Grow Lovely Roses
Composer and rose enthusiast Glen Jenks offers his advice on growing roses in Maine.
Did you really fall in love with roses as a child?
I was in ninth grade, and it was love at first sight. I saw the roses that a friend of my grandmother had bought from Jackson and Perkins, and I said "I gotta do this." I went home, took down the swings, dug up the yard, and put in modern hybrid teas. I was taken with that classic vase-shape. I still remember my selections - `Peace', `Helen Traubel', `New Yorker', `Betty Prior'. I was relentless. I was willing to give up everything else for them.
What is it about roses?
I wish I could tell you. It may be a slight exaggeration, but I would crawl for five miles over broken glass in the desert to see a rose bush that interested me. Maybe it's that they have so many contradictions. The thorns, the beauty, the fragrance. There's something compelling about them. Even the simplest wild rose - you look into its face and are spellbound.
What happened to that first garden?
I grew the plants for the season. Then winter came, and in the spring, all I had out there was a bunch of brown sticks. That's when I did some research and found out that the catalogs were lying to me! By "winter hardy" they meant maybe North Carolina, not Massachusetts, where I grew up. I regrouped and made some better choices, but for the rest of my life I've been in search of the perfect hybrid tea-like rose that is winter hardy. We're on the verge; I think it'll appear in one of the modern shrub roses.
Tell us about some of your favorites - roses that you'd recommend for Maine.
Faith and I grow lots of old garden roses, modern shrubs, and even some hybrid teas. Many of the old garden roses, in particular, are perfectly winter hardy and happy here. They take up a lot of space, but not a lot of time. You needn't mollycoddle them. They're gorgeous and heavily scented. They usually bloom once for you, often over a long period. I'd recommend Albas, iron-clad hardy with scented white flowers; Bourbons, named for the Ile de Bourbon in the Indian Ocean where they were discovered; Gallica, the old French rose; Damask, my favorite of all roses, which is very fragrant and prolific and can create a really dramatic effect in the garden; and the Portland roses, which are reblooming. The second category of rose that I recommend is the modern shrub roses. This is a huge category with really wide-ranging styles and sizes. Some to look for are the David Austin varieties from England, which marry modern colors and reblooming habits with old-fashioned flower shape. Griffith Buck roses look like modern florabundas - upright, four-feet high, with clusters of fragrant large blossoms. And the varieties bred by Ping Lim of Bailey Nurseries are colorful and incredibly disease-resistant and hardy. The great thing is that most of the old garden roses and lots of the modern shrub hybrids are iron-clad hardy in Maine.
So, roses are easy to grow?
They are not nearly as hard to grow as people like to write about. I'm reminded of how people feel they have to go out and buy these designer spandex pants in order to run around the block. Well, you can do that if you like, but you don't have to. A good spade, watering can, and nice compost pile, and you have the makings of what you'll need to grow a rose bush. They're on your side; they really want to grow. Admittedly, with a wicked elegant climber that is not winter hardy, you'll probably spend lots of time taking it off the fence, covering it, and putting it back up in the spring. But that's an extreme. I read somewhere that even the most difficult varieties take only about an hour a year per rose bush.
Speaking of difficult, what about people who want to grow hybrid teas?
Well, that's what happens. You've been growing other roses for a while with a lot of success, and one day it comes to you, now it's time to tackle hybrid teas. I ask, do you really want to do this? Of course you do! I have some absolute favorites. `Garden Party', ah! Its blossoms are great big white things with an apple blossom pink edge that can be seven inches across. `Fragrant Cloud', extremely fragrant, almost a terra cotta red. It sends up single blossoms and clusters, so it's the best of both hybrid tea and floribunda on one plant. You can get them through the winter if you're really good about putting them in the most protected beds and covering them well in the winter. You can also grow them in containers and store the containers in an unheated garage over the winter. Or you can tip the plants over and bury them; that's called the "Minnesota Tip." Some people even dig them up and bury them under a few inches of soil. Just remember to uncover and replant
them in the spring.
How do you prepare your tender roses for winter?
We prune them down quite a bit and tie the canes together. Using tarpaper, I make collars as tall as the plant and about fourteen inches in diameter. Fill the collar with good quality compost and wait for the ground to freeze. Then we lean bagged leaves against the little tarpaper silos and cover everything with burlap so that it doesn't look like hell. We also hope it snows, which is terrific insulation. In the spring, we take everything off and spread out the compost as soon as it's thawed. If you have other plants around your roses bushes, they're going to want to start breathing the air. We have crocuses that have made a home in the beds, and if we're not quick enough, they start coming up through the bags of leaves.
How do you care for your roses during the bloom season?
We do everything organically. Once in a blue moon, we resort to something else. First, we renew the beds in the spring by adding manure, blood meal, bone meal, and a little greensand. We apply a basic 10-10-10 mineral fertilizer about three times in the season, but never after August, as new autumn growth would just die over the winter. In addition, we water every few days - roses like to be watered. As far as keeping fungi away, I spray a few times during the season with insecticidal soap, garden sulfur, and BioNeem. It's an effective and organic way to control mildew, blackspot, and chewing insects like aphids.
What about . . .
No! Don't ask me the JB question.
I must. What about Japanese beetles?
Most seasons, the beetles don't come out until after the first flush of bloom. After that, we go on a beetle patrol every afternoon. You can pick and squish them - crunch! - or shake them off into a can of soapy water. By the way, ten years ago we didn't have Japanese beetles up here. Maine's traditional cold winters and late springs suppressed them, but the warming climate is changing that. They're moving north at about ten miles per year.
Where do you buy roses?
Lots of locally owned Maine nurseries have begun to carry interesting hardy roses, so I'd say that's where someone should start. I shop at Green Thumb Nursery and Plants Unlimited in Rockport. For mail order, we like Pickering Nurseries in Ontario, Canada, which has lots of hardy and old garden roses; David Austin Roses; and good old Jackson and Perkins still puts out a good product, although they're mostly hybrid teas and floribundas.
Are there good companion plants for roses?
Lots. You can pair them with plants that flower at a different time, such as a climbing rose that blooms once a season with daylilies that bloom later. Or you can combine them with ones that flower at the same time. A few of my favorites are clematis, early summer phlox, and the blue spikes of Russian sage.
What are your favorite rose gardening tools?
I love my Felco pruners and my Spray Doc pump sprayer. We don't use power tools. Gasoline is the single most poisonous thing you can bring onto your property.
Any rose books that you'd recommend?
There are so many. Let's see, a short list of basics would include Climbing Roses by Stephen Scanniello, Classic Roses by Peter Beales, The Ultimate Guide to Roses by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, and, if you take their emphasis on chemicals with a grain of salt, Ortho's Complete Guide to Roses.
What's your favorite time in the rose garden?
Just as they start to open. It's like Christmas morning, when the packages are under the tree and you say to yourself, "I know what's in this one, and that one, and that other one!" Then again, I'm also in seventh heaven when everything reaches a peak. And that happens several times. First, the hybrid rugosas flower; then the hybrid teas, David Austins, and most of the shrub roses bloom from the middle of June to mid-July; and finally we have two huge plants of `New Dawn' that bloom later. They're a show all by themselves.
Why should people grow roses?
The most rewarding thing that you can do for yourself is to focus on an interest and allow yourself to become passionate about it. For me professionally, that interest is music. Non-professionally, it's roses.
I say, grow roses for the love.
A Few of Glenn Jenks' Favorite Roses for Maine
Old Garden Roses
Alba: `Great Maiden's Blush', `Cuisse de Nymphe A%mue', `F`licit` Parmentier', `Madame Plantier'.
Damask: `Celsiana' (pink), `Madame Hardy' (white), `Ispahan' (pink).
Gallica: `Rosa mundi' (pink blend), `Charles de Mills' (mauve blend).
David Austin: `Mary Rose' (pink), `Heritage' (light pink), `Winchester Cathedral' (white), `Mayflower' (pink blend), `Charlotte' (light yellow).
Griffith Buck: `Carefree Beauty' (available in pink, red, and yellow), `Prairie Princess' (salmon pink), `Earth Song' (deep pink), `Folksinger' (yellow blend), `Honeysweet' (orange-pink blend).
Bailey's: `Funny Face' (pink blend), `Yellow Submarine' (bright medium yellow),
`Kiss Me' (pink blend).
- By: Aurelia C. Scott