A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses. – A Chinese proverb.
Is there a flower more revered throughout history than the rose?
Greek mythology identifies the red rose as a symbol of love, having grown from Aphrodite’s tears and the blood of her lover, Adonis. To this day we associate the rose with love and beauty.
Just how old is the rose? Fossils reveal rose petals from 35 million years ago, but they were probably cultivated in China some 5,000 years ago. In the 15th century, a divided England fought the War of the Roses. A white rose represented the House of York and the red rose, Lancaster.
Eventually, Henry VII seized the crown and blended the two roses as the Tudor Rose. It remains a symbol of the country. By the 17th century the Romans planted large public Rose Gardens south of Rome, and roses were so revered they were used as legal tender.
In the 1800s Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, established famous extensive rose gardens at Malmaison, 7 miles west of Paris.
Today there are 150 species found from Alaska to Mexico and the northern region of Africa. Roses can be erect, climbing or trailing. Tea hybrids remain a favorite for their beautiful cuttings, while shrub roses are very popular. They are not demanding and they have good winter hardiness.
As hybrids are developed they seem to lose their lovely fragrance. Perhaps that is one reason there is a resurgence of Old Roses.
Whatever rose you choose to grow in your garden, remember there are some basic guidelines.
Roses require a good 6 hours of sunshine. Plant in well-drained rich soil, mixed with compost. Use mulch around the roses to help retain moisture and discourage weeds. Water deeply every few days as needed, as opposed to small amounts daily.
Water in the morning in the sunshine to allow the leaves to dry. Don’t crowd the area with other plants. Good air circulation is needed to help avoid black spots and powdery mildew.
Consider planting garlic nearby to keep pests away. Fertilize with a balanced, high-quality rose fertilizer that includes macro and micronutrients during the growing season. Always remove dead or damaged growth. According to the type of rose, prune back to 18 inches in the spring.
Always remove any unwanted branches and cut away from the center to allow branching outward. Keep your pruning blade clean with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading disease.
Deadhead spent flowers as this encourages timely re-blooming. Of course, remove any dead materials from the area around your roses. Be sure to wear strong gloves to protect your hands.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
This bit of wisdom is attributed to Alphonse Karr in “Letters Written from my Garden” in 1853.
Elizabeth Farrell is a Master Gardener with the Berks County Extension. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.