I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
My husband and I have been married 39 years. Several years ago we built our retirement home and now have lots of room to garden. Last year for my birthday my gift was a rose garden, anything I wanted. I had been planning my dream in my head for several years, even before the house was built. Now I had to get serious, get some plans down on paper, order roses...how exciting!
The first thing you should probably do when you begin a project like this is decide on a budget. At least that is what I am going to recommend to you. I didn't have a budget for my rose garden ... carte blanche ... I know most people aren't that lucky (and I may never be again).
Next, consider location, location, location. Most roses, regardless of type, need at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. I thought about situating the rose garden on the east side of my lot, but was afraid parts of it might not get enough sun. After much agonizing, my husband and I (I did ask his advice on a few details) decided to center it in the rear of the house behind our pool, facing south. It would get all day sun, but be exposed to more wind. How to deal with the wind? One thing to do would be to plant rugosas in the most exposed spots, as rugosas can take more wind 'abuse' than other rose types. Also the rugosas would generally be large enough to provide some protection to smaller hybrid teas and floribundas. If the wind is still a problem, a windbreak of junipers or other appropriate shrubs could be planted upwind of the rose beds.
Now, what about size? Do you want it small and manageable with a few special roses? Or do you want to go all out and pack in every rose you ever heard of? Something in between? How much space can you devote to it? I had a nice space about 40' x 22' to work with. Generally, curved lines are a big improvement over a square box shape. Unless you have a specific design in mind that requires hard lines, which might be the case with a very formal garden, think in softer terms. Try sketching out different designs on graph paper, or, if you have garden design software* as I do, try some different designs there until you find one you like. Keep in mind that most roses are not maintenance-free. You will need to get into the beds for pruning, spraying, mulching and other garden chores. If your beds are very deep they should have paths built through them for access. You'll also want to be able to "stop and smell the roses," maybe take a few pictures and cut some to bring in the house. Just be sure to leave enough room.
Here's the shape I settled on. There is some room for future expansion on each side. Now, I had always wanted an arbor with red roses climbing on it, so that is at the center front of the garden. In fact, I had bought a gated arbor on sale two years earlier and it was in the garage still in it's original box. I had faith that I would use it some day. I have another garden with a dry-laid stone wall on one side and I like the look. There is a gentle downslope toward the rear of the lot, so the rose garden has the dry-laid stone on the south side to level the field. I want a look of unity to the various gardens in my little paradise. I've already said there should be paths in a deep garden and 22' is pretty deep. Looking at different choices for paths, I chose flagstone to coordinate with the stone wall.
1) 'Dublin Bay' on the main arbor 2) The gated arbor in place 3) T he dry-stacked stone wall/the flagstone path
Every garden should have some kind of focal point. To me, it made sense to have something located centrally so you see it first thing as you enter through the arbor. The path encircles a small area with just enough room for a trio of special roses ('Mother's Rose' from Jackson & Perkins) and a plaque dedicating the garden to the memory of my mom.
1) 'Mother's Rose' 2) Looking in the gated arbor to the circle 3) The dedication plaque
Now for the overall design you have to first decide what kind of roses you want to grow. Are you a 'collector' like I am and enjoy all different types? Do you specialize in old garden roses (OGR)? Maybe you want to use many of the same rose for a stunning effect. If your space is very limited you might want to consider miniatures and minifloras.
I almost always think in terms of color. That's a huge part of what draws me to flower gardening. I'm a quilter for the same reason. The garden is situated almost exactly on an east-west axis. So the two large quadrants became the "Dawn Garden" and the "Sunset Garden". They both radiate from the central arbor with the red climber. Towards the 'dawn' side it first fades from reds to deep pinks, then paler pinks and gradually changes to mauves and purples. On the 'sunset' side, from the reds it goes to russets, oranges, melons, peaches, then yellows and creams. There are also some bi-colors, such as 'Oranges 'n Lemons', which is situated where the oranges change to yellows.
I had other ideas for the two smaller quadrants in the back of the garden. Each one is centered by a climber paired with a clematis on a pillar. My dear mother-in-law was a rose lover whose name was also Rose. 'Rosemary Rose' (her middle name was Mary) is planted in her memory in the east garden, which I named "Yesterday's Garden". She will be joined this year by 'Noble Antony' in memory of my father-in-law, a very sweet man whose name was Anthony. For Christmas this year I received the statue of the rose lady pictured at left. She will be placed next to 'Rosemary Rose'. The other roses in this garden are mostly OGR's.
The west side is the "Peace Garden". 'Peace' has always been my favorite rose. I have painted it's portrait because it captured me. In my previous home I grew 'Peace', 'Chicago Peace' and 'Pink Peace'. In searching for the Peace-related roses to purchase for this garden, I found there were quite a few descendents of the original 'Peace' rose, so I am collecting them in this space. There are five now and I will add more this year. There is also a yellow rugosa on the windward side, as previously discussed.
1) 'Peace' rose 2) 'Peace' painted by author in watercolors 3) 'Pink Peace'/'Glowing Peace'/'Desert Peace'/'Chicago Peace'
When you are planning where to put your plants, you must remember to take into account their mature height and width. You will often be provided that information along with the plant, but you need it before you make any purchases. Two good sources are right here at DG in the PlantFiles or at HelpMeFind-Roses, a site where you can get a lot of information about a rose, including (usually) it's mature size. I am treating the larger beds, 'Dawn Garden' and 'Sunset Garden', as circular beds because they can be viewed from all sides. So the taller plants will be placed toward the center of the beds. You can see in the diagram at the right that the width of each plant is built into the plan. For the other 2 beds, the tall plants will be in the back near the fence.
I went internet shopping for the plants. The Rose Forum is a great place to hang out and get lots of good information on which roses will grow well in your zone. There is also a list in the 'stickies' (permanent informational postings) at the top of the forum of the on-line rose nurseries that are recommended by the members and why. I always check the Garden Watchdog here at DG for further information and reviews of online and mail order gardening companies. It would be impossible to assemble the collection of roses I was interested in at local nurseries, although I did buy several plants locally. I ordered a total of 54 plants initially, which grew to more than 70 by the end of the summer.
All that was left was to meet with the landscape designer. I recommend that you get several quotes and find someone that you can work with comfortably. I already had a good working relationship with a landscaper. He does my plowing, mowing and bed maintenance and has built other garden beds for me. I know his work is reasonably priced. Better yet, I know I can work with him even though I have very distinct ideas of my own and he has to put aside his own 'designer' personality. This was going to be a relatively expensive project because dry-laid stone work is labor intensive and it is a very large bed. I knew this in advance so I didn't have sticker shock when I was presented with the estimate. The work began the middle of April. The landscape company built the bed and added the hardscaping to my specifications. Then they assisted with planting as the roses were delivered, but worked from my diagrams using my planting guidelines. This is not a how-to article, but I will say that I insisted on 18"-24" deep holes, addition of compost and manure, and an egg shell, banana peel, epsom salts and bone meal in each hole. With the smaller orders of just a few plants, I did the planting myself.
1) After the first rose bushes were planted in May 2) All the plants are in and the bed is mulched
1) A different view of the Sunset Garden in August 2) The 'Mother's Rose' circle with Artemisia 'Powis Castle'
One last thought... companion plantings. As you see in the last picture above, I have some artemisia planted with the 'Mother's Rose'. It makes a lovely backdrop. There are also some hardy geraniums in that central circle. I managed to get in a few other perennials that I thought would go well with the roses before the season ended; baby's breath (Gypsophila paniculata), forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and oriental lilies. You may want to do the same. Or fill in around your roses with beautiful annuals. Or plant your roses in mixed beds initially. So many possibilities with this most beautiful of flowers!
Postscript: The first real spring of the garden is coming soon. I am giddy with anticipation and hopeful that the roses all make it through my Western New York winter. At today's count, I have 30 new roses ordered for spring planting. If you are interested in what specific cultivars I have planted, you may read my garden journal, which also has the layouts of each of the beds.
* If you are interested in garden design software, please see my series of articles on this subject. The first of these articles, Garden Design on your Computer, Part I: a mini-review of the available software is followed by 3 more, a week apart, that will give you more in-depth information. The thumbnail image of the 'Dawn Garden' and the graphic representation of the entire garden were both done on my software which, unfortunately, is no longer available. I use it exclusively and have put away my graph paper and colored pencils.
Note: all photographs were taken by the author in the author's garden (title thumbnail is of 'Lion's Fairy Tale'); graphic representations were produced by the author using 3D Home Architect Garden Designer (no longer supported or sold by the publisher).
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)