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Many rose varieties tough enough to thrive in Pittsburgh's climate

Saturday, May 20, 2000

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You know the drill. You're headed out to your local home and garden center to pick up an extension cord and suddenly you see them lined up on the sidewalk, as if they were pink ice cream cartons standing on end, crowned by those three telltale thick thorny green sticks.

Ah, roses.

    Related gardening articles

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Doug Oster's Kitchen Gardener column

Drought means it's time to reseed


Your pulse quickens. You realize it's that time of year again, when hope trumps experience and you actually believe that this time you will have your rose garden full of delicate hybrid teas, trembling with dew, there for the cutting, even in August.

Yeah, right.

One year, I bought 'Lagerfeld' -- a magnificently fragrant pale lavender rose -- and got a few fat blooms the first year, maybe the second, and, after that, pffft. Same with 'Sheer Bliss' and 'Tiffany.'

Maybe the winter got them, but in truth, I have a rose garden that could best be described as marginal. I get 41/2, maybe five hours of sun a day (hey, this is Pittsburgh, land of hills and shadows and narrow city backyards). For roses that require pampering, spraying and six hours' minimum sun a day, such as hybrid teas, particularly, that just doesn't cut it.

Well, now there's help for those of us rose lovers hanging out there on the edge. Over the past few years, Friday's Perennials nursery in Harmar has quietly built up a selection of unique and unusual roses that do well in less than optimally sunny conditions. They don't come in pink boxes, but their flowers come in every color of the rainbow.

While they don't produce blooms the size of tennis balls, they don't come on stick-like stems either, with leaves that drop off at the first sign of black spot. Rather, these are graceful, arching shrubs with foliage that stays healthy even in the muggiest depths of August -- often without spraying. And while many of them bloom only once, usually in May or June, that shouldn't deter people from including these lovely plants in their garden.

  'Nevada' is a modern shrub rose that can be found at Friday's Perennials nursery in Harmar. (Tony Tye - Post-Gazette photos)

"People automatically turn away from a rose if they hear it doesn't repeat bloom," says Joy Benusa, a landscape designer who manages the rose program at Friday's. "I try to tell them, wait, when it is in bloom, it's phenomenal: It blooms for a much longer time, there's a great fragrance, and beautiful rose hips -- which are the plant's fruits -- in the fall."

Benusa is partial to Alba 'Semi-Plena,' which has large, single-petaled flowers (meaning it looks more like a magnolia than a classic rose), a golden center, completely disease-resistant blue-green foliage and heavenly fragrance. It will take some shade, and in the fall it produces the most enormous orange-to-scarlet hips.

She also loves 'Rosa Glauca,' which, on first blush, doesn't look much like a rose at all but rather like an exotic shrub. It has small, feathery, burgundy-silver leaves and electric pink starlike flowers.

Her other favorites include 'Sally Holmes,' a climber with gardenia-like petals that does fine in some shade; 'Knockout,' a new landscape rose with extraordinary red flowers and an intense cherry fragrance; 'Hansa,' a Rosa rugosa with unusual purple blooms (you can see it on the grounds of the Pittsburgh Zoo); and 'Rosa Mutabilis,' which produces different color blooms on one plant -- some yellow, some red, some pink. All of them are marketed at $18 a pop.

This isn't to say that many gardeners won't find wonderful roses in area nurseries this year, old standbys like 'Mr. Lincoln,' 'John F. Kennedy,' 'Tropicana' and 'Peace,' plus the newer landscaping roses 'Bonica' and 'Carefree Wonder,' and the ever-popular David Austin English roses that combine old-rose fragrance and flat, unfurling petals with the repeat blooming habits of hybrid teas.

There are also some places where unusual varieties can be found: At Sestili's nursery, there are some good, tough Rugosa roses such as 'Therese Bugnet' and 'White Dawn,' a white sport of the ever-popular pink climber 'New Dawn.' At the Beechwood Garden Center, whose owners took over the Darlington Nursery in Squirrel Hill on Beechwood and Forbes avenues, I found 'Aloha,' a polite peach climber that isn't known for its vigor but is one of the parent roses of my all-time favorite David Austin English rose, 'Abraham Darby.'

    Prize-Winning Roses Are Announced

Rose fans will be happy to hear that the All-America Rose Selections have announced the winners for 2001. These plants were evaluated for 15 traits, including disease resistance, hardiness, color and novelty in gardens across the United States. They should be available next season, so make a note.

'GLOWING PEACE': Named after its grandparent 'Peace', this rose combines beauty with modern novelty. Large round buds open to reveal full, 3-inch blooms featuring 26 to 42 golden yellow or cantaloupe orange blended petals. Deep, glossy green foliage serves as a backdrop for the blooms and gives way to burgundy fall color. This is a round, bushy grandiflora rose, growing 4 by 3 feet, and it is resistant to disease. It has a light tea fragrance. The French house of Meilland hybridized this variety from a combination of 'Sun King' and 'Roxane.' 'Glowing Peace' will be introduced by Conard-Pyle Co.

'SUN SPRINKLES': This is only the fifth miniature rose to win AARS honors, and the first since 1993. Its blazing yellow blooms add life to any landscape. Extremely disease-resistant, the bright yellow blossoms are produced against a backdrop of petite, dark green, glossy foliage. Its high, pointed oval buds spiral open to reveal 2-inch petite, double blooms with 25 to 30 petals and a moderate spicy fragrance with overtones of musk. This little rose grows from 18 to 24 inches. John Walden hybridized 'Sun Sprinkles' by combining 'Yellow Jacket' with an unnamed seedling. Bear Creek Gardens Inc., is the introducer.

'MARMALADE SKIES': Brilliant tangerine orange blooms engulf this rose from the beginning to end of blooming season. Healthy, medium olive green satiny foliage provides the backdrop for the constant show of color. This floribunda produces clusters of five to eight blooms on each strong stem. Oblong buds open to reveal 21/2- to 3-inch double blooms with 17 to 25 petals. This compact, round plant grows to 3 by 3 feet, making it a good choice for a hedge. This rose was hybridized by the House of Meillan from a combination of 'Tamango,' 'Parado' and 'Patricia.' The rose will be introduced by Conard-Pyle Co.

-- Mackenzie Carpenter


Friday's Perennials stands out among area nurseries for another reason: A good number of its roses are "own-root," which means exactly what it says: The roses are grown on their own roots rather than budded onto a more vigorous rootstock to make them grow faster. That's unusual because most own-root roses were only available by mail, from places like the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas or Heirloom Roses in Oregon, which sends along tiny roses that seem like seedlings but, with little prodding, grow into sturdy plants in two to three years.

John Clements, who co-owns Heirloom Roses with his wife Louise and supervises a breeding program, believes own-root roses are the wave of the future because they tend to be more winter hardy, dying back to the ground and then springing up again as if January never happened.

He also claims his own-root roses are free of mosaic virus, which has infected much of the rootstock in the rose trade in recent years. Although other rosarians say that the damage effects of the virus are overstated, a plant's blooms might be reduced by about 20 percent in severe cases, not enough to kill it.

Clements, a veritable own-root-rose evangelist, also claims that budded roses develop a large woody knot at the base after about 10 years and lose their vigor, failing to put up new canes to rebuild the plant each year. Own-root roses, on the other hand, can last up to 100 years or more, and do especially well in places like Pittsburgh, where freeze-and-thaw cycles can wreak havoc on roses that need winter protection.

"There is a debate out there about this, but the bigger companies are coming around" to selling own-root roses, says Clements.

Not so fast, says Keith Zary, chief rose breeder for Jackson & Perkins, the only other major rose breeder. While agreeing with Clements that own-root roses are more winter hardy, he disputes his claims about the woody knot problem, saying that plenty of budded hybrid teas can last in a garden for decades: 'Mister Lincoln,' 'Chrysler Imperial,' 'John F. Kennedy,' for example.

"We've got hybrid teas that have been in our gardens for 30 years and are blooming their brains out," says Zaray.

Well, then, what about 'Lagerfeld'?

"It's a lavender rose, and while beautiful, it's bred from a very weak strain in order to get that unusual color," he says.

J&P is one of the kings of the budded rose, hybrid tea trade (it owns 25 percent of the market nationally), but it already sells own-root roses, although its catalog doesn't advertise that fact.

"All of our miniatures and all of our shrubs are done on their own roots, and next year we'll be introducing several hundred thousand floribundas and hybrid teas on their own roots," says Zary.

Besides winter hardiness, the plants have a more natural shape "unlike a budded plant which is more artificial looking, as you can imagine."

"The hybrid tea is a racehorse. The miniature and shrub roses are the workhorses."

And that's why such roses are perfect for Pittsburgh, adds Benusa.

"These are roses for people who are into gardening for the long haul," she says. "These are roses for people who want healthier plants, and fragrance, and a nice growing habit, not just the blooms. And people are responding. They want more ecologically sensitive spaces. They want butterfly gardens. They're giving up their yew-balls ..."

Come again?

Benusa laughs. "You know, those yews -- evergreens -- shaped into balls in front of everyone's house? They're everywhere in Pittsburgh. And people put pansies in the spring, impatiens in the summer and mums in the fall, always in front of their yew-balls."

"I tell them, put a rose there instead. Wherever you have a shrub, there's a rose that belongs in your garden."

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