• Carolyn Thomas

Roses: who do you love?

Updated: Aug 21

I was bitten last summer by the Rose Bug - and in one lovely afternoon of browsing the Russell Nursery full-colour rose catalogue with my favourite son, Ben, I decided to replace my balcony plants with masses of easy-care roses this year. Goodbye red geraniums and trailing blue lobelia! But I had a very specific list of my dream roses. They had to do well in pots, first of all. Planting a tall top-heavy rosebush that grows with galloping speed (like the Kiftsgate rambling rose I planted at my Vic West townhouse, for example, would not do well in a patio container that would quickly run out of room to accommodate its massive root system.

So first on my wish list: must be suitable for container growing. No matter how gorgeous that picture in the rose catalogue might be, if your new rose isn't happy scrunched into an under-sized pot, nobody will be happy. For more on choosing an appropriate pot, see Balcony Roses: Thoughts on Pots.

Next, I wanted a rosebush that would bloom like a geranium - in other words, whenever I plant a classic garden workhorse like the common geranium, I know that I'll have non-stop no-fuss bloom all summer, well into winter, and sometimes, in the Mediterranean sub-climate we enjoy here on Canada's west coast, it might even over-winter so that we'll watch it bloom again the next summer.

So my second wish is for continuous bloom until frost.

Next, I really wanted a rosebush that wouldn't need any fussy treatment. (I know, I know, my list is starting to sound impossible, isn't it?) In other words, healthy glossy leaves, no black spot, no powdery mildew, no chemical sprays needed, none of the problems that roses are famous for. UPDATE: Uh, oh! Did I say POWDERY MILDEW? See this JULY UPDATE with a scary photo of powdery mildew on the leaves and new buds of my Flower Carpet Scarlet groundcover rose!

I wanted a rose that rose growers call "well-behaved". Here's what a well-behaved rose is like: the bud slowly swells, the petals begin to gracefully open, the bloom is breathtakingly beautiful, and when those petals are finished, they very delicately fall, one at a time, down to the soil below. A well-behaved rose "pays its rent", and is such a joy that it's worth whatever small effort is required to keep it happy. Roses that are NOT well-behaved tend to have blooms that ball up as they fade, leaving ugly brown messes that insist on clinging desperately to their branches. They have problems with aphids and rose diseases. They give roses a bad name. For more on problems you don't want in your own roses, see: "Roses: Never Mind the Ones Your Mother Grew".

So that third wish: must be a well-behaved rose.

And what kind of rose did I finally choose for my inaugural balcony rose garden?

It's called Popcorn Drift®, featuring soft buttery yellow buds that fade to a creamy white as they open - hence its evocative name. Popcorn is one of the trademarked Drift® family of hardy groundcover roses that grow about two feet high and spread about two feet wide (which should fit nicely into any of my large balcony pots). Drift® roses are tough, disease resistant, winter-hardy repeat bloomers. The Drift® breeders describe them as "perfect for gardens small to large, for planters, and for mass commercial plantings. They brighten up borders, fill in empty spaces, meander around established plants, and can control erosion on hillsides and slopes." That impressive list is even longer than my own wish list!

But wait! That's not all!

Because Drift® roses come in many irresistible colours, I couldn't help myself: I ordered three other colours, too: Apricot, Red and Coral. My balcony rose garden will be a riot of colour this summer - I hope! More on those beauties very soon as I plant them out along the balcony railing.

But wait! That's not all! Here's what can happen when you finally decide on just the right colours to order: when I drove out to Russell Nursery this morning to pick up our bare root roses, my Popcorn Drift® was NOT THERE among her carefully chosen Apricot, Red and Coral sisters. The growers had sold out. But luckily, Russell's did have some other colours still available, so I chose one called Sweet Drift®, described as "forming full clusters of sweet pink blooms from mid-spring to the first hard freeze of late fall. No cottage garden is complete without the charming romance of Sweet Drift®." Here's what my new pink Sweet Drift® will look like some day (I hope!)

UPDATE: Planting the First Roses Out on My Balcony) Pictures of my own charming romance will follow as they get settled into their new balcony home.

JUNE UPDATE: things are really happening out on the balcony with my four Drift family members growing fast! And my Flower Carpet Scarlet is now in its own Hanging Basket! But just a wee observation or two which I hope can be resolved: our drizzly and unseasonably cool spring so far may be the culprit in causing thin, frail-looking stems among the Drifts. There are lots of buds forming - but how will these delicate little stems be able to support the weight of the open blossoms once those buds open up? Lack of adequate sunlight is apparently an issue here. And another issue might be APHIDS. I was able to flick one finger at the Coral Drift bud to dislodge its resident aphid, but for more tips on earth-friendly ways to get them off your roses, read this.

JULY UPDATE: First, I had to move the Scarlet hanging basket to a waist-high spot; it turns out the large basket was casting shade onto three of the four Drifts below for an alarming chunk of the day. Scarlet's buds are still tightly closed. But lots of excitement out on my balcony this week - FINALLY! Read this for more thrilling details. Meanwhile, here's a hint:

P.S. Remember those frail weak stems I was worried about on my Red Drift? Check it out (lower left photo) and note the nice strong straight canes having no trouble at all holding up those gorgeous red blooms.

P.S.S. My actual roses look nowhere near as lush as the plant pot label photographs promise - but hey! - it's only their first year, right?

AUGUST UPDATE: Check out the illustrated 'ups and downs' review of my summer out on the balcony.

While I'm scanning the weather reports for sunny forecasts and flicking off aphids, please remember to take time to smell the roses. . .

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