• Carolyn Thomas

Today's roses: never mind what your mother grew

Updated: 13 hours ago


One of the first things I learned in 1972 (when I was just a tiny baby!) after moving to Canada's beautiful west coast was this: gardening here is very different than it is anywhere else. For example, roses that grow happily here would not likely have made it through winter in my late mother's St. Catharines garden near Niagara Falls.


My mother was justifiably proud of her beautiful yellow roses that covered a tall white arbour in our back yard on Pleasant Avenue. (Yes, really. Pleasant Avenue). But while Mum loved those roses during their short June blooming period, even as a small child I can recall that the beauty of the blooms didn't seem to reduce her complaints about how finicky those roses were. She watered, she fertilized, she sprayed, she pruned, she carefully plucked off each dying leaf. No wonder I grew up convinced that growing roses was not a fun project.


Rose guru Brad Jalbert from Select Roses, a farm-style home-based rose nursery in Langley, BC (just east of Vancouver), once explained that, in fact"many favourite roses of the past are just too disease-prone to be sold today":



What rose growers hate: leaves covered with black spot fungus (left) or powdery mildew (right)

"Iceberg roses, for instance, once hugely popular floribunda rose bushes, are now so prone to black spot, they shouldn’t even be sold here. New Dawn, a striking pink climber, was also a big seller in the past, but today it is considered a mildew magnet."

Speaking of black spot. . . read this recent update on the horrifying sight that greeted me in June!


Because I'm on the lookout for the best rose suggestions for my unique coastal growing conditions, I like to ask the locals - like Steve Whysall. Before his 2017 retirement, Steve was the garden columnist at the Vancouver Sun newspaper for 26 years. When he interviewed Brad Jalbert for his column, Steve asked him for his top suggestions for roses that were "totally reliable, virtually bullet-proof, and guaranteed to provide years of trouble-free blooming on our coast." (Those sound like my kind of roses!)


Here are just a few of Brad's recommendations for roses that will do well growing in our specific west coast climate - but check these out to see if they'll also be as terrific in your own area, too):


1. The Germany-bred Kordes roses, especially the Vigorosa collection. Brad adds: "They have won trial garden awards and they excel as low-maintenance shrub roses. The rose called 'Ruby' has long-lasting red blooms, and grows to about 90 cm/3 feet. These are roses meant for mass planting at shopping malls and public areas, but also fit well into the home garden. They are definitely bullet-proof. You can prune them with hedge trimmers if you like. One established plant will produce more than 100 flowers in its first flush.”

Vigorosa, "Ruby"



2. Flower Carpet roses are widely available, but of all nine colours available in this collection, Jalbert gives ‘Pink Supreme the highest rating: “Gardeners tell me it produces masses of flowers and outlives most other roses they grow."

Flower Carpet, "Pink Supreme"



3. Weeks Roses"Julia Child" is an award-winning yellow floribunda rose. A spectacular mass planting of Julia grows in the small but perfect rose garden next to the British Columbia Provincial Legislature Building in downtown Victoria. "What an amazing rose this has turned out to be,” says Brad Jalbert. “Landscapers, park gardeners and home owners have all said that this is one of their very best easy-care roses. It has a wonderful bright yellow flower, unique licorice fragrance, and healthy glossy foliage. It’s one of the best yellow roses for our climate and it is proving itself to be one of the best roses in the world.”

"Julia Child", winner of the prestigious 2006 All-American Rose Selection award




4. "Elina" is a creamy, pale yellow hybrid tea rose that's known to be tolerant of urban pollution, producing large, flawless blooms that also make lovely cut flowers to bring indoors. “It's a member of the World Rose Hall of Fame and is one that our customers always recommend and praise,” says Brad Jalbert.

Elina, winner of the Top Rose Awards in Germany, Ireland and New Zealand.



In reviewing Brad's list of favourite roses for our coastal conditions, I'm most drawn to the first two listed ("Ruby" and "Pink Supreme") - perfect smallish sizes for my balcony planters. But I'm also madly in love with "Julia Child" (having walked past the stunning plantings near the Legislature many times). Yet those "Julias" seemed far taller when I walk past them in real life than the 2-3' that most sources describe their maximum height. I'll have to do more sleuthing on these as my favourite son Ben and I continue to learn more about becoming rose-growers.


News about our first marathon gardening morning of the season over at Ben's back garden here!


Meanwhile, I'll have to learn which roses will be just as happy living in pots. For more on choosing appropriate pots, see Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots.


JUNE UPDATE: Two things that might turn into problems, but too soon to tell yet:

  1. An APHID has been spotted on a bud on my Coral Drift groundcover rose, one of four Drifts in pots alongside the balcony railing. Easy to flick off with one finger, BUT STILL. . .

  2. I've noticed something odd about the stems (canes) of my Drifts: although they're growing tall and lush, the stems seem almost fragile - too thin to support the weight of the blossoms once the many new buds open.

JULY UPDATE: For some thrilling news FINALLY, read this report about what's blooming out on my balcony, all at the same time! Here's a hint . . .



While I'm monitoring these developments, a reminder: always remember to take time to smell the roses (unless the stems are too floppy or are covered with aphids!?) Which also reminds me: those frail weak stems I was so worried about on my Red Drift rose? Here's what the plant looks like in early July:







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