Cape Town - Midwinter is an ideal time for planning romance, glamour and old world charm for your summer garden. Wild roses, or modern repeat-flowering rose hybrids that look like wild roses, have become enormously fashionable in the past few years.
Known as the butterflies of the rose world, wild roses are easily identified by their single or semi- double flowers, which are strikingly different from the ruffles and multi-petalled layers of most roses found in gardens, or bought as cut flowers.
The wild roses of ancient legend grew on river banks, in hedgerows, on cliffs and seashores. They had single flowers and were found across the northern hemisphere from the Arctic down to New Mexico, and from China across to the US.
Palaeontologists believe that roses go back 70 million years. Historians tell us that the rose was first grown in Persian gardens, and flowers depicted on a Minoan fresco in Knossos are thought to be wild roses. Roses were highly regarded by the Chinese, Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans, and we know from fossilised roses found in tombs that wild roses grew in Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs.
Single and semi-double roses of modern breeding have retained the charm and simplicity of wild roses, their prominent stamens attracting bees and butterflies to the garden. They are easy to care for and come in a variety of colours.
The earliest wild rose grown by gardeners, Rosa chinensis mutabilis, has been in cultivation since 1896. This wild rose has single butterfly-like flowers on a bush of graceful growth habit. The flowers start off as pointed orange buds, then open honey-yellow and apricot, before deepening to carmine pink.
In the 1920s, when large-flowered single roses were in vogue, “Dainty Bess” was introduced. This lovely rose with its shell-pink petals and distinct maroon stamens has remained a favourite of gardeners and artists.
Introduced in 1937, the “Ballerina” is a hybrid musk shrub with small single pink blooms with white eyes on an arching bush.
Fifty-five years later, English rose hybridiser David Austin introduced “The Alexandra Rose”, whose single dainty coppery-pink flowers with yellow centres and stamens have the charm of a wild rose.
Among the most popular wild roses of today are the disease-resistant Knock Out roses, launched in 2000. Combining modern hybridisation with the appearance of a wild rose, the Knockout roses are bred as repeat bloomers that self-clean, so there is no need to deadhead. Those with single petals include Rainbow Knock Out, yellow Sunny Knock Out and Pink Knockout shrub rose.
Designing with wild roses:
How do you use romantic, wild roses in the garden? Start by creating a vertical tapestry of colour on fences, over walls and up pillars and obelisks with single and semi-double climbing roses.
“Edgar Degas”, named after the Impressionist painter, has amber-yellow, raspberry and pink-flecked and striped semi-double blooms, striking when grown on an obelisk.
“Golden Showers” is a repeat bloomer with semi-double clusters of yellow flowers. A beautiful old climber, “Crépuscule”, will gracefully drape her almost thornless stems and loosely petalled apricot-yellow blooms over pergolas and through trees. Beautiful as the single yellow “Mermaid” is, it has vigorous growth and fierce thorns, and should be planted only where there is plenty of space.
Shrub roses are useful as screens, or as a background to lower-growing plants. “Sally Holmes” has clusters of creamy-white flowers on 2m arching canes that can be encouraged to grow over an arch or trellis. “Ballerina” is a hybrid-musk shrub rose with small single pink blooms with white eyes on an arching bush. “Rhapsody in Blue” has plum-purple fading to slate-blue semi-double blooms, and an upright growth habit.
Arches are useful for framing entrances and dividing a garden into “rooms”. Choose a rose that is a repeat performer such as white climbing “Iceberg”, “Altissimo” with single crimson-red flowers and golden-yellow stamens, shell-pink “Clair Matin”, “Cocktail” with crimson/red blooms and a golden eye, or “Joseph’s Coat” with trusses of semi-double red blended with yellow blooms.
An attractive border is possible with tall floribunda Rose “Rhapsody in Blue”, semi-double “Blue Bayou”, knee-high “St Katharine’s” with deep mauve-blue, semi-double fragrant blooms, and “Garden and Home”, with many creamy/apricot petals that open to reveal gold stamens, honey/pink “SA Garden/Tuin” and single apricot “Mrs Oakley Fisher”, combined with lavender bushes, catmint, heliotrope and Plectranthus “Mona Lavender”.
Pastels are the easiest to mix and match in a garden with annuals and perennials in similar shades. Suitable roses include floribunda “Pearl of Bedfordview” semi-double pearl-white with a touch of pink, pink “Simplicity”, candy-pink “Carefree Wonder” and coral-pink “Johannesburg Garden Club”. Include deeper shades of pink with “Duncan’s Rose”, “Brilliant Pink Iceberg” and “Burgundy Iceberg” to add depth.
The fiery-orange of “Playboy” roses are guaranteed to liven up any garden, or you may prefer the gentler shades of peach/apricot “Deloite & Touche” and coral/pink “Simply Charming”.
A touch of country:
It is difficult for pollinating insects and bees to reach the pollen and nectar in roses with many petals, so single and semi-double roses are a good choice for natural-style gardens where they are a bee’s pantry and a butterfly’s delight.
Rose “Golden Wings”, “Yellow Butterfly” and apricot “Mrs Oakley Fisher” are charming among the buff-plumes of ornamental grasses. The single blooms of “The Alexandra Rose” would also suit a wild garden.
Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus