Winning With Shrubs Roses
Bob and I grow about 350 roses, for a total of about 170 varieties. Of those, 85 are hybrid teas, 1 is a grandiflora, 2 are climbers, 7 are polyanthas, 170 are miniatures, 50 are floribundas, 15 are old garden roses, and 20 are shrubs. As you can see, I like all kinds of roses, so I try to grow a little bit of everything. If I had more space, I would certainly grow a few more old garden roses and shrubs. But for now I have to be very selective because there is no more open space in my garden.
In the shrub category, I truly love the Austin roses, and they are the only type of shrub that I currently grow. You have to be careful when selecting Austins (or any kind of shrub) because their growth habits and bloom forms are tremendously varied. Some grow like floribundas, some like hybrid teas, and some even like climbers. They grow and bloom differently in the Northern United States than they do in Southern California. Even their petal count, color and bloom form may change from one locale to another. An intriguing example of this phenomenon is Graham Thomas, which is a small bush covered in big blooms when grown in the north, but is a huge climber with few blooms on long canes when grown in the south. Before rushing out and buying a bunch of Austins because of the pretty pictures you see in catalogs, I highly recommend that you first study them growing in public and private gardens in your area.
I am very interested in exhibiting, so the shrub roses I grow must perform well on the show table. The standards I require for exhibiting are similar to the traits that are desirable for a happy garden: Disease resistant, and lots of blooms with good color and form. I also love the fragrance of the Austins, although some Austins have more fragrance than others.
I've been growing David Austin English Shrub Roses for nearly 20 years, before it was fashionable to grow them. My first few Austins had to be imported from Hortico in Canada because at the time I knew of no other local supplier of Austins. My older shrub plants are most likely budded on Rose multiflora. Now, you can buy them from almost any local nursery, which are usually budded onto Dr. Huey, or sometimes they are growing on their own roots. From the very beginning, I began winning trophies with them.
The Squire ~ The velvety red blooms come on a small plant that grows much like a hybrid tea. Open and airy, not real bushy. Oddly, sometimes the blooms are intensely fragrant, and at other times I can detect no fragrance on them at all. Long stems, so no need to have stem-on-stem. Although The Squire will produce small clusters of 3 blooms per stem, he is best shown with only one bloom. Removing the side buds early will encourage a bigger central bloom. The Squire is one of the few Austins that will grow and bloom in partial shade. I grow The Squire on the north side of my house with only about 3 hours of morning sun, and it always seems to produce blooms in time for the rose shows. On its maiden voyage to a rose show, November 1993 in Palm Springs, we won the best shrub with him. In 1995, The Squire was in my winning District Albuquerque Challenge entry, along with Perdita and Leander. I've won nine trophies with The Squire, all were one bloom per stem, with one in an Artist's Palette among other varieties. The Squire is very popular among the judges, but what makes it difficult to win is that it is popular among the exhibitors, too.
Leander ~ The Hortico catalog claimed that the size of this shrub rose would be 3 x 3 feet. I think they meant to say 3 meters x 3 meters, but even the metric size would have been grossly understated. This bush is a climber! It grows to more than 10 x 10 feet, but it takes several years to get there. The plant produces huge clusters of smallish apricot blooms on very long stems. Again, no need for stem-on-stem condition when exhibiting. During the spring bloom cycle, the plant is covered in hundreds of blooms. The fragrance is light and fruity. You must prune it hard in the winter (hard for this rose is 6 x 6 feet). Then after the late spring bloom, prune it again in order to get another bloom cycle in October. Because the bloom is small, about 2-1/2 inches, and because of its ability to produce large clusters of blooms, obviously this rose is best shown in its clustered condition. However, I have won twice with Leander in an English Box of 6 blooms, and once in an Artist's Palette among other larger Austin varieties. Leander is not an easy rose to show and is not particularly good for cutting. It has a problem with the necks of the blooms drooping and the blooms lose substance after being cut. It does not refrigerate well. Yet, I've won six trophies with Leander over the past 10 years, because of its awesome clusters of 16 and more blooms.
Evelyn ~ I've grown this very pale apricot Austin shrub rose for nearly 10 years. In that time, I've only managed to win four trophies with her, and 3 were for Most Fragrant Rose, beating out other shrubs, old garden roses, and even the likes of Mister Lincoln. The problem is that most of her blooms are produced when there is no rose show, like July and November. I'm not really complaining because that means I have blooms to enjoy when other roses aren't blooming. The stunning blooms are large with an intense old garden rose fragrance. They are produced in small clusters on very long stems. The plant is very big. We've tried pegging but the plant got monstrous. So now we prune her 18 canes down to 3 feet in the winter.
Perdita ~ This tidy little Austin rose could easily be a floribunda. And indeed, Iceberg is one of her grandparents. The blooms are supposed to be apricot but can be nearly white in my hot Santa Clarita garden. The fragrance is a light licorice. The blooms are very long lasting on the bush or when cut for a vase. And the plant seems to be in bloom continually. I've won seven trophies with Perdita, some just one bloom, others in sprays, and one English box. She was in my 1995 District Albuquerque Challenge, and a small spray was the central focus of my winning National Griffith Buck entry at Portland in 2001.
Following my first four English shrub roses (The Squire, Leander, Evelyn, and Perdita) it was more than six years before I would add any further Austins. After the shocker of seeing Leander grow so big, and the disappointment of learning that Gertrude Jekyll only blooms in the spring (she's long gone), I decided to wait and watch them growing in others' gardens before getting more. I also had to wait for garden space, and the removal of two trees in my neighbor's yard liberated a rose bed that was previously held hostage by tree roots.
Golden Celebration ~ This plant is only a few years old and is growing on its own roots, so it's been slow to establish. I'm told that she can get big, but so far mine is still small. The blooms are a gorgeous golden yellow, with an intense citrus fragrance. I've only won a single trophy with Golden Celebration so far, and that was a bloom contained in an Artist's Palette with The Squire, Symphony, Leander, and Tamora. As my Golden Celebration bush matures, I look forward to winning more trophies with her.
Abraham Darby ~ I've seen this English shrub rose grow very big and that is what I was hoping for. But, so far, after two years, my plant is less than 3 feet tall. Even still, I've managed to win two trophies with Abe, one for the Judge's entry at Ventura in 2001, and the other one in my National Griffith Buck entry at Portland. Not too bad for a young plant that refuses to grow. I have now purchased a new plant (one of those waxed jobbies for $10 at Costco) that appears to be more vigorous and is leafing out quite nicely in spite of the waxed canes.
Geoff Hamilton ~ This new plant from Jackson & Perkins won a national trophy for me in its very first year and first time at a rose show. I think it may have been a fluke. Judges are drawn to new varieties like bears to honey. The pale pink blooms have only a hint of fragrance so far, and the bloom form has not been consistent. But, who's complaining? To be included in the National Griffith Buck entry from a plant that was barely six months old was a surprise to me, and very thrilling.
The Search Continues
I have a few other Austin English shrub roses that I am evaluating, but they are all less than a year old so this will take some time. Fair Bianca has a good reputation as a successful show rose, and so far it looked great last fall in my garden. The plant is small to about 3 feet, and it has a lovely licorice fragrance. The medium pink Radio Times shows much promise. Falstaff is looking terrific. Clair Martin says that Falstaff grows to only about 4 feet so that is good news as I don't have space for "monsters." English Garden has potential. Mary Rose is performing very well for me on both a bush and a tree rose.
It does take patience to find the winning shrubs for your garden. Look in the Rose Exhibitors' Forum to see which shrubs are winning on a regular basis. Go to rose shows to see which shrubs are winning in your local area. Visit public and private rose gardens so you can see their growth habits. Try a few shrubs, and you can win, too.
© Copyright 2001-2012 Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.
This article is an ARS Award of Merit Winner, originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.
Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez
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