Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Jan. 20, 2021

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The Garden Life: Don’t worry about achieving perfection in rose garden

The Columbian
2 Photos
The courtyard planting at Kiftsgate Court in England epitomizes the ideal of the landscape rose garden.
The courtyard planting at Kiftsgate Court in England epitomizes the ideal of the landscape rose garden. Photo Gallery

There are times in a gardener’s life when the world becomes a very small place. No matter what size of garden we tend, there are moments when the focus of our attention narrows. When we become immersed in the work at hand, such as weeding a vegetable bed or deadheading the cutting garden, the outside world seems to fade away. These are the times that we get our best work, as well as our best thinking, done in the garden.

Imagine yourself taking a panoramic photograph of your garden from a vantage point that takes in the entire property and then bring the lens down to a tight close-up shot of an individual flower blossom. When we narrow our focus, it often gives the job at hand a simple clarity. It is in tending to the detail of each plant that a garden becomes a perfect whole. A well-pruned rose in a bed of well-pruned roses gives the overall garden a neat, cared-for appearance.

Pursuing the ideal

Many regard a rose garden as the gardening ideal. In our imagination, a rose garden contains all the elements of perfection. The classic rose garden begins with a formal layout, delineated by evergreen boxwood hedging, packed gravel walkways and a backdrop of evergreen yew hedging. Even in the midst of winter snow, the garden pattern and pathways are evident in its formal layout. In reality, few of us will achieve this ideal. The most successful use of roses is one that incorporates them into the overall garden plan.

Many landscape roses continue to bloom late into the fall season. Early flowering and once flowering roses stop producing bloom by mid-summer. “Rosa glauca” is one such rose, but even after it is finished producing its mass of single, pink blossoms, the petite blue-gray leaves add an interesting accent to the flower border. Red hips last through winter. A backdrop of contrasting, golden foliage from Spirea “Goldflame” adds additional color highlight in autumn.

The foliage of Rosa glauca is a perfect complement to white clematis such as “Henryi,” “Candida” or “Duchess of Edinburgh.” This lanky, freestanding rose is an ideal foil for the clambering habit of most clematis vines. In fact, the rose and clematis merge so seamlessly that many garden visitors think the flowers and foliage belong to one plant. Mine is planted to grow up, alongside the post of a large, copper-roofed birdhouse with a skirt of peony foliage at its base.

If planted well and treated like royalty in the English style, roses will perform throughout the summer and well into fall. Rosa “Heritage” readily grows 6 feet tall with shell pink blossoms so full and weighted down with petals that the branches bow in a gentle arch. Look up and you see the full face of roses hanging from the highest branches. Smell the rich rose scent of those at nose level. Rosa “Graham Thomas” is the classic yellow English rose with a steady stream of blossoms from spring through fall. As flowers age, the densely packed petals fade to a delicate pale cream.

My favorite roses are easy to care for, disease free and strong in scent and color. These are roses that have the power to hold me in one place long enough to create a memory. The everblooming Rosa “Lyda Rose” is apple blossom pink fading to pale lavender. Her central yellow anthers stand out long and well spaced. The clear, bubble gum pink blossoms of R. “Baby Blanket” repeat continuously on 2-foot-by-4-foot, disease-free shrubs. The climbing Rosa “Darlow’s Enigma” is worth planting for its perfumed flower scent alone.

An autumn swan

Must-have fall shrubs include Fothergilla “Mount Airy.” This rather plain, small goose of a shrub transforms into an autumn swan of intense, classic fall colors. Each leaf contains a mix of oranges, reds and yellows. Honey-scented bottle brush flowers are born in April and early May. Another plant that most of us will recognize in fall is the aptly named “Burning Bush” (Euonymus alatas). The brilliant, pink-carmine autumn foliage on this plant is as intense as any fireworks display and a great backdrop for the autumn garden.

Hydrangeas are wonderful for their large, floriferous displays that hang on through November and December. If you only have space for one plant, be adventurous and try the dramatic “Oak Leaf” hydrangea. The combination of pale, sun-bleached flower clusters against maroon and burgundy autumn foliage makes this plant a one-of-a-kind find. Plant a threesome of the small mophead, hydrangea “Pia.” This dazzler sports a mix of blue, purple and pink flower clusters on the same plant.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at