Over the past 10 to 15 years, roses for the home garden went from being, by far, the No. 1 flowering shrub to suffering a huge decline in popularity.
Smaller space gardens, changing demographics, disease issues like black spot and mildew, plus fewer products available to control pests and diseases, are just a few of the reasons why the queen of all flowers fell from favour.
Yet today, we’re seeing a renaissance in garden roses. This resurgence is led by innovative breeders producing more versatile garden roses that can go anywhere in the landscape and have a great resistance to disease.
To find out more about this comeback, I contacted Brad Jalbert, owner of Select Roses in Langley, B.C.. Jalbert is not only a great rosarian, he’s also a breeder whose roses are being sold around the world. Jalbert has introduced 65 new rose hybrids, and he is truly a rose authority.
“What encourages me about the rose industry is the number of younger people, even those with small-space gardens, who really want to have a rose in their garden,” says Jalbert. “We are seeing rose sales going up, both in Canada and the United States.”
Why? “Well, breeders around the world are realizing the importance of developing care-free roses,” says Jalbert. “So the quest is on to produce roses that have excellent disease resistance and provide continuous colour throughout the growing season.”
What types of roses should folks be looking for?
Jalbert says many companies are supplying great varieties but, in his opinion, the German Kordes roses are among the best. Based on my personal experience, I would agree with him.
“In Canada, some of their best roses are branded under the Livin’ Easy series. Varieties like the red hybrid tea Grande Amore and the pink Beverly are not only beautiful but fragrant as well.” Jalbert also likes their Parfuma series, particularly Summer Romance and Bliss.
The Easy Elegance roses from Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota are another ground-breaking series. Ping Lim was not only a great rose breeder but also a prolific one, and there are many terrific varieties in this series. They are used mainly as landscape shrubs that fit in nicely almost anywhere, and they flower prolifically all summer.
Although they don’t produce much perfume, these versatile roses are disease resistant and are hardy down to zone 4. Only Grandma’s Blessing and Kiss Me varieties have a light fragrance, but this company is continuing to work on its entire line and is committed to developing more perfumed varieties.
The branded Proven Winners Knock Out roses are a pretty good series, too, but it’s important to realize they were bred for a very hot and humid climate, and Jalbert says there are better ones for our area.
Drift roses are more of a miniature type and are nice for creating a low-spreading, compact effect. They have good disease resistance, and they perform quite well on the West Coast.
The well-known Flower Carpet roses are useful as ground covers, especially on slopes or banks, but you must cut them back hard each year to achieve that nice, full covering. They are quite hardy and once in place, provide a beautiful carpet effect.
The U.S. company Star Roses is now connected with Kordes and is producing a series called Romantica that has a wonderful Olde English look and good disease resistance. They will be showing up in garden stores in the near future, hopefully next year.
For some elegant perfume, David Austin’s English roses are among the best, but are still subject to black spot and mildew. Their breeders are currently working on this issue. Their newer varieties have far greater disease resistance, but are difficult to find in Canada. Jalbert mentioned that their Olivia rose has very good disease tolerance.
For those folks who still love the older, well-known varieties, many of which are prone to diseases, Jalbert says a little prevention goes a long way. Proactively using the preventative sprays, like Safer’s Defender that are still on the market, will help a lot. Also, if you have a disease problem, simply cut the rose back hard and let it renew itself in better summer weather. It’s surprising how quickly it will bounce back and continue to flower throughout the summer on a much fuller, healthier plant.
Sunsprite, one of the great older varieties, has good disease resistance. It’s a compact, fragrant, bright-yellow floribunda that performs well all summer and, unlike many floribundas, has longer stems for cutting.
What about growing roses in containers? If you have lots of sun and good air circulation, you can grow roses in containers, but they truly do better in the ground. I like the Easy Elegance series as container plants, but if all you have is a patio or deck, then choose a rose you really like, preferably one that is fragrant.
Why is it so hard to breed perfume into roses? Jalbert explains that the gene that produces perfume is one of the most recessive and is very difficult to breed into a rose. Most breeders today are looking for continuous flowering, disease resistance, good colour and an attractive flower form.
If you are growing a number of roses and some have perfume, place the fragrant ones close to your patio and plant the others around your landscape. When you cut a bouquet for inside, always include some perfumed ones so you can enjoy the scent.
Of all the roses he has bred, I asked Jalbert to choose his favourites.
“That’s like asking which child is your favourite. I love them all, but I’m particularly proud of Our Anniversary, a perfumed, low-growing red hybrid tea and Dylan Rose, an easy-care soft pink with a nice fragrance.”
Jalbert also shares an interesting observation: “You just never know where your roses will go. I’ve always loved Bette Midler as a singer and actress, and I was delighted that she purchased one of our roses to be named after her. I had the opportunity to meet her, and she is such a delightful lady.”
We should be very proud of this local rose expert. Not only is he a great breeder and grower, he’s a delightful person as well.
By Brian Minter
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019