Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2011
Regional Report

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The deep red, five-petaled Home Run rose is easy to grow with few pest problems. (Photo by Gene Sasse (c) 2007, used courtesy of Weeks Roses)

Roses for Every Garden

Roses are arguably the most recognized flower throughout the world, and probably the most beloved when received in a bouquet. In the garden, it is an entirely different story, where they are as likely to be greeted with curses as kisses. What with their reputation for requiring doting attention, to say nothing of unrelenting spraying, their use in American gardens has declined over the last 50 years. To some extent that has changed in recent years with the introduction of Knock Out and the subsequent family members, including Double, Pink, Pink Double, Rainbow, Blushing, and Sunny Knock Out roses, all bred by Bill Radler.

As robust as the Knock Out roses are, there are many gardeners who are not totally satisfied, wishing for the toughness of Knock Out but with, well, a bit more romance. Of course, we want that romance without undue care and chemicals. Is that a fairy tale?

In the March/April 2011 issue of The American Gardener, the magazine of the American Horticultural Society, Patricia A. Taylor highlighted the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, New York. What is news-making about this public rose garden is that a local law banned the pesticides they had been using. Peter Kukieski, the curator, was forced to rethink his approach to growing roses. His research led him to an evaluation of the hardiest, most disease-resistant, and beautiful roses from around the world.

A Search for Roses
In Kukielski's search, the main sources of roses to grow and test included ones from German rose breeder W. Kordes Sohne; the House of Meilland in France; Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas; roses designated as Earth-Kind by the AgriLife Extension Service in Dallas, Texas; the Easy Elegance Rose series from Bailey's Nurseries in Minnesota; and the roses bred by the late Griffith Buck at Iowa State University.

Kukielski picked 1,300 roses, with an evaluation system set up in 2009. Roses were rated on floral beauty, foliage attractiveness, fragrance, and overall vigor. Of the 487 repeat-blooming roses in the trials, only 22 received a rate of Superior in 2009 and 2010. Of these 22, there was only one hybrid tea, Traviata, and one grandiflora, Mother of Pearl, both from House of Meilland. One heirloom rose made the cut, a China introduced in 1869 called Ducher. The five floribunda roses rating Superior included Brother's Grimm Fairy Tale, Easter Basket, Kosmos, Lady Elsie May, and Lion's Rose. The four Superior large-flowered climbers are all from Kordes and include Jasmina, Kordes Moonlight, Laguna, and Rosanna. Not surprisingly, of the 22 roses with a Superior rating, shrub roses predominate, with 10 designated. These include Caramel Fairy Tale, Cinderella Tale, Home Run, Karl Ploberger, Larissa, Macy's Pride, Peach Drift, Pink Drift, Purple Rain, and Quietness.

There are several observations to make from this list. First of all, shrub roses predominate. These generally have smaller flowers that lack the classic hybrid tea form many people associate with roses. For the most chemical-free roses, you're going to have to learn to love something different. The next challenge is finding these roses. Very few are currently widely available at your local garden center. In the short term, this means buying from mail-order sources. As these roses are showcased more, retailers will begin to carry them.

Of the roses on the Superior list, I am growing only one, Home Run. A shrub rose bred by Tom Carruth and introduced by Weeks Roses, it has single, deep red flowers. I can vouch that it is both tough and beautiful. Recently, I saw Mother of Pearl at a local garden center, and it will now join my garden.

If you're interested in searching out mail-order sources for these or any particular roses, there are two basic choices. Either do an Internet search or purchase the Combined Rose List, an international directory of mail-order sources for all roses in commerce that is published annually. For more information about ordering this volume, visit

Other Options for Great, Easy Roses
So what's a rose lover to do in the meantime? You can expand your possibilities by considering the top 115 roses for 2010 at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. The list is available at Another option, when you're shopping locally for roses, is to look at the tag to check the hybridizer or organization behind the introduction. Follow Kukielski's lead by looking for roses from Kordes, Meilland, Griffith Buck, or Michael Shoup of Antique Rose Emporium as well as those designated as Earth Kind Roses, (, and the Easy Elegance roses from Bailey's Nurseries. Of course, any of the Knock Out roses remain an option, too. Certainly, there are other possibilities as well. For instance, rugosa roses are among my favorites. Visit public rose gardens and talk with other people who grow roses to get more ideas.

The bottom line? There are lots of wonderful possibilities for roses in your garden that can provide beautiful color for many years to come, all without being a burden.

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