Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
April, 2011
Regional Report

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The street-side arbor of this engaging garden is in enhanced each spring with the cascading blooms of Lady Banks rose.

Banksiae Rose is Spring's Most Glorious Lady

I've returned home after a two-week absence to find spring in full and fabulous bloom. Easter-egg-colored azaleas flower under blankets of white and pink dogwoods, while hardwood trees wrapped in purple wisteria and coral-red honeysuckle tower over frothy double-file viburnums and fragrant sweetshrub. Early perennials, including peonies, pinks, candytuft, ground phlox, and irises, are beginning to make a show too.

The season is so lovely, in fact, I've asked myself, "Is it always like this?" Sadly the answer is no. Two reasons come to mind. First, I've spent the last twenty-five years in new, suburban neighborhoods, where the spring ornamental of choice is the lackluster and stinky Bradford pear, and second, we've been incredibly lucky with the weather. The last month has been mostly cool and moist, prolonging blooms, and we've had no hard frosts.

My new home (roughly 60-years old), is located in an established neighborhood with many gardens planted by the "enough is never enough" maxim, especially when it comes to evergreen azaleas. Though I admit I've never been a fan in the past, this year I find their exuberance and clashing hues to be utterly charming.

They hold no candle, however, to the season's most glorious lady -- Rosa banksiae. Usually called by the more common name of Lady Banks, after the wife of English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, this thornless, evergreen climber greets spring with a vigor and joyful abundance unmatched by other ornamentals.

A species rose, Lady Banks can scramble fifty feet up a tree, cover a porch roof, or a blanket a fence with its long, slender branches in just a few seasons. She only blooms once a year, in mid to late spring, but what a spectacle she makes of herself. White or yellow flowers, borne in clusters two to three-inches across, cover the plant in flowing cascades of blossoms.

Several selections from the original wild rose, native to China, are cultivated. The two most common include 'Lutea,' with scentless, double yellow flowers, and R. banksiae var. alba (a.k.a. 'Alba Plena'), with violet-scented, double white blooms.

In the front yard of one nearby neighbor, a white Lady Banks cloaks a street-side arbor with such gusto and sparkle that the rose resembles a crown of brilliant diamonds. The seasonal display routinely stops traffic, as gardeners and non-gardeners alike pause to gawk and gape in wonder.

Needless to say, Lady Banks needs lots of room. She is not suitable for tiny landscapes or timid gardeners. She is easy to care for, though.

Plant the rose in full sun, or partial shade where she can grow up and out of it. She is not fussy about soil type, but like other roses, likes plenty of organic matter and a covering of mulch. The rose is drought tolerant once established, and should be pruned only to remove dead wood (as she blooms on second and third-year wood) or to keep her within bounds.

Lady Banks has virtually no disease or insect problems, and is even resistant to the persistent and troublesome aphid. The plant is easy to propagate from stem cuttings, as well as by layering, and is almost always grown on its own roots.

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