The Garden Sampler

A Newsletter for Hardy Northern Gardeners
PO Box 7, Peru, VT 05152

Cold Climate Gardening:

Rugosa Roses for Difficult Sites


Growing roses in the North can be the best of times or the worst of times, depending on what roses you choose. Challenging and discouraging if you picked the wrong class of rose to grow; heaven on earth if you chose wisely.

If you started out with a hybrid of Rosa rugosa, you are most probably a very happy gardener.

Say rugosa to some gardeners and you get an immediate grimace. Many people are only familiar with the species and not the multitude of her offspring. Although at first blush she may appear to be quite common in the rose caste system, I believe the species belongs in every northern rose garden. Its early blossoms, saturated with the most beautiful perfume, are a much-needed reward for a long winter. She is extremely hardy, and resistant to both disease and insect attack. Walk anywhere near a blooming rugosa and the air is filled with a deep, rich, spicy scent. Plant a hedge of them, and you must have a garden party. You can fuss or neglect as much as you like; you'll still have roses in spring and fall, and lovely bright orange hips in winter (or until the birds or you pick them).

A garden without the species? Never. But this wonderful grande dame has many, many offspring that you should consider also for your garden, some quite different from the original in appearance, but retaining the best qualities.

Rugosas grow quickly and thickly. They generally have a distinctive crinkled foliage that remains healthy and happy throughout the summer and well past frosts. Most of them also repeat bloom, some almost continuously, and most retain the lovely fragrance of their ancestry. Best of all, there are dozens of varieties which grow throughout New England, including the seashore and cityscapes, and even into USDA Zone 2! Now that's hardy.

Most rugosas are very resistant to black spot and powdery mildew, two common problems in northern gardens, and they do not need to be sprayed for these diseases. In fact, rugosas do not like to be sprayed with anything, so it is essential you save your homemade concoctions for other roses. If you have any foliage problems, you probably need to thin out your shrubs with a good pruning. In the spring, remove any dead wood and any wood that is growing into the shrub or into another cane. Try to keep the plant vase shaped with plenty of room for air and sunlight to circulate.

This class of roses ­ cultivated for over a thousand years ­ originally was introduced to Europe from the far east in the eighteenth century. The modern hybrids have come primarily from breeding programs in Germany, Canada, Holland, Sweden, and France. Much of the Canadian work was done in Ottawa with Dr. Felicitas Svejda in the 1960s and 1970s, and were the beginnings of the Canadian Explorer Series of hardy roses (named after explorers of Canada's early history).

The Garden Sampler has trialed dozens of roses for the past four years and have had only successes with the rugosas. In an organic garden, they are easiest of all. Here are 18 of the best.

Agnes ­ A show-off yellow rose of delicate pale apricot to amber shades on tissue paper thin petals. Once in a blue moon, she will repeat bloom but is quite unreliable in this sense. She will grow to just under five feet, and spreads to nearly as wide.

Apart ­ Very lovely pale pink, double flowers with pretty yellow stamens are borne on sturdy plants with flawless foliage. Very fragrant and grows to four feet.

Belle Poitevine ­ A lovely French lass with very large, deep pink, semi-double flowers contrasting against her deep green foliage. Very reliable repeat, and grows to five feet. Makes a nice hedge, and tolerates some shade.

Blanc Double de Coubert ­ This is the fragrance we look for in a scented garden. Heavy, but not overpowering. Blanc is one of the grand duchesses of the rugosas. Her whitest of white flowers were favored by garden expert Gertrude Jekyll. If you only grow one rose, it should probably be this one. Excellent repeat and grows to five feet. Tolerates part shade.

David Thompson ­ Grow David as a solitary garden specimen in the perennial border, or mass him in a hedge and he will be happy either way. His lovely, semi-double, purple-crimson blossoms repeat throughout the season, right to frost, and the fragrance is sweet and light.

Fru Dagmar Hastrup ­ Fru Dagmar is one of the sweetest rugosas around. She has pretty single, pale-pink flowers that are often described as poppy like. Her fragrance is strong, and she will make a nice hedge, growing to four feet.

Hansa ­ If you come across a six- or seven-foot rose growing round an old farmhouse that has double, deep magenta flowers and scents the air with a heavy, spicy fragrance, it's probably Hansa. You'll also find her in old cemeteries. With neglect, she does wonderful. Imagine how well she will do with a little care. Tolerates part shade.

Henry Hudson ­ Henry is another reliable repeat bloomer (some years almost continuous) with double, pure white blossoms on a compact, mounding, sturdy shrub. Use it in front of taller, lankier roses. Bright orange foliage in the fall, and he has nice scent, too.

Hunter ­ A lovely bright red, double blossomed rose with delicate scent and dark green healthy foliage. Although you will have some dieback in the coldest areas of New England, it rebounds nicely each year.

Jens Munk ­ Another good candidate for a hedge, Jens grows to five week high and wide and flowers some seasons nearly continuously. The flowers are a pretty pink with yellow stamens, and the perfume is heavenly. Tolerates part shade.

Martin Frobisher ­ Martin carries pale pink, double flowers against foliage that is smoother than the usual rugosa texture, making for a very delicate appearance. He is, however, quite rugged and versatile as well. Grow him as a specimen plant, or train up a short trellis or arch. Although he grows only to just under six feet, he would look lovely guarding the doorway, where his scent will be appreciated. Pretty red canes, too.

Mrs. John McNab ­ Like Martin, she will make a lovely short climber trained around an arch. She grows quickly, putting on five feet in just two years. Her flowers are palest of pink, fading almost to white, and are fragrant, and her canes are a lovely deep red color.

Robusta ­ If you want showy color, Robusta's bright, flame red single blossoms show up from quite a distance. Up close, it's pretty nice too, with bright yellow stamens contrasted against the red, and lovely scent. Will grow to six feet.

Roseraie de l'Hay ­ Every garden has a show off, and Roseraie de l'Hay is one of rugosas. Her large blossoms are a blend of purple crimson to deep mauve with pretty cream-colored stamens. Her double flowers have a heavy scent, and her buds are almost regal in appearance. Reliable repeat. In the fall, her leaves turn a beautiful burgundy with pink undersides, and she grows to five feet.

Schneeberg ­ For a reliable almost continuous bloomer, try Schneeberg with it pure white, semi-double flowers and sweet perfume. He's not fussy, and there is little you can do to him to hurt him, he'll even grow in part shade. If you are afraid of growing roses, start with this one.

Souvenir de Philemon Cochet ­ A sport of Blanc Double de Coubert, this lovely treasure is much the same but has slightly more petals, often a soft pink blush in the center, and it repeats a bit more. Fast growing and dependable. One of our favorites. Tolerates part shade.

Thérèse Bugnet ­ One of our first bloomers in the spring with slightly flattened, large, pink, double flowers that are very fragrant. She tolerates some shade, but in a sunny spot will repeat nicely throughout the summer.

Topaz Jewel ­ Here's one of the gems, a yellow rugosa. Yellow is hard to find in hardy roses to begin with, and also in rugosas. This one is a treasure with beautifully shaped buds, lovely double flowers, cupped and very refined in form, growing in sprays of up to eight flowers. The bush is very sturdy and the repeat flowering in the fall is usually as heavy as the spring, with a few blooms here and there in between. Planted next to a tall old garden rose with yellow stamens, such as Celsiana, and the pair create their own mini-rose garden. Fragrant, and grows to five feet.

A little TLC

In the spring, after you have pruned away dead wood and shaped your bush (removing also any very old wood or lanky canes) it's time for a meal. Fertilize with a quarter cup of Epsom salt to provide magnesium, and a well-balanced organic fertilizer. A good layer of rich compost will also do the trick. Some new mulch at this point will help to conserve moisture during the year, and keep weeds to a minimum.

Once a month through July, feed with a mixture of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion, and in the fall, give a helping of bonemeal or rock phosphate for a healthy root system.

If you remove dead flowers, you will have more flowers later in the season. However, if you wish to have hips in the fall and winter, you will need to leave the old blossoms alone.

With just a little tender loving care, rugosas will reward you with many years of beauty and fragrance.

If you want to know more about growing roses in northern climates, send for the Garden Sampler's Guide to Growing Roses in Northern Climates, which includes culture, care, feeding, winter protection, and 55 sure varieties described that are hardy to US Zone 3. Send $7.50 to: Rose Guide, the Garden Sampler, PO Box 7, Peru, VT 05152.

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Copyright 1997 by The Garden Sampler, PO Box 7, Peru, VT 05152 . All rights reserved.

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Last updated Feburary 1997