Rosa 'Zephirine Drouhin' first caught my eye because of catalogue descriptions claiming it would bloom in the shade of a north-facing wall. I was skeptical, but intrigued. I had a partly-shaded nook by the steps leading to our new deck, and I thought a climbing rose would be very pretty there.
This location does get several hours of afternoon sun, but that's not the all day sun that most roses prefer. I thought perhaps it would give me a few blooms, given its shade-tolerant description, but I never expected it to be so smothered in blossoms. We've planted them in much shadier locations in our parents' yards, and their reports agree with what other DGers have said: 'Zephirine Drouhin' really does bloom in the shade! I don't know of any other rose that blooms this well with so little sun.
To me, a rose just isn't a rose unless it smells like a rose. So even more important than discovering that the blooms of 'Zephirine Drouhin' were a gorgeous clear pink was reading that they had a delicious "old fashioned rose" scent. When I saw the first bloom forming on my new rose, I couldn't wait to shove my nose into it. As it turned out, I could smell its sweet scent from halfway across the deck! Heavenly.
I'm not much of a rosarian. Hybrid tea roses seem to need too much tending–fertilizing, spraying, deadheading–inevitably, I get behind on the schedule, and they start looking bad. 'Zephirine Drouhin' is my kind of rose. It thrives with minimal care from me beyond watering in dry summers. When other roses are nearly overwhelmed with blackspot or Japanese beetles, ZD sustains relatively little damage. It's not immune to common rose problems, but it's definitely more tolerant than most.
Another friendly feature is that 'Zephirine Drouhin' is nearly thornless. This is particularly important if you're planting it near a pathway, doorway, or stairway. My plant is so vigorous that its canes often threaten to block the stairs to the deck. But since it doesn't have thorns, I can just push my way through. Not everybody realizes it's thornless, of course, so I do try to keep it in check. Even pruning is easier with ZD, because I don't have to get out my elbow-length leather gauntlets to protect my hands and arms.
The biggest challenge with 'Zephirine Drouhin' in my garden has been trying to keep it in bounds. Each spring, I hack back the canes mercilessly. I lash them to the trellis, to the railing, to the drainpipe, in an attempt to keep the rose from completely blocking the stairs to the deck. Often, I have to prune it again in the middle of summer, because it's become completely overgrown. That's not generally a recommended time to prune roses, but ZD is very forgiving. No matter how often or how inexpertly I prune it, it responds with loads of vigorous growth and dozens of beautiful blooms.
If you love roses but have been reluctant to try one in your garden, because your yard is too shady, or you're afraid roses are too fussy, or you can't fit a thorny plant into your small space... reconsider! 'Zephirine Drouhin' just may be the rose for you.
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.