In the first installment of the Great Plant Picks for 2006, appearing in the last issue of Pacific Horticulture, Carolyn Jones introduced a selection of trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials that offer opportunities for container cultivation. In this issue, Christine Allen presents a group of dependable rambler roses deserving of greater use in Pacific Northwest gardens.
Although roses have long been the world’s favorite flower, many have reservations about their value in the garden. In the last century, a focus on ever larger and brighter flowers has endeared them to the florist’s trade, while neglect of other attributes, such as disease resistance and shapeliness, has alienated designers and home gardeners alike. By highlighting a small collection of healthy, low-maintenance ramblers among the Great Plant Picks for 2006, the GPP team hopes to draw attention to the valuable role these bountiful beauties can play in gardens of the twenty-first century.
Ramblers are among the giants of the plant world, having developed their long flexible canes and sharp thorns to haul themselves up out of the shade cast by surrounding trees and shrubs into the sunshine they need to produce flowers and fruit. With such natural vigor, they do not have to be grafted onto an understock like modern hybrid roses, and almost all of those in commerce have been around long enough to have demonstrated their virtues of hardiness and health. Once established, most require no pruning and will thrive on a minimum of care.
If they have a downside, it is their short flowering season—usually about four weeks—compared to their modern cousins; but the majority of them compensate by offering interest in other seasons, with attractive foliage or with sprays of bright autumn fruits.
In drawing up its shortlist, the GPP Rose Advisory Group considered a variety of flower colors and growth habits along with such qualities as fall foliage color, thornless canes, and, of course, fragrance.
Two of the chosen ramblers are sister roses, bred in France by the gardener to the Duke of Orleans almost two hundred years ago. ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’ is the more fragrant of the pair, scented like primroses. Its powder-pink buds open into semi-double flowers whose silky white petals fan back slightly from a central boss of golden stamens. The fragrance, like that of most ramblers, is cast on the air rather than held within the flower. This rose has particularly sinuous canes and flower trusses on thin, plum-tinged lateral branches, making it a natural for training through lattice, or draping gracefully over a pergola.
`Felicite et Perpetue’ has less scent and stiffer canes but compensates by being showier. Generous clusters of raspberry-pink buds open into surprisingly white rosettes, like miniature wedding car decorations. Exceptionally healthy, its sensitive leaves react badly to sprays. It does not like to be pruned, although some older canes should be cut out at the base every year to avoid congestion and to make the most of the younger, more attractive growth.
Both of these roses bear few hips but will remain evergreen in milder climates. New leaves in spring have some of the same plum highlights as the new laterals.
‘Francis E Lester’, although thornier and coarser in growth, has exceptionally elegant flowers, each white petal finely tinted with pink at the outer edge. The simple, five-petal blooms open flat and seem to float above the foliage. They are followed by round, scarlet hips that last a long time, well into January. This is one of the most fragrant of all roses, wafting its perfume a considerable distance from where it grows.
An unusual rambler that deserves to be better known comes to us from Denmark. ‘Lykkefund’ (or ‘Lucky Find’) has many virtues, not the least being its almost thornless canes. Another richly scented variety, it greets the summer with bridal cascades of semi-double flowers that appear cream from a distance. On close inspection, random petals reveal a suggestion of soft pink and often a fine gold line down the centre. This rose has oval, scarlet hips and slightly furry petioles that glitter with splinters of frost on cold winter mornings.
To clothe a long fence or pergola, or thread through sturdy conifers, ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ is a worthy candidate, thanks to its cascading habit. It blooms later than most others of its class, rarely before July in my northerly garden. Strong, arching canes are festooned with small, fragrant rosettes of candy-floss pink.
A Bounty of Whites
More ramblers produce pure white flowers than any other category of roses, so it’s not surprising that three have made the GPP list. Each has its unique attraction. ‘Sander’s White Rambler’ triumphs over the competition by virtue of its glossy, deep forest-green foliage, which sharply contrasts with floral trusses of small, lily-white rosettes. Pliable canes and dense foliage make it a versatile rose, equally suited to pillars, pergolas, or screens. It is sparing of its scent, saving it for the cool of evenings, a time that also favors its flowers.
A great foaming white wave in bloom, ‘Seagull’ holds its tight clusters of slightly-more-than-single flowers stiffly upright on short lateral stems. This characteristic makes it particularly responsive to training horizontally, although all ramblers produce more laterals and, therefore, more flowers if grown this way. Delicate grass-green leaves and a sweet fragrance contribute to its beauty, as does the sprinkling of tiny hips in fall.
Even more vigorous is the mighty Rosa mul-liganii. Given time, this species from China will easily extend along forty feet of fence or climb to an equal height. Although its individual flowers are small and single, they appear in such huge, pendent trusses that they cover the entire plant and cast their fruity fragrance far across the garden. Spotless, dark-green foliage that turns burnished gold and russet in fall, and countless thousands of tiny blood-red hips in winter make this a rose for all seasons.
At the other end of the scale, ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ will reach no more than fifteen feet. With fernlike foliage as elegant as its name, this rose is remarkable among ramblers for its constant bloom. From June onwards, clusters of apricot buds open into slightly disheveled, pale chamois flowers, the color becoming more intense and taking on peach tints as autumn draws near. Even in December, new buds are forming, despite weather that prevents them from opening. Few thorns and a stiff growth habit make this a good choice for growing against a trellis or wall. If it had a discernible scent, this might well be the perfect rose.
A century ago, ramblers were riding high in popularity, but they have since fallen from favor; few new cultivars have been introduced in recent decades. The youngest of those described above will be sixty years old this year. Their beauty, versatility, and hardiness have preserved them through the vagaries of fashion and, hopefully, will persuade more gardeners to go “back to the future” and seek them out.
The Pendleton and Elisabeth C Miller Charitable Foundation
The Great Plant Picks program is educational in nature and sponsored by the Elisabeth and Pendleton Miller Charitable Foundation. This Seattle-based nonprofit foundation carries on the work of Elisabeth Miller (1914 to 1994), an avid horticulturist, gardener, and philanthropist. The Foundation also nurtures the Miller Garden, whose staff continue to collect and test unusual plants—one of Mrs Miller’s passions. For more information, visit www.millergarden.org.
All selections in the Great Plant Picks have been chosen for their suitability in USDA hardiness zones 7 and 8, which covers most of the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades. These older roses should also perform well in all but the coldest and hottest regions of the West.
To learn more about the Great Plant Picks, visit our website at www.greatplantpicks.org.