Monday, February 23, 2015

The greatest roses you never heard of

Not knocking 'Knock Out' but...

 Ask people to name an “easy care” rose and the most likely answer you’ll hear is ‘Knock Out’.

Introduced to the gardening world in 2000, this humble shrub is highly touted for its disease resistance, hardiness and drought tolerance. I've nicknamed it the "Lazy Gardener’s Rose" because it even tidies itself up, eliminating the need for extensive pruning. 

'Double Red Knock Out'
Fact is, when you visit a big box garden center or nursery these days, 'Knock Out' and the members of its extended family are about the only varieties of roses you’ll find. And although these shrubs have their place in the landscape, it is a shame other varieties are overlooked. Especially one largely unknown and underused class of antique roses that can give modern shrubs a run for their money.

Rosedom's unheralded superstars are Polyanthas, and I'm pleased to report these oldies but goodies are now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  
'Cl. Cecile Brunner'

Polyanthas made their debut in France in late 1800’s, originally the result of crosses between China roses and sprawling Multifloras.  The new class of rose was disease resistant, hardy and everblooming. And because they tended to be compact growers, polyanthas were ideal for mass plantings, containers and low borders. 

As a rule these roses are only available through mail order. Two exceptions are ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Cecile Brunner’, (also known as the Sweetheart Rose). You may just stumble upon these in your area. But there are dozens of other varieties in a palette of colors ranging from white to cherry red to purple just waiting to be discovered by gardeners.
'White Pet' Courtesy David Austin Roses

Cydney Wade, owner of Rose Petals Nursery in Newberry, Florida, declares polyanthas to be the “rosarians’s secret” because of their versatility, bloom power and history. “It may be a small class, but it includes some highly rated varieties that have survived over 100 years.”

'Clotilde Soupert'

‘Perle d’ Or’, ‘Clotilde Soupert’ and ‘The Fairy’ are three of the most popular at the nursery. (Rose Petals has a number of polyanthas in stock and they ship each Monday.) She recommends ‘Pink Pet’ and ‘White Pet’ for containers and ‘Gartendirektor Otto Linne’ as a stunning climber.

Consulting Rosarian and American Rose Society judge Bill Blevins is also a polyantha enthusiast. “ They offer ease of growth, quick repeat bloom and the charm of a bygone era.”

He notes ‘Lullaby’ remains a favorite from 1953 with its heavily petaled white to blush pink blooms and dark green leathery foliage.

But Polyanthas aren’t all antique. Along with ‘La Marne’ (1915) and ‘Marie Pavie ‘(1888) Bill gives high marks to two modern additions to the class: red ‘Wing-Ding’ (2006) and orange-red ‘Zeniatta’ (1991). 

'Pookah' was a head-turning winner at Biltmore
Last May, a gorgeous polyantha called ‘Pookah’ bred by James Delahanty, won The Honorable John Cecil Award for Open Group at the Biltmore International Rose Trials.  I was one of the judges there and would love to add this robust beauty to my garden.

I grew ‘Zeniatta’ in Maryland and like ‘Pookah’, it was very vigorous, throwing out spray after spray of traffic-stopping blooms.

I also planted ‘The Fairy’ in the small garden we started at our cottage on the Eastern Shore. When we decided to tear the house down and rebuild, we planned to dig up the roses and keep them in pots during construction. 

'Zeniatta' is perfect in borders and containers
Unfortunately, the backhoe showed up a day earlier than expected and my plants, including ‘The Fairy’ were buried under a mountain of broken concrete blocks. I was devastated, because my late mother-in-law had given me the rose as a housewarming gift. I vowed to replace it one day.

Six months later while clearing construction trash to start my new patch, I noticed something green emerging from the debris. When I looked closer I spied the unmistakable 7-leaf leaflet of ‘The Fairy’. She’d survived, and within a short time was once again waving her cheery pink blossoms at me from the front garden.

'Lovely Fairy' is a sport of the legendary original

So next time you think about buying a rose, choose one that combines a rich history with dependable performance and spunk.

Pass up the ‘Knock Out’ and pick a polyantha.


Les said...

Though I don't normally like pale pink, The Fairy is one of my favorite roses. The fact that it survived the backhoe is a real testament.

Lynn Hunt said...

Les, I have fallen in love with Lovely Fairy, as I said, a sport of The Fairy. It is wonderful for garden display and holds in a vase forever. And it is more disease resistant than the original. Hope your plants all pull through after this winter. I am worried about my garden, but we will see come late April.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

I had a Fairy when we were in Seaford and loved it. Think I need to check out more of what Cydney has to offer. :-)

Lynn Hunt said...

Janet, she has some beauties at Rose Petals! I am also going to investigate where 'Pookah' is available. It was a real showstopper at the Biltmore Trials. And as I said to Les, Lovely Fairy has become one of my new faves.

sweetbay said...

I have a couple of polyanthas and like them a lot: Clotilde Soupert and Marie Pavie. MP will lose her leaves though.

My garden is full of roses that are just as "no care" as the 2 Knockouts that I have. Most of them are rugosas and rugosa hybrids.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sweetbay, thank you for mentioning the rugosas. I have written about them before but they certainly deserve an ovation. I am working on an article for The Christian Science Monitor on roses and will certainly include them. I know Cydney Wade also recommends Clotilde and Marie. Thanks again for your comment.

Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, I've heard of Cecile Brunner when looking for roses to plant in the garden. As you know, I steer clear of the modern hybrid tea and bush roses and go for English roses and classic ramblers. I've recently added Paul's Himalayan Musk to my collection and Banksiae Lutea is my "Ace" card. I'm so glad your treasured "Fairy" rose survived the traumatic burial and recovered.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, Cl Cecile can take over the side of a house which is why we moved ours to a new location. Did I tell you before I had Paul's Lemon Pillar when we were living in the UK? Can't wait to see photos of your Himalayan Musk. And I am anxious to see how the new David Austin Albrighton Rambler does here.

Sarah Laurence said...

What an adorable granddaughter, and congratulations! I'd love to see Australia some day. Thanks for the tour!

Lynn Hunt said...

Thank you Sarah! I'm so glad you stopped by and enjoyed the posting. Australia is amazing but if you ever get down that way, you must visit New Zealand. It should be on everyone's bucket list. I will pass along your compliment to Poppy's proud parents!

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