I love roses; I have always loved them and can right now close my eyes and conjure up the aroma of a rose covered arbor that shielded us from passing eyes. Sweet and slow, soft and subtly strong, the delicate invasive tendrils wend their ways up the nostrils, exciting nerves and stimulating olfactory senses. The message goes directly to the part of the brain dealing with emotional memories bypassing all verbal interpretation.
Dave Pijan says roses are passionate plants, so growing roses is a passionate experience. He should know, he and Peggy have 40 or so different roses in their garden on Telephone Hill (viewing by invitation), and they have been practicing that passionate experience for many years. Thanks to them and several other dedicated experimenters we have a network of knowledge that allows us to test and develop rose growing techniques for varieties that will thrive here.
Local gardeners have many hardy roses to choose from. Some have been growing in Juneau for decades; others are more recent arrivals. Shrubs, groundcovers and climbers are available that will live and bloom here.
The Canadians have been breeding roses for the North for thirty years in research stations in Ontario and Manitoba and we reap the benefits of those scientific workers' labors. The ones released by the Ottawa station on Ontario are called Explorer roses, and are all named for the early European explorers. They are bred for cold hardiness, salt tolerance, disease resistance, and repeat blooming abilities.
Margaret and I decided to try as many of these new roses as we could get our hands on, and we planted several dozen of each available. Our program allows us to sell them to other gardeners with the proviso that they know these are all new types and that they can be part of the test. They will report success or failure in various parts of the borough, and we can take advantage of these trials to select varieties that will thrive here.
Many roses are grafted onto the roots of hardier types of roses, that is why some plants may appear to die, then sprout again from the ground and grow back as some other type of flower. This is a quick way to get hundreds of roses from one single plant, and in benign climates where the weather is predictable and pleasant, the practice is just fine.
We live where the weather seems a conscious and tricky character, luring us into trust and then pulling out the rug. In our area the grafted roses don't last well outdoors. They are treated as tender perennials, brought into shelter and protection for the winter, then set back out for the next summer's growth. We use a different type of rose for our gardens.
These are roses grown just like the wild types. Roots and tops are the same and when the top gets frozen back to the ground, the shoot sprouting from below the surface will be the same as the old plant. This spring was a good test for the rose varieties that we have been considering.
The nice warm winter had these roses budded up and ready to sprout in February. The weeks of 6- to 8-degree temperature in early March were like the angel of death to these new buds and we all wondered if our experiment was going to be very short.
Spring finally came in mid-May - cold and rainy - and the young plants looked forlorn. Even the old reliable Sitka Roses were blasted. Many had no perceptible live buds. The few that did were immediately selected as winners and used in early season landscaping jobs where they grew out as expected. Some of these were the red-leafed roses, like the ones across from the high school, and the Nootka Roses, the wild rose of the North with its tall, arching branches and gray-green leaves in bloom all over town right now.
The more modern hybrids were pruned back, fertilized and watched. A month later they were all in leaf, new buds had emerged or sprouts had come from the roots, and we were in business. They were going to make it. Some have grown three feet tall and show no signs of slowing; a couple of the climbers are sending up canes as thick as my thumb that look like they will get five feet tall this season.
They are beginning to bloom now, so phase two starts. I will keep you informed.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com