Bartlett on Gardening: Roses in the Rearview Mirror

The Fairy, An Earth Kind rose, held up tolerably last summer.

This past year was just great for judging which roses are truly disease resistant. Even my neighbor’s Knockout roses had black spot. My rose-growing friends who maintain a regular program of spraying to prevent foliar disease were dismayed by the amount of black spot in their gardens. I don’t spray my roses and would like to share what I learned this year.

The season began beautifully. In late April, it appeared that the roses were thankful the drought had ended as they put on a fabulous first flush of flowers. The rain continued as if it was making up for the drought! By the end of June, the roses were looking rough. By August, I was as discouraged as the other rose enthusiasts. Then the situation improved steadily into September, and the season ended with most roses looking healthy.

Last January, I wrote an article about Earth Kind roses, a designation indicating disease resistance. Let’s see how those in my garden fared in this very damp season. Five of the 23 Earth Kind roses are polyanthas. These are small, cluster-blooming roses first introduced in the 1870s. They remained very popular until eclipsed by the more colorful florabundas after World Was II. I grow three of the five.

I have four bushes of The Fairy, introduced in 1932. These always get a little disease but never defoliate or stop blooming. This year was business as usual for my oldest ones. One of my younger shrubs had no noticeable disease while the other suffered signs of poor drainage as well as a moderate amount of black spot.

Cecile Brunner (left), introduced in 1881, is also known as the “sweetheart rose.” It performed well until mid-July, perking up in August. For such a delicate flower, it is a tough rose.

I have two bushes of La Marne, which followed the same pattern as Cecile. I think that the rain leached nutrients form the soil, so adjusting my fertilization program made a big difference for them.

I have two more cultivars from the Earth Kind program, Spice and Duchess de Brabant, both of which are tea roses. Tea roses originated in China and were brought to Europe in the 1700s. These very fragrant roses bear large flowers on weak stems. They bloom heavily in spring and fall, warm summer nights suppressing flower formation. They were very popular from the 1830s until superseded by hybrid teas in the late 1800s.

Introduced in 1857, Duchess de Brabant (right) was Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite rose. The pink flowers are the classic cabbage rose form, nodding on the stems of the four-by-six-foot shrub. This rose had a great year. Disease free, it bloomed continuously from April into October.

Spice, a Bermuda Mystery Rose, is new to my garden. Since 1954, members of the island’s rose society have been rescuing every old rose they can find. Spice may be Hume’s Blush Tea Scented China, one of the four “studs” from which all modern roses are descended. It has been completely disease free and has delightful white flowers which have a pink blush in cool weather.

2017 was a difficult year for rose lovers. I wanted to begin with a follow-up on the Earth Kind program and will share more of my observations in future columns. There is so much good news from the expanding universe of no-spray roses.

Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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