Roses and garden envy

Published 7:50 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

It’s true. Garden envy is a terrible thing, but I admit that I have a serious case.

My friends in Devon have the most amazing garden. They own an early 19th century rectory and are restoring the gardens. The person who built the house was a wealthy individual, so the rectory is large – seven bedrooms, three floors, a historically significant walnut staircase, multiple sitting rooms, and an Aga reigning over a large kitchen. The house is lovely, but it’s the garden that I covet.

It originally had espaliered fruit trees, a vegetable garden, an herb garden and formal areas with perennial beds, box borders, and wide grass paths for strolling. When the rector or visitors needed privacy, they went to the garden where they could walk and chat without fear of being overheard.

My friends have replanted the orchard with heirloom varieties of Devon apples. Yes, they are properly espaliered. The perennial beds have been restored so that there’s almost always something in bloom – hellebores in late winter/early spring, primroses just a bit later, and then daffodils, tulips, roses, and finally dahlias and anemones for summer through fall. But, in my mind, the roses are best feature.

Constance Spry roses clamber up and over the front door and fill the air with the scent of myrrh. They’re also sprawling over stone walls, around windows and featured in many perennial beds. I love climbing roses but find them intimidating. There’s something worrisome about allowing anything to climb up the side of my old brick house. I have visions of bricks being destroyed and walls collapsing. But … there’s a way around these potential problems.

My friends have attached a sturdy metal grid to their house. It’s fastened so that it’s about 3 inches off the walls. The roses are trained to climb over the grid and never come in contact with the masonry. Problem averted. And now for training climbing roses to behave properly. The British philosophy is “treat them mean; keep them keen,” meaning prune relentlessly and bend the canes horizontally and then downward to get the most blooms. Remember that climbing roses aren’t vines, but really just large leggy shrubs.

They produce two kinds of shoots – the long structural canes and flowering side shoots. In late winter/early spring, inspect the climbing roses and remove any dead or damaged canes, as well as any that are causing overcrowding. Prune side shoots to leave two to three buds and then bend the end of every stem downward. This technique of bending rose canes downward is called self-pegging and was developed at Sissinghurst where rose canes are bent over and pegged at the ground, thus saving space and forcing more blooms.

If you’d like to try growing climbing roses, there are plenty of varieties available. ‘Abraham Darby’ is a short climber and repeat bloomer with apricot colored blooms and a strong fruity fragrance. ‘Graham Thomas’ has yellow blooms and has been voted with world’s favorite rose several times by the World Federation of Rose Societies. It’s another repeat bloomer and can be trained to climb walls, fences and rose pillars. ‘James Galway’ has almost thornless arching canes and pink blooms. It’s a short climber. And then there’s the ‘Albrighton Rambler,’ which produces canes that are 10 to 12 feet long. It’s perfect for fences.

Yes, climbing roses require lots of ongoing tweaking and maintenance, but I’ve just got to have some. Garden envy will to that to even the most overworked gardener.

CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener who writes for The Herald. She can be reached at cynthia.crewew23930@ gmail.com.