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Welcome to the May 2001 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see "Other resources on this site". To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. This month's feature article is by Suzanne Verrier, author of two well known rose books: Rosa gallica, and Rosa rugosa. Thank you Suzanne for your article!

A view of Northcreek FarmSome of My Favorite Roses
by Suzy Verrier

I am quite certain I have a gene that dictates a predisposition to roses. Although I didn’t seriously start growing roses until the late 1970's, my mother (now in her 90's) was a Tillotson’s devotee way back when. I quite literally grew up with roses and think I conversed with roses before I had much to say to humans.

The species, gallicas and rugosas are my darlings which may have much to do with my style of gardening. I am a gardener of least resistance hence, my gardens have a rollicking nature. I advocate healthy soils and organic methods. I am quick to form bonds (A.K.A. ‘obsessions’) with plants and spend little time making decisions or plans. Give me a plot of prepared ground and it will be planted instantly. I am a steward of my gardens - my gardens are at liberty to teach me.

Rosa coryanaFor this reason, the above-mentioned roses are suited to this regime. These are strong roses in appearance and demeanor that can hold their own in my northern ‘jungle.’ Hardiness, health, vigor, fragrance, form and long seasons of interest are the virtues I value. Repeat bloom is not a requisite and I think, a poor reason to reject a rose.

At Right: R. coryana, a favorite species.

The species are among my favorites because in part, these are the original roses. I value their purity and simple elegance coupled with their will and ability to not only survive but flourish, all of which make these roses very agreeable garden subjects. I tend to use the species in the wilder and more natural areas of the gardens because here they shine. These areas tend to attract the birds and the dense thorny, vigorous growth of the species offers shelter, protection from predators and forage.

‘Metis’- R.  nitida X  Therese BugnetAlthough most species are quite tolerant of a variety of conditions, I try to give them optimum soil, sun and plenty of room. I want to be able to enjoy these roses at full potential. I’m particularly fond of combining the species roses with ornamental grasses and bold perennials (Veronias, Ligularias, etc.). One favorite area has a grouping of various species under planted with Corydalis lutea and Linaria purpurea that self seed and form a dense carpet among the roses.

At left: ‘Metis’- a cross of R. nitida x Thérèse Bugnet

Despite whether or not we agree on the number of actual species, there are nonetheless a large number of varieties to select from. But, the number of species offered is much too stingy compared with the realm and variety that exist. A few of the less common species that I would recommend are:

Rosa gentiliana is a boisterous climber with robust canes reaching 15' or more in a single season. The foliage is spectacular, large elongated leaflets, bright olive green and very glossy with never a touch of any malady. The large clusters of good-sized creamy-white blossoms are sweetly scented. And yes, the large hooked thorns are also very much in character.

R. gentilianaRosa dumalis is a much subtler shrub. A graceful arching shrub to 6' or 7' with blue tinged foliage and pretty mid-pink blossoms borne along the canes. And late summer through winter a good crop of especially showy bright scarlet hips.

At right: Rosa gentiliana

Rosa coryana (R. Macrophylla x R. roxburghii). Peter Beales dismisses this as "Interesting but not significant." Peter, I have a bone to pick with you! I absolutely love this rose and everything about coryana, all of which is unique from its airy fern-like foliage, elongated and curiously curled along the margins to its angular and open growth habit. The buds and hips are both covered in green bristles. The large poppy-like blossoms are lovely, mid-pink overlaid with deeper colored stains and embellished with a great boss of gold stamens.

The Gallicas, in so many ways very different from the species, are another favorite group. Most of these roses, greatly abetted by mankind, are a study in complex subtlety. Hardy, healthy and ‘tough as nails,’ but oh so sophisticated. They are for the most part, saturated in colors that are undeniably ‘mad’ and steeped in heady perfumes.

Rosa cantabrigiensisAgain, I provide excellent soil, full sun for best color and room to sucker at will and show their true dispositions. I regard the gallicas as garden weavers, free to pop up here and there for wonderful color and interactions of form.

Most of my gallicas are situated in our ‘purple garden,’ a long bowed bed with a backdrop of buddleias, alternifolia peaks with the gallicas. The gallicas are inter-planted with salvia ‘Purple Rain,’ low and tall verbenas and a host of other purple perennials that are a wonderful foil for the gallica hues.

At left: Rosa cantabrigiensis.

Some gallicas to consider if not already acquainted:

Surpasse Tout and just that. A particularly profuse bloom of large full blossoms in a deep pink palette touched with softer pinks and perfumed with a distinct and individual fragrance. In my garden it’s an excellent performer and a rose I can count upon to fulfill my expectations year after year.

'Alika' on the picture to see a larger image.Nouvelle Pivoine - I’d like to quote Gregg Lowery of Vintage Gardens because he tells it all with little more to be said: "Among the later large-flowered Gallicas none are more magnificent than Nouvelle Pivoine. This great ‘peony’ of violet, carmine, lilac and white could fill a soup bowl with one blossom."

At right: 'Alika'. Click on the photo to see a larger image.

Alika- is a departure from the preceding gallicas with a nod toward the species. Uncharacteristically large growth and simple blossom form, but very gallica in demeanor - much like a giant Officinalis. Large semi-double blossoms of dazzling crimson are complimented by always healthy, rich bright-green foliage. Following flowering, a crop of handsome hips, first green then turning orange to red. When in bloom, this stately shrub is a major attraction in our gardens.

'Nouvelle Pivoine'As with the two previous groups of roses, the rugosas are of a strong individual character. A distinguishing hallmark is the attractive wrinkled or rugose foliage, tough enough to thrive with exposure to salt spray and wind, yet always healthy and handsome. The rugosa is unusual also as a re-blooming species with blossoms of single to double and a heady, spicy fragrance that permeates the air.

At left: 'Nouvelle Pivoine'

I find the rugosas particularly adaptable to a variety of applications. We have a row of rugosas planted along a fence line to act as a windbreak for a bed of less stalwart roses. In that bed of roses I have integrated rugosas to provide a picture of health when blackspot or the August doldrums take their toll on their companions. I use rugosas as the backbone in many of our perennial borders and also as specimen shrubs to stand alone. In naturalistic plantings I’ve used rugosas, low junipers and ornamental grasses to attractive advantage.

Although excellent specimens of rugosas can be found growing from a crack in a ledge to pure beach sand, I treat my rugosas to better conditions. Sun is particularly important for rugosas as too little will produce leggy plants. Wind and exposure are not a problem. Also, I do give rugosas plenty of room to accommodate suckering.

At right: 'Popham Rugosa'.

A few lesser know rugosas of merit are:

Polareis is an older rugosa initially imported from the Leningrad Botanical Garden in the 1960's. The name of the original rose was lost so the variety is now being reintroduced as Polareis. This is a vigorous shrub; in its fifth season mine is 6'-7' high by as much wide. Clusters of creamy-white double blossoms blushed pink cascade over this impressive shrub. It’s a show stopper and very much admired in our gardens.

Popham Rugosa is a rugosa of grand proportions, at last measurement, 12' high by 19' wide. This was one of the few shrubs here when we bought this property. It was collected by a former owner in the 1960's at Popham Beach which is close by our saltwater farm. Popham Rugosa is a selection from the species which is larger in foliage, flower and overall size'Polareis'.

Will Alderman is a bit more manageable, in fact a tidy refined shrub with reddish instead of gray canes and a dense well-foliated growth habit. The blossoms are full and large, a rich rose-pink with subtle, deeper colored veining and saturated with perfume. A particularly nice rugosa and I can’t imagine why this rose isn’t more widely available.

At left: 'Polareis'

Well, I hope I’ve piqued your interest in a few of my favorite roses and at least taken a small step toward insuring these roses stay in commerce.

If you are in the mid-coast Maine area stop in for a personal tour of our farm and nursery. We have upwards of 350 varieties of roses in the gardens and more added each season. Blossoming begins in mid June and the gardens are ‘tour-worthy’ through mid October.'Will Alderman'

At right: 'Will Alderman'


This article Copyright © Suzanne Verrier 2001

For additional information contact Suzy Verrier at:

North Creek Farm

24 Sebasco Road

Phippsburg, Maine 04562

(207) 389-1341


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