by Barbara Blossom Ashmun
If you love roses, but dread spraying and pruning every spring, try some easy care roses. With two-thirds of an acre to tend, I stopped growing high-maintenance hybrid teas and turned to rugosas and hybrid musks--they're much easier and very satisfying alternatives.
Rugosas and musks bloom on old wood, so there's no need to prune the canes each year to generate new branches. Just cut out dead wood -- canes that are dark brown or gray -- and trim away occasional branches that clog the inside of the plant, to promote good air circulation.
With very few exceptions, hybrid musks and rugosas are free of black spot, rust and powdery mildew. They bloom repeatedly through the spring and summer, and many are fragrant. Between the two groups you'll find diverse enough heights, shapes and colors to meet all your needs.
For a thick hedge that's also beautiful and fragrant, Rosa rugosa, the sea tomato, is a fine choice. Its shiny green leaves are crinkled; crepe-papery flowers are white, pink or pinkish-red with a sweet scent.
Six-foot-tall hybrid rugosa 'Hansa' makes a great screen. It has huge, fragrant, double, purplish-pink flowers followed by shiny, jumbo hips. 'Scabrosa' is also appealing for quick privacy, with single pink flowers the size of saucers. Like 'Hansa', 'Scabrosa' sets huge red hips after flowering.
Rosa 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup'
A Seattle friend, Loie Benedict, gave me a slip of 'Blanc Double de Couvert' many years ago; it's now a substantial colony, five feet around. I treasure its early bloom and sweet-smelling, semi-double white flowers, as delicate and translucent as oriental poppies. For a small garden, the more compact 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup' is just right. Its large single pink flowers keep blooming while the hips form, so that both coincide delightfully.
'Therese Bugnet' is another favorite that my friend Anita Morrison gave me. Its ruffled, lavender-pink flowers look like they belong in a grandmother's garden with feverfew and love-in-a-mist. Unusual burgundy stems add interest to the plant.
I count on the hybrid musks as much as the rugosas for a long season of color. Many become wide-spreading shrubs that grow compatibly with perennials in mixed borders. Their clusters of small flowers have an old-fashioned charm, yet bloom continuously as well or better than many of the modern roses. Hybrid musks bloom well in full sun or partial shade, making them good transitional plants.
Several of the pastel cultivars actually prefer partial shade to full sun. Pale pink 'Ballerina', silvery-pink 'Felicia', white 'Prosperity' and white 'Moonlight' fade and rapidly turn brown in full sun. Their flowers last longer in dappled shade, and show up well, illuminating the darker parts of the garden.
The hybrid musk rose that draws the most comments in my garden is 'Mozart'. Huge clusters of reddish-pink flowers, each with a white eye at the center, make it a knockout. Starting in May, it's smothered in bright flowers, and three more flushes of bloom in summer and fall repeat the thrill. My six-year-old shrub is about five feet tall and at least eight feet across, thriving in full sun despite heavy clay soil and winter flooding.
Where you need a big beauty, plant 'Vanity,' with clusters of large, single, magenta-pink flowers that bloom at the tips of tall canes. The bush grows seven feet high and spreads even wider, with enough space between the branches to thread a clematis, or grow blue spike speedwell. 'Lavender Lassie' can serve as a large shrub or a moderate climber. Its gracefully arching branches are loaded with clusters of cool pink flowers hinting of lavender. It's easy to train on an arch or trellis -- the canes are long and flexible, and the flowers are continuous.
Now that I've tempted you to grow these easy-care roses roses, let me tell you their few simple needs. A good planting hole, two feet deep and two feet wide, amended with , well-rotted manure and a handful of bonemeal. Regular watering during the dry summer months. And a top dressing of chicken manure or compost every spring. For so little they will deliver repeated bloom, delicious scent, and in many cases, a bonus of fall hips. Don't resist -- you deserve these treasures.
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