"Queen of the Garden Flowers"


Ellen Palmer

Grays Harbor Master Gardener -
April 1996


No other flower gives such an array of shape, size, fragrance, and color. More than any of the world's flowers, the rose has captured our esteem, captivated the hearts and souls of all people, and HAS magnificently passed the tests of time. Certainly, no other flower so beautifully says, "I love you."

Ancient history is filled with references to the rose. It is said to have grown in the Garden of Eden, ancient Persia, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Roses have been found dating back to 1,600 B.C. when Cleopatra welcomed Marc Antony in a room filled with rose petals and legend says that Nero once spent the equivalent of $150,000 for roses to use at a party. The Romans, however, loved roses in a more physical way; using them in candy, wine, pudding, garlands, and rose water.

The rose is older than the human hands that first drew it. Fossils here in the Northwest date back 35 million years. The rose apparently originated in Central Asia about 60 million years ago, spreading over the entire northern hemisphere. It is interesting to know that no wild roses have ever been found to grow below the equator. Five thousand years ago the Chinese appreciated its value and cultivated it widely, in addition to many other past civilizations.

The basic ancestor of all modern roses is Rosa gallica, the French rose. This species bloomed only once per year and it was found throughout the entire Mediterranean area.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and before the Renaissance, the history of the rose is incomplete and clouded. The Christians of the Middle Ages kept the rose alive in their gardens in the symbolism of their religious beliefs. However their earlier counterparts shunned the rose because it reminded them of pagan Rome.

A revolution in rose growing took place in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the importation from the Orient of the China rose R. chinesis, and its close relative R. odorata, the tea rose. Laying the foundation for today's roses which exhibited continuous repeat bloom; a phenomenon then unknown in Europe. The foliage of the Chinas is almost evergreen; that of the tea rose is mildew-resistant. The most unfortunate characteristic the tea rose bestows upon its descendants is a lack of hardiness.

In the 1800s Empress Josephine did more to popularize and foster rose growing and hybridizing than anyone of her time. An ardent lover of the rose, she started a rose renaissance by attempting to grow every rose known to man in her garden. In the ten years between 1804 and 1814, she collected 250 different roses - gallicas, centifolias, moss roses, damasks, and Chinas. The reputation of this garden spread across Europe, igniting an interest that would eventually lead to the birth of modern roses.

The portlands were a new class of rose that came into existence about 1800; probably derived from a cross of the autumn damask and the China rose and the original rose R. gallica. Named for the Duchess of Portland, it was one of the first good garden hybrids and one of the first to show repeat bloom. Also known as the damask perpetuals, the portlands remained popular until the hybrid perpetual was introduced almost 40 years later.

Rosa x borboniana, the bourbon rose, was brought to Europe in 1817 from the island of Reunion (Bourbon) in the Indian Ocean. Its background is uncertain, but it is probably a natural hybrid of R. chinensis, and R. damascena semperflorens (autumn damask). The bourbon rose quickly became the most popular rose of the time because of its recurrent bloom and because it was one of the first to combine the best of both the European and Oriental roses. The original bourbon, now lost, was a bright pink; one of its hybrids is a primary source of red in today's roses.

The American contribution to rose history is R. noisettiana, called the noisette rose, a cross between R. moschata and R. chinensis made by Champneys in Charleston, S.C. in 1812. The line of the modern rose began in 1838 with the introduction of the hybrid perpetual rose, and the first hybrid tea was introduced in 1867. By the end of the 19th century all elements of the modern rose were present but one -- there was no attractive yellow rose. In 1900, after 13 years of trying, Pernet Ducher introduced Soleil d'Or, a cross between a hybrid perpetual and persian yellow. A new range of colors never known before in modern roses came into being - gold, copper, orange, and apricot. For 30 years these roses formed a separate class known as the pernetianas; they now were merged with the hybrid teas.

Unfortunately, bad characteristics accompanied the good; with the new colors came foliage susceptible to disease and plants unable to withstand pruning. However, some of these faults gradually have been bred out.

The new hybrids resisted cold weather but had weak and spindly roots and no vigor. Grafting onto wild rose roots - especially R. multiflora, the Japanese rose, which had been brought to Europe from the Orient prior to 1868 helped to solve the problem.

Climbers are a category rather than a class of rose. The first of the rambler type was Crimson Rambler (1893). Many ramblers grown today were produced from R. wichuraiana (1891); others from R. multiflora. Large flowered types are sports of bush roses or have wide and varied parentages, with many recent kinds coming from R. kordesi (1952). The hybrid musks, introduced in the 1920s, are hardy shrubs and moderate climbers that are crosses between noisettes and R. multiflora ramblers.

In 1862, the polyanta roses was created by breeding seeds of R. multiflora and Dwarf Pink China (R. chinensis) producing a low-growing plant smothered in clusters of small (one inch) flowers. This was accomplished by the Frenchman Jean Sisley.

In the beginning of the 20th century a Danish rose breeder named Poulsen crossed the polyantha and the hybrid tea producing what is now known as floribundas.

In 1954 the grandiflora class was created by crossing the hybrid tea and the floribunda. Grandifloras are taller and hardier than hybrid teas with clusters of flowers exhibiting the classic hybrid tea forms, fragrance, and long-cutting stems.

The popular miniature rose of this century derives from R. chinensis minima (R. rouletti), the fairy rose that reached Europe in 1815. For some unknown reason it disappeared and was thought lost until a rose of its type was found in the 1920s growing in a window box in Switzerland. Recent breeding has produced many new varieties of this tiny favorite by crossing it with both polyanthas and floribundas also descended from the China strain.


At this time in history Roses have the greatest categories to choose from. They are: Tree, Miniature, Climber/Rambler, Creeping, Hedge/Shrub, Floribunda, Grandiflora, Hybrid Tea, Miniature, Old Rose, Pillar, Trailer, and Tree. Local libraries contain the best resources of details describing the differences in each of these categories.


If your garden is bathed in at least six hours of sun a day, roses will grow well for you. Roses do not need a special place. They can be placed throughout your landscaping. Shrub roses form the perfect backdrop for lower-growing plants in a border. Try them and floribundas, instead of other more commonly used flowering material. Roses can be used as ground cover on a bank. There is no more colorful way to bring life and beauty to a dull space, or to prevent erosion, or to smother weeds. If sun-loving ground cover is what you are looking for use Max Graf, Rosa wichuraiana, Sea Foam, the miniature Red Cascade, or one of the ramblers. Many of these will root along their canes as they sprawl, making them seem more like vines than roses.

Rock gardens are ideal spots for small polyanthas, floribundas, and especially minis, welcoming the season-long color so often lacking in this type of garden.

Roses remain the preferred choice for sun filled gardens and can be used on arches, arbors or trellis. When using lath trellises in sunny areas you may wish to place hardware cloth over the blooms to protect them from excessive sun, wind, rain and hail damage. Climbers can be trained along fences, outlining windows or doors, rambling up posts, covering old tree stumps, or spilling over tops of stone walls adding graceful color to otherwise plain areas. Roses used as hedges are especially nice. New varieties are available from many growers.

Patios, decks, and terraces have become favorite spots for entertaining and relaxing on warm days and evenings. Add to the pleasure of these moments with "movable roses" in planters to enhance the color and fragrance of your areas.


Movable roses should be limited to shorter hybrid teas, floribundas, polyanthas, and miniatures. When planted in pots, these more compact roses look better than tall hybrid teas or grandifloras. Shorter varieties produce flowers below eye level in height. The flowers on most of these appear in clusters displaying a covering of more color at one time. One of the biggest advantages of movable roses is being able to protect them from harsh winters by moving them into covered areas. If you choose to sink the planters in the ground, always add winter protection as suggested for garden-grown roses. Another advantage for using movable roses is you are able to rearrange colors from year to year.

Containers can be round, square or any other shape as long as they are at least 18" across and deep. They can be made of plastic, clay, terra-cotta, ceramic, or one of the decay-resistant woods, like redwood, cypress, or cedar. Because they may be heavy and hard to move be sure to mount them on casters or on a dolly.

Although all roses, even those in containers, need at least six hours of sun a day, place movable roses in a spot where they receive morning sun and some protection from the heat of the midday rays. Also try to keep them out of drying winds. Because the containers are exposed on all sides, they will dry more rapidly if overexposed to sun and wind. If roses in planters receive uneven sun and start growing in one direction to reach the light, be sure to rotate them every few days so they will grow straight.

Roses in containers need more watering than the same roses in the ground do. Not only are all sides of the containers subject to drying wind and heat, there is also no ground moisture for the roots to rely on. Please pay special attention to watering these roses. Do not let the medium dry out, or become bone dry. Apply water until moisture runs from the bottom of the container for several minutes before you stop watering. Dry soil often misleads us when we water because water rolls off dry soil instead of penetrating the soil; this is especially true in container roses. A mulch at the top of the planter will help keep roses moist.

Planting medium for container roses must be rich and well-drained. One of the packaged soilless potting mixes may be used, or mix your own soil using equal parts of garden loam, sand, and peat moss or vermiculite. The high humus content will help to keep the medium moist.

The best fertilizer for movable roses is water soluble. Feed once a month, following label directions, or, for more even growth, every other week at half strength.


An important rule to remember when planting our roses is we must never use fertilizer at this time. Rather, it is best when applied in late April or early May. A transplanting solution will assist your rose in initiating new roots faster. Fertilizers, however, at that initial planting will often kill the new fine roots. This is a good guideline to use when planting all plants.

One of the most inexpensive fertilizers to use is "Alaskan Fish or Alaskan Fish Mor Bloom (0-10-10 formula)". This fertilizer concentrates on the blooms and roots rather than the leaves. If you apply by sprayer, the leaves will absorb it, allowing direct penetration and a more evenly application. Systemic fertilizers (usually granular) can also be used effectively. However, one is never certain of the granular breakdown into the ground. Miracle Grow is a highly advertised fertilizer. This product contains a formula of 15-30-15 which is a stronger concentrate than the Alaskan Fish Mor Bloom . Be careful using this product to not use more than directed. When you have numerous roses the Alaskan Fish is more economical to use.

Please note that sophisticated state-of-the-art chemical sprays are readily available from local nurseries for pest and disease control. Whether you are an organic gardener or a chemical gardener products are available to curb pests and diseases. Most rose growers, however, depend on regular (7 to 10 day) applications of Fungicides and Insecticides to curb infestation/fungicidal problems. Fungicides and Insecticides can be used together.

Whenever using sprays be sure to read the label directions thoroughly. Use only the exact amounts indicated. REMEMBER....."more is not better - it is pollution". Only mix what you can use that day. Do not let solutions sit around in containers. Wear protective gloves on hands and arms and be careful of chemicals splashing on skin and face.
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