society
Twenty-five years ago my good friend Roy Shepherd warned me not to get too deeply involved with roses as I might find myself so greedy that I would want every rose I ever heard of. I have to admit he was right, as I seem to have developed an insatiable appetite to the point where I now have over a thousand different named cultivars including Species, Old Garden and modern. Fortunately I have plenty of space, 7 acres in one area and 4-1/2 acres in the other. Nutty? Sure enough, but it is a pleasant form, and the 7500 plants give a lot of people a lot of pleasure and give my ego a boost. The only thing that seems to annoy visitors is that I refuse to sell them anything I don't have to, and I don't want the bother.
In the 34 years we have been in our present location, my wife and I even earned the friendship and respect of the late Roy Hennessey; and some of the readers of this wordy effusion who clashed with him, will, I think, agree that this was an accomplishment. I still don't know anything in spite of all this, but I am never discouraged. Maybe the good Lord will let me live long enough to win most of the time. I sometimes feel like the farmer who was asked what he would do if someone left him a million dollars: "I would keep on farming until it was all used up."
The supply of so-called Shrub roses is quite limited, because so few are sold, and carry-over crops require so much space that few nurserymen can handle them profitably. I have about 200 different vareties that I use as Shrubs, but I will mention only those which may obtained in America.
The first roses that show color in the spring are Rosa hugonis and ' hybrids and R. spinossissima altaica. I have two plants of Rosa hugonis (planted over 30 years ago) on the south side of the house, which have never been fertilized nor sprayed and get little water in the summer when the awnings are up. Their 2-1/2 inch butter-yellow blooms open on 6 to 7 foot canes about the middle of May. The foliage is fine and fernlike and is not bothered by much of anything except cane borer which I haven't seen on it for several years. It needs no attention' except to take out occasional spent wood, and it resents fertilizer. Mv men often whack into it with the lawn mower with little result. This rose and Rosa primula bloom about the same time, but primula is a stiffer plant lacking the grace of hugonis. Rosa primula has very aromatic, incense-scented foliage.
Another early bloomer is Rosa altaica which came from the Altai mountains of Siberia in 1820. This rose spreads from underground stems and will cover a considerable area in a few years if not confined. The 3 inch creamy-white, single blooms are suffused with primrose-yellow on opening. My plants grow to about 4 feet and like Rosa hugonis and R. primula remain clean through the season.
Joyce Edwards of Fitzroy Harbour, Ontario, says that Rosa hugonis survives in her garden. This small village is on the south bank of the Ottawa River 30 miles from Ottawa and gets periods of minus 30°F.I wonder if Rosa altaica would survive there also.
I first saw Rosa moyessi in the late Walter Brownells Garden in Little Compton, Rhode Island more than 20 years ago. His plant was about 12 feet tall and rather gaunt, but showed intense blood-red, 2 inch single blooms with unusual dark colored stamens. I have some plants of this rose, plus some of its variations, and I find them very different and interesting, but they will probably have to be replaced because they were apparently grafted on canina understock and the old rootstock no longer nourishes the graft. I shall try to grow Rosa moyesii on its own roots. Rosa moyesii, and some of its variations, often has handsome flagon-shaped heps which appear in September. Some years ago, brought from England a plant of R. moyasii superba. It appears to be a cross between Rosa moyesii and a Hybrid Tea, makes a strong compact bush about 8 feet tall, and produces rich, dark maroon crimson-semi-double blooms, about 3 inches in diameter on a very clean plant. It doesn’t fruit. The Austrian Briers: 'Austrian Yellow Rose' (R. foetida ) and 'Austrian Copper' (R. foetida bicolor) are both excellent Shrubs. Neither plant is bothered much by insects nor mildew, but both must protected against blackspot. They grow to 5 or 6 feet tall, and their period of bloom is short; they are very spectacular when in bloom, they seem to be relatively hardy here in Rhode Island, since their winter damage usually consists of dried-out twig ends, which need to be cut off after the plants start budding out. These two varieties make a good show, but would prove disappointing if they were the only Shrub roses in the garden. I doubt if they would survive much lower than minus 10°F., for they are natives of hot dry western Asiatic areas.
An interesting Shrub, which I stuck in an easterly exposed border backed by tall hemlocks is 'Carmenetta'. I believe I grafted this on to multiflora rootstock about 20 years ago. It now has 6 trunks (not canes), and each is about 3 inches in diameter, bare to about 6 feet, topping out at about 16 feet. The thing is worth keeping, because many visitors hardly believe it can be a rose. This Rubrifolia Rugosa hybrid has many single, mildly fragrant, pale pink seasonal blooms, and is very hardy.
Many of the old Gallicas make good shrubs in their season, but too often their foliage turns shabby in the fall, as they are often bothered by blackspot. 'Complicata', a Hybrid Gallica, possibly with R. macrantha, is an exceptionally handsome shrub, growing to about 8 feet high and 5 or 6 feet wide. On the 13th of November, after three frosts, this shrub still showed dark green leaves with only touches of blackspot and many red heps: one handsome flush of 4 to 5 inch single, brigh clear pink blooms on large arching sprays. Some roses bloom only a very short time, but are unusually attractive and interesting, both in the bloom and in the plant. R. x" micrugosa is one of those. It is a cross between R. Roxburghii and R. rugosa, and is very bushy and thorny use both parents, and would make an excellent, impenetrable hedge. The flat, single, 4 inch pink flowers are delightful. The fruit is prickly, orange-red and about 1.5 inches in diameter.
Down in Bristol, Rhode Island, I found a plant of Rosa roxburghi normalis, the Chestnut Rose, which I think is about 50 years old. This the single variety. The double variety, R. roxburghii plena, is not hardy in this area. The flowers are pale pink, 2 to 2% inches in diarnete and evanescent, a particularly unpleasant rose to handle, stiff and heavily armed with hooked thorns. It is interesting because of the buds which look like small chestnut burrs, and the heps have the same form. The Bristol plant is a huge tree-like shrub about 20 feet tall, and mine grafted from it 8 years, are about 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Pruning consists of cutting off dead twigs after the leaves start to show.
The Rugosa roses usually make good shrubs. The wild or species Rugosas are usually quite hardy and very resistant to disease. They will grow and spread in the sand dunes near the salt beaches, as is evidenced by the great thickets at Newport. All of the Hybrid Rugosas are not so hardy, but many of them will survive short periods of sub-zero weather to minus 30°F. The first and one of the most attractive of our Hybrid Rugosas to bloom is 'Agnes'. Originated in Ottawa in 1900, this cross of R. rugosa X R. foetida persiana was planted over 30 years ago, and, except for chopping out a few canes and spent wood each year, it gets little attention and has no disease. Its pale amber-yellow, fragrant, double, non-recurrent blooms, show a great crop on 10 foot plants just before the Hybrid Teas burst into bloom. Graham Thomas says it usually produces blooms in the late summer, but mine never has.
I have a long rail fence along the road where hundreds of school children pass. At either end I start with Hybrid Rugosas, such as 'Conrad F. Meyer', 'Rose a Parfum de lHay' and such. Newcomers to town will sometimes try to pick a rose, but one try usually protects all the roses from then on.
'Conrad F. Meyer' and its sport 'Nova Zembla' have survived minus 17°F. with only minor damage. Although not entirely immune to disease, neither is worried by mildew. They both grow to 8 foot plants, and both are fragrant, the former richly so. Unlike most Rugosa Hybrids, the blossoms on these two are of almost exhibition quality-The flower stems are so horribly prickly that you will not pick one for your sweetie unless you really love her, or else you hate her and leave the stem unshaved.
Another Rugosa that makes a great show is 'Sarah Van Fleet'. This one grows to a compact bush form, about 6 by 6 feet, and is loads with very fragrant, wild rose-pink, recurrent, double blooms.
Qne of the hardiest Rugosa Hybrids is 'Therese Bugnet', which arches to 5 feet for me, and has 4 inch, fragrant, recurrent, red to ink open blooms with 30 petals. It is said to be hardy in Alberta, Canada. The Rugosas are almost all repeaters (except 'Agnes' and 'Sanguinaire') and are usually exceptionally disease resistant.
One of the handsomest foliage plants in the garden is R. X Coryana. This is a cross between a Himalayan species rose and R. roxburghii normalis the Chestnut Rose. It has single 2.5 inch, rich pink, solitary blooms on a 10 foot plant of about 8 foot diameter. Nor wind, nor rain, nor snow, nor disease, nor insects, bother it, and the handsome foliage persists until frost. I do not find it in American catalogues, but it takes easily on multiflora.
If you have an unsightly spot in the garden or want to shut out one that may be in your neighbor's yard, don't put up a fence, use a Shrub rose or two. Thirty years ago I planted the Hybrid Musk 'Skyrocket' (also called 'Wilhelm') across the driveway outside our kitchen window. This 9 feet tall, 6 feet wide, tremendous Shrub will throw repeated clusters of semi-double, fragrant, dark red blooms all summer long, if not allowed to fruit; it is a clean plant with handsome leathery foliage.
'Belinda', another Hybrid Musk grows to about 5 feet by 6 feet wide. The plant throws great heads of semi-double, soft pink blooms in pyramidal clusters (like the heads of perennial phlox). Here again, if the heads are cut off when the blooms fade, it will repeat.
We have grown and discarded a number of the Eglanteria or Sweet Briar roses because they take up a lot of space and are seldom very spectacular. We have had 'Lady Penzance' for over 20 years, and still love it. This plant grows to about 8 feet by 6 feet and has small, single, rosy-fawn-yellow blooms with yellow centers. The foliage is small, like that of one of its parents, R. foetida bicolor, and the canes tend to arch. On a cool dewy morning, the air around the plant is filled with apple-like fragrance from the aromatic foliage. It is worth planting just for that fragrance, because the flowers do not amount to much.
'Constance Spry' this lovely Gallica X Floribunda ('Belle Isis' X Dainty Maid') was plunked into a quarantine bed five years ago and lost sight of. One day I happened upon a 7 foot bower of bright pink cupped blooms of delightful fragrance, and she was soon to the propagation bed and to a prominent location in the display gardens. I hope some nurseryman will market this rose. The partly opened bloom reminds one, in both form and fragrance, of the lovely old Bourbon, 'Mme. Pierre Oger', but is much larger and much more fragrant. It blooms only once but oh, what blooms. 'Kiese' (1910 ) 'General Jacqueminot' X R. canina, makes a tremendous bush, 8 to lo feet tall, with heads of bright cherry-red, nearly single flowers, and dark green, excellent foliage, followed in the fall by loads of bright red heps-quite spectacular, but needs support and lots of space up, down and sideways.
Back in '39, Kordes introduced 'Erfurt', a cross between 'Eva' (has much the same characteristics as 'Skyrocket') and the lovely 'Reveil Dijonnais', and is hardier, more beautiful than either of them. Graham Thomas was so enamoured by this rose that he did a delightful water color of it for his book, Shrub Roses of Today. I quote his description: "Vigorous, building up slowly from a low bushy plant with plentiful, attractive foliage, richly tinted when young. The arching branching stems bear large, wide open flowers singly and in clusters, from beautiful long rosy red buds; semi-double lemon-white around the yellow stamens, deeply flushed with brilliant pink."
A very satisfactory Shrub which blooms several times during the summer is Kordes' 'Elmshorn'. This one grows over 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide and has clean foliage (not bothered by mildew). It throws out large clusters of double, cherry-red blooms, which have an old-rose fragrance. I use it both as a free-standing shrub and-against a rail fence, where it shows color when the seasonal Climbers are not blooming. The blooms are about the size and color of 'Crimson Rambler'. Thomas calls it "soulless," but some of my correspondents disagree, and so do I. Kordes says it is only good for minus 13°F., but I know it has survived minus 17° (here) and much greater cold in Canada. I have a 40 foot row of 'Elmshorn' - gorgeous!
The rose cultivar 'Kiese' is a cross between the old "Jack" rose ('General Jacqueminot') and R. canina...a tremendous plant, loaded with heads of semi-double or nearly single, 2.5 inch flowers of bright cherry red, blooming only in June on 8 foot by 5 foot disease-free plants. The fall fruiting has the long oval red canina heps, but are rnuch larger and more spectacular.
Rosa alba is another once-blooming Shrub of spectacular size, having semi-double, white blooms, disease resistant foliage, and spectacular, ovate, scarlet fruits in the fall.
Still another Shrub with spectacular fruits is 'Dusterlohe', a thorny, sprawling bush with neat dark green leaves; semi-double, bright clear rose pink, 3 inch, mildly fragrant, nonrecurrent blooms, borne singly and in clusters on disease-resistant plants that grow about 5 feet high and 6 feet wide. These bushes are loaded with 1 inch orange-red heps, making a display well into the winter.
One of our favorite yellow Shrubs is Roy Shepherd's 'Golden Wings', with the blood of Rosa altaica, the Burnet or Scotch rose, the yellow Xanthina and the yellow Hybrid Tea 'Soeur Therese'. The plant grows to 5 feet by 5 feet, is very resistant to disease, has not suffered much from cold in this area, has plenty of 4 to 5 inch, mildly fragrant sulphur yellow blooms in June, and tends to be recurrent through the season.
The Kordes Fruhlings (spring) roses, of which there are five, all make a handsome show. Having the blood of R. spinossissima altaica or hispida in their makeup, they are quite hardy in this area. They are all fragrant, 'Fruhlingsduft' having the richest fragrance, and make strong plants to 6 feet or better; but only 'Fruhlingsmorgen' (rose pink with maroon stamens), produces fall bloom. The strongest grower of the lot for us is 'Fruhlingsgold', which has grown up (about 16 feet) into the outer branches of an apple tree. Its 3 inch, golden-yellow blooms are single and solitary, and delightfully fragrant.
Two very handsome Kordes originations are 'Stadt Kiel' ('City of Kiel') and 'Stadt Rosenheim'. Both of these are rated by Kordes as only good for +5°F. and up to 2 feet tall. They have both survived minus 12°F in my garden and grow 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The first one has double, 4 inch, mildly fragrant, cinnabar-red blooms borne in large dusters; and the second has fragrant, orange-red clusters of blooms that one might well mistake for 'Tropicana'. Both attract considerable favorable attention.
Another excellent Kordes rose is the hardy Kordesii Climber “Illusion' (about 6 feet by 5 feet), which we grow as a repeat blooming cinnebar-red pillar. This rose has 'Peace' blood mixed with that of a Kordesii seedling in its ancestry, has double, fragrant blooms borne in large clusters, and excellent disease-resistant foliage.
The Kordesii hybrids are all excellent plants with built-in resistance to cold and disease, but one of the handsomest is 'Dortmund' crimson red with white eye, 3 inch single, slightly fragrant, blooms a borne in large clusters. The plant grows to about 8 by 5 feet, but will sometimes climb. It is most remarkable for its brilliant, dark, gloss foliage, which could almost be mistaken for English holly.
My list shows over 150 Shrub roses, the descriptions of which would lose you, and me too. So I will mention just two more; both are Kordes roses. The first, which Dorothy Stemler lists as 'Waldfee' (HP), will grow to 10 feet by 6 feet, has double 4 inch, fragrant, blood red blooms in small clusters, is recurrent, and very resistant to cold and disease A plant I left out in the vegetable garden several years ago covered a space nearly 10 feet in diameter.
'Dornroschen', (Kordes '60) a cross between 'Pike's Peak' and 'Ballet', is a handsome pillar rose (grows to 7 feet), and is very free flowering well into autumn. The 3 inch fragrant flowers form in clusters of about 10 and are full and well formed; salmon pink and red with yellow reverse. Translated "Sleeping Beauty," this is truly a beauty. Kordes rates it as good for minus 4°F., but it has survived minus 10°F. with little or no damage.
Most of the plants I have mentioned need some center support against high winds. I use green painted knobby tee iron 8 foot cattle-fence stakes driven into the ground 2 feet, which allows 6 feet of exposure. They are inconspicuous, last for ages, and are easy to install; whereas, wood poles have to be dug in and will rot out in a few years.
Shrub roses need lots of room (usually 5 to 6 foot spacing), and should be tied up in such a manner that they do not cover and smother adjacent smaller plants. Like Climbers, these plants may take two to three years to develop into sizeable bushes, so be patient and wait for your reward. Pruning consists only of cutting off spent blooms, cleaning out spent or dead wood, and such limited shaping as may be necessary to keep the plants in bounds.
Reprinted with permission of the American Rose Society
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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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