Welcome to the May 2004 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 the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. 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. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.
in the Shade
Roses, Entwined in the art of gardening since ancient time, duly celebrated and recognized by anyone who is aware that flowers possess names, have undeservedly earned a reputation for being finicky and demanding of perfect growing conditions. On the contrary, the 250 or so species within the genus Rosa include some very adaptable shrubs. Consequently, the formula for success is in drawing on the diversity of the genus and selecting the right rose for the location.
At right: 'Great Maiden's Blush'
A general rule of thumb for roses is the more sun they receive, the more bloom. Yet I have had a good quotient of success growing roses in shady gardens. Not all roses will perform or even survive in shady sites, however, so the choice of appropriate roses is essential to success.
My Knowledge of roses that tolerate shade has been accumulated over a number of years through the inevitable trials and errors. As the focus of my nursery business shifted from perennials to roses, it became increasingly necessary to test more and more roses in the gardens. Vegetable, herb and annual gardens bowed to the roses; whenever perennials or shrubs succumbed to our fierce and fickle Maine winters, they were replaced with roses. In the process, I squeezed roses into some quite unlikely locations. Now, with more than 600 roses in the gardens their sites run the gamut of light conditions from full sun to a few hours of dappled sun.
In any less-than-perfect location, shade included, it is best to select roses that are less exacting in their cultural requirements. Very generally, the closer a rose is to the true species, or the less hybridization in its background, the more adaptable it will be. In addition, varieties that bloom once in the season are less choosy about their growing situations than high-performance, repeat-blooming roses. There are exceptions to the rebloom rule, most notably among the rugosas and China roses (species that are naturally recurrent). Roses suitable for a shady spot might be selected from the true species and their closely related hybrids; from the groups of older garden roses such as the gallicas, damasks and albas; and, in warmer areas, from more tender groups such as the Chinas.
If you intend to grow roses in shade, make sure that all other growing requirements are met. Drainage is important; roses do not like standing water or soggy oil. At planting time, enrich the planting soil with composted material. If the soil is very heavy, amend it with generous amounts of sand and compost. Roses situated close to trees must deal with competition from tree roots for both moisture and nutrients. You must be extra diligent in assuring an adequate supply of these requirements.
Roses need a steady supply of moisture, especially while establishing roots during their first full growing season. In climates where rainfall isn't sufficient, the hose can compensate, but much water can be conserved by applying a good mulch around the roses. I use a heavy layer of wet newspaper topped with 2 to 3 inches of compost or aged manure. (Avoid bark mulch, as it may contain growth inhibitors, and it robs nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes). This method of mulching has other benefits: the composted material supplies an even, natural source of nutrients and eliminates competition from weeds.
At left: 'Cardinal de Richelieu'
For best performance, I give my roses a biweekly to monthly feeding of fish fertilizer (better yet combined with a vitamin-hormone concentrate). I discontinue feeding six weeks before the first fall frost is expected. The list of roses that have performed particularly well in shady spots in my gardens begins with a number of species and species hybrids. Garden visitors frequently inquire about Rosa canina, a charming species rose. It is a vigorous, gracefully arching shrub with attractive healthy blue-green foliage. I have two forms, both of them single, but one white and the other a delicate apple-blossom pink. The pink form of Rosa canina is highlighted with paler centers and a prominent center of yellow stamens. A showy display of scarlet hops tops off the season.
Rosa eglanteria, also known as eglantine or sweet briar, is a multi-interest rose with a long season of appeal. Eglantine's foliage is perfumed with a spicy green-apple fragrance that carries throughout the garden on a damp day. The single blossoms are a cheerful bright pink and give way to a good crop of scarlet hips. The hips have a flavor to match the fragrance of the foliage and are wonderful for tea or preserves. Eglantine forms curious mossy burs permeated with same scent; they are very attractive in potpourri. Rosa eglanteria grows into a long-caned, abundantly thorny shrub. It is also useful as a climber. 'Eddie's Jewel' is a hybrid of the species Rosa moyesii. It has many of the characteristics of that species, most notably the fine foliage and long-caned angular growth. The blossoms are semi-double, bright cherry-scarlet, and are borne along the canes. It makes quite an eye-catching picture early in the season when it is in full bloom.
The large, snowy blossoms of Rosa x paulii (sometimes referred to simply as |Paulii') are quite unique, with the five petals widely separated, much like the flowers of clematis. Although Rosa rugosa is one of its two species parents, the hybrid R. x paulii does not have the rugosa trait of recurrent bloom. Growth is lax, arching and vigorous, and the stout canes are well armed with thorns.
A cross between Rosa rubrifolia and Rosa rugosa led to the hybrid 'Carmenetta.' Like Rosa rubrifolia (also excellent in a shady location), 'Carmenetta' has handsome foliage in hues of blue-green, purple and deep red with dark purple canes. Single, bright flamingo-pink flowers are displayed starlike against the foliage. The flowers are followed by elongated maroon hips and colorful autumn foliage.
Tall and rambling, the prairie rose (Rosa setigera) blooms in clusters of single deep pink flowers with paler centers. The long-lasting blossoms open one by one and fade a degree each day, thus producing the effect of clusters of many shades. The flowers come late (at the end of July here in Maine) and are very welcome at a point in the season when most roses are resting. The foliage is like that of blackberries and remains healthy and handsome throughout the season.
One of a handful of disease-free yellow roses, 'Harison's Yellow' is a hardy hybrid of two species roses. The small double blossoms are a pure sunshine yellow perched along the arching canes. The foliage is fine and fernlike. 'Harison's Yellow' extends the rose season with its very early bloom. It is a popular old favorite still seen flourishing at old homesteads despite years of neglect.
My list of roses suitable for shade continues through the ranks of the old garden roses. It includes several adaptable gallica, or French, roses. Although hybrids, most of the following roses are not too far removed from their species ancestors.
At right: 'La Belle Sultane'
'La Belle Sultane' (or 'Violacea') is a very old gallica rose that looks as if it is out of the pages of an ancient herbal. The blossoms are barely more than single; the color is a dark crimson brushed with even deeper tones. The petals pale around a handsome center of gold stamens. 'La Belle Sultane' suckers and tends to wander a bit in the garden, weaving its way through other plants and putting forth lovely blooms in unexpected places.
The origin of gallica rose 'Jenny Duval,' like those of so many of the old garden roses, is unknown. Its double flowers are comprised of wavy petals in the splendidly blended gallica colors of crimson, violet and mauve fading to tones of lilac and gray. The blooms are endowed with a heady perfume. It is a midsize shrub, about 4 feet tall, with healthy foliage and neat growth habits.
Tricolore de Flandre' is a quaint gallica from the mid-1800s. The flowers are small, very double and very old-fashioned in appearance. The colors are blush pink striped with a purple-crimson; it has a good old-rose fragrance. The shrub is small and compact with attractive foliage.
'Scharlachglut' (or 'Scarlet Fire') is a newer hybrid that shows its gallica heritage in its appearance and its contentment with a shady spot. The tall arching growth, however, is uncharacteristic of the gallicas. The blossoms are single, glowing scarlet, borne in profusion early in the season and followed by orange urn-shaped hips.
Some roses defy easy classification in any of the old-rose groups. 'Petite Lisette' is one; although often included with centifolia roses, it seems best listed with damasks. Among the roses in my garden's shady locations, it is one of the best performers. The shrub is dense and leafy although not particularly petite! The fragrant flowers are medium sized, a tumbling profusion of very double rich pink blossoms displayed against the attractive foliage.
'Felicite Parmentier' has the healthy, gray-green foliage and pastel blossom color that are characteristic of the alba group. The deliciously perfumed flowers are double, pale blush with centers of slightly deeper shell pink. 'Felicite Parmentier' arrayed in its lovely blossoms is a very appealing sight.
The moss roses, distinctive for their green fringe of "moss" on stems and buds, were very popular in Victorian times. 'Marie de Blois' displays russet moss and bright crimson-pink blossoms. Its heady perfume enhances a shady walk in the gardens.
At left: 'Penelope'
If rules are to be broken, 'Sally Holmes' certainly does so, blooming in the shade in spite of its complicated parentage. A hybrid musk, 'Sally Holmes' reveals an affinity to its distant ancestor, Rosa moschata, perhaps the origin for its shade tolerance. While I can't claim this rose has been a dazzling success in its spot under a large weeping willow, the late-season display of large, creamy blossoms and long, pointed apricot buds is undeniably breathtaking. The flowers are lightly fragrant. 'Sally Holmes' is a bit tender in my climate and sadly succumbed to last winter's wrath but will be replanted in the same spot to repeat the display of so many seasons before.
The antique rugosa hybrid 'Souvenir de Philemon Cochet' performs well in two different shady locations in my garden. Its fragrant, recurrent flowers are snow white and look very much like large double hollyhocks. The foliage is handsome and healthy as it typical of rugosas: the growth, somewhat taller (to 6 feet) in the shade, is dense and upright.
'Prairie Dawn' is a modern hybrid with a host of species entwined in its background. It is a hardy tall-growing rose, tolerant of a variety of conditions, among them shady locations. It blooms profusely early in the season with some intermittent bloom later. The double blossoms are a rich salmon pink and endowed with an appealing strong citrus fragrance.
This smattering of shade-tolerant roses should provide a notion of the diversity of possible varieties for gardeners blessed or burdened with shady conditions. And shade can certainly be a blessing particularly for gardeners in hot climates where a searing sun can wither a rose blossom before it can be enjoyed and where heat stress limits performance. In addition, roses with blossoms of a delicate disposition or coloring prone to fade in strong light are far lovelier in the shadows. Roses as well as rose fragrances, last longer in the shade.
Most roses will grow taller in a shady location, which will require some adaptation or ingenuity on the part of the gardener. The taller growth of shade-grown roses can be accommodated by training the roses into trees, over fences and against pillars. Many gardeners accept and enjoy the wild or cottage garden look of roses spilling over and weaving amongst their neighbors.
Where tidiness is preferred, pruning will effectively encourage denser, lower growth. Believing that roses over winter better unpruned. I do not prune in the fall. This way I can assess any winter damage and compensate in the spring when I trim back winterkill. Pruning to shape the shrub is best done after the first flush of bloom so as not to sacrifice any bloom, most particularly on those roses that bloom only on old wood.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, growing roses in a shady spot requires an acceptance of a degree of performance less than perfection. Many a wild rose sprouts and grows in a far-fetched site; it may not be the most exemplary specimen, but it is all the more appreciated for its lovely blooms in contrary conditions.
Suzanne Verrier of Phippsburg, Maine, is a garden consultant and designer, and the owner of a specialty rose nursery. The author of Rosa Rugosa (Capability's Books, 1991), and Rosa Gallica, (Capability's Books, 1995)