Some climbing roses can climb trees, cover buildings, or yards of sturdy pergolas. The reward can be a sky full of roses on a summer's day. To accomplish this, though, requires not only the space to offer one of these giants, but careful planning to provide a sturdy support for a spectacular display for years - even generations - to come.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 10, 2008.)
The first time I saw a rose climb a tree, I was simply amazed. It was the 'American Pillar' rose planted next to a scraggly osage orange tree in an old rose garden at an historic house here in Greensboro. It simply leaned against the tree and climbed toward the sun. It grew out the top of the tree and cascaded again to the ground--like a giant floral fountain at the edge of an overgrown wooded pasture.
'American Pillar' (Figure 1) was the first rose I'd seen climbing a tree. Later, when I visited the Biedenharn museum in West Monroe, Louisiana I was enthralled by Lady Banks roses (Figure 2) climbing telephone sized poles anchoring the small zoysia lawn in the ELsong Garden. 
I'd read about climbing roses in old English gardens from the classic old garden books. In the late 19th century England, Gertrude Jekyll designed her projects for country estates with lavish use of climbing and rambling roses and Vita Sackville-West designed her garden at Sissinghurst with roses scaling the walls of her 14th century castle. But Americans seem to be intimidated by a rose that will climb a tree or cover the walls of a large building
Climbing roses range from low climbers at 8 to 12 feet, to pillars trained on tall posts or tuteurs,  to 20 to 30 or more feet tall "scramblers" that can scale a wall or building. Climbers can be exceptionally long-lived so it is important to consider the size, growth habit, and flowering schedule of the rose you intend to plant. In fact, most of the giant ramblers flower only once annually. They may have interesting foliage or hips or fruits that prolong their seasonal interest. But because of their size and limited, if spectacular, seasonal interest, they are best sited to be viewed from a distance. If the rose is to climb a tree, it needs to be placed on the side of the tree exposed to the most light. Place the hole at least two feet from the tree trunk and make it large enough for the roots. Enrich the soil with compost to provide a nutritional boost to get the rose off to a good start. It may take a few years before the rose is actually established enough to start scaling the tree. It may also need some initial support for climbing from twine or wire placed around the trunk of the tree. Most roses will thrive if they have excellent drainage, good light, good soil, and ample space to grow. It's best to plant a rose on its own roots, so that there is no possibility that the grafting stock rather than the real rose is the one that actually becomes established.
Figure 2. Rosa banksiae 'Lutea'
To choose a tree for a giant climbing rose you will want a sturdy but otherwise nondescript tree. The concept of planting a rose to climb a tree is to camoufloge a rather unspectacular specimen that perhaps is just too much trouble to take down and dispose of it. In England old apple trees at the far end of an orchard are often selected as suitable trees for growing roses through. The amount of thorns the rose has may be a consideration, but the large roses need only minimal maintenance. Occasionally dead canes need to be cut away at the base to allow room for new canes to replenish the rose. 
Climbing roses cut across all taxonomic classifications. There are even climbers among the tiny miniature roses. And there are some roses that can be trained either as shrubs or climbers. Many of the David Austin roses can be trained as short climbers or grown as tall shrubs. 
The classification of roses is a difficult subject to discuss mainly because there is no uniform universal classification system. The American Rose Society classification has 56 categories. The World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) has 39 categories, and the British Association of Rose Breeders (BARS) has 30.
It may be useful to show how the climbers fit into the grand scheme of rose classification. Most people are familiar with the show roses which include hybrid teas, grandifloras, tea roses, and hybrid perpetuals. Shrub roses include modern shrubs, hybrid musks and hybrid tugosas, English toses (David Austin Roses) and China toses. Low-gowing roses include floribundas, miniatures, polyanthas, and groundcover roses. Remontrant (repeat-blooming) old roses include the Portlands, and Bourbons. Old European roses include the Gallicas, Albas, Centifolias, Damasks and Moss Roses. Species and Near Species Roses are another category. Finally, climbing roses include large-flowered climbers, cluster-flowered climbers, miniature climbers, ramblers and noisettes. Links and further explanation of these classes can be found on many websites including the rose section of Gardenology
Here is a list of one of the main classes of roses that climb into trees--the ramblers.
Rosa bracteata includes McCartney rose (1793) which can be highly invasive, and the vigorous offspring Mermaid (Figure 10) and Mermaid hybrids, Sea Foam 1919, Liepsig 1939, and Pearl Drift (1981). Other bracteata hybrids include Alba Simplex, Alba Odorata 1848, Marie Leonida (1832), Pink Powderpuff (1990) and Schneezwerg (1912) 
Figure 3. Rambler May Queen Figure 4. Rambler Dorothy Perkins Figure 5. Rambler Pauls Hymalayan Musk
Noisettes are a class of tender short climbers adapted to the American South. They usually range from 12 to 15 feet in height. They include some very remarkable roses such as 'Mme. Alfred Carriere', 'Lamarque', 'Glore de Dijon', 'Marechal Niel', and 'Reve d'Or'. Rhea Worrell has presented an overview of the Noisettes in this article for the American Rose Society . As a group they are unusual to include yellow roses.
Figure 9. Easlea's Golden Rambler, Figure 10. Mermaid, Large Flowered Climber (Bracteata). Figure 11. Alberic Barbier. R. Wichuraiana
Steve Jone's award winning article  is an excellent introduction to climbing roses and how to train them. Climbing roses allow you to use vertical space - an important dimension in any landscape design. But best of all they create a memory of roses against the sky on a summer day.
 Steve Jones. Roses that Climb: How to Grow them and Enjoy Them. February 1997. "Rose Ecstasy" bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor. Award of Merit Winnter, American Rose Society. scvrs.homestead.com
Figure 1. Mgarr. Nov. 28, 2005. American Pillar Rose (Van Fleet 1902) hybrid Wichurana, Rambler. Plant Files www.davesgarden.com. "Taken at Longwood in late June."
Figure 2. Ladyanne. May 13, 2007. Rosa banksiaie. Banksia 'Lutea' Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com
Figure 3. Bootandall. 'May Queen Rambler'. Nov. 22, 2005. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com "Near the Botanical Gardens in Wellington NZ."
Figure 4. Kell. June 16, 2007. 'Dorothy Perkins'. Wichurana. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com "Grown by our very own rose queen Zuzu."
Figure 5. pwarden. 'Pauls Himalayan Musk'. Paul 1916. Rambler. PlantFiles. www.davesgarden.com "Here is the rose that is eating my house - I love it! It thrives on neglect and is indestructible in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia."
Figure 6. Pookerella. June 11, 2006. 'Kiftsgate'. Murrell 1954. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com. "This particular photo was shot along side the ramp from Route 25 West traveling to Routes 106/107 South, Long Island, NY."
Figure 7. Pookerella. June 11, 2006. 'Kiftsgate'. Murrell 1954. Flower Detail. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com "Image shot along side the ramp from Route 25 West traveling to Routes 106/107 South, Long Island, New York."
Figure 9. pwarden. July 3, 2007. 'Easlea's Garden Rambler'. Eslea 1932. "I saw this lovely soft yellow rose at one of the gardens on the Denman island British Columbia Home and Garden Tour, June 17, 2007." pwarden. "An Aristocrat of yellow climbers on long strong stems. Growth vigorous and extremely healthy with plenty of reddish thorns." 20' x 15' Beales p.318. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com
Figure 10. Philomel. Sep 12, 2002. 'Mermaid'. Large flowered Climber. Plant Files. "I love this single rose. It carries on flowering well past Christmas some years in my garden in England." 30 ft.
Figure 11. Microworld. Sept 12, 2007. 'Alberic Barbier'. Barbier 1900. Rambler Wichuraiana. Creamy white flushed with lemon yellow. "Healthy. One of the best ramblers." Beales, p. 315. 15' x 10'. Plant Files. www.davesgarden.com
About Gloria Cole
I am a retired archeologist and curator of an historic house museum. I live in Greensboro, Alabama, a small rural historic Southern town, with my two dogs, a rabbit and (by recent count) two cats. I am upgrading a 100 year old neoclassic house and clearing and planting my two-and-one-half acre property. Of plants, I love roses best of all.