ROSES IN THE LANDSCAPE ……by Dan Bifano

I didn’t choose the title of this article casually, rather for those who share my belief that roses are vital to our gardens.  Because of the masses of color they grant so freely, I feature lots of roses in any landscape I imagine.  So, if your interest lies in pretty borders with only an occasional rose, turn elsewhere.

Basic to my deep affection for roses is the lengthy duration of their blossoming cycles.  We’re spoiled in Santa Barbara because of our extended flowering season, which on average, guarantees roses in bloom for nine months of the year—a veritable parade of nonstop color.  Although our climate suits other flowering plants as well, their season is severely limited compared to that of roses.  Our wisteria, for instance, takes my breath away every year with the profusion of its spring bloom, but I recognize at the same time that I must wait nearly 50 weeks or so for another floriferous display.  Not so for roses—they stubbornly persist.

Location is an important factor in planting rosebushes.  Ideally, in temperate climates, roses should be planted in full sun.  If that’s not possible, aim for locations that afford at least four to six hours of sunlight each day (preferably from 10 am to 4 pm).  If someone tells you this or that other rose likes shade, thank them for the tip, then ignore it.  Roses are resolute sun lovers, and none I know “likes” shade; they may tolerate it, but will never appreciate it.

After sunlight, pay close attention to air circulation.  When air circulates freely among rosebushes, fungal diseases face an uphill battle for establishing a foothold.  Besides avoiding restricting roses unnecessarily, stay away from planting sites too close to a building or wall.  Foundation footings often restrict root expansion, stunting new growth.

By all means plant rosebushes in holes that drain quickly and thoroughly.  Then, refill the hole with the best garden soil you can get your hands on and plan to add lots of organic material as the growing season progresses.  My personal preference for handling new rose-growing sites is to prepare soil months before I plant, allowing time for beneficial bacteria and earthworms to activate the soil, thereby preventing it from becoming anaerobic.

When adding roses to your landscape, think impact.  Don’t plant one bush where you can plant three, and don’t mix colors.  Instead, plant multiple bushes of the same variety, guaranteeing a spot of color that truly shines.  Place roses where you can appreciate them from both near and far— near for their intoxicating fragrances and afar for their glorious mass of color.

Speaking of color, roses come in a vast array—virtually every color except true blue.  If you want to complement the colors with which you decorate indoors, plant roses of similar shades, thereby extending indoor color to the garden.  A favorite client of mine revels in the fact that no matter what window in her house you gaze through, you see in the garden the very colors you see in her upholstery, carpets, art, wall and/or window coverings.

Don’t assume because bare-root plants all look alike, they will mature to the same sizes.  They won’t, and they vary widely by variety, so make certain you can handle their size at maturity.  When planting a border, be certain to place short varieties in the front and taller ones in the rear.  Never plant a pillar rose said to reach 12 feet on a low wall.  Rather than enhancing the landscape at large, it will stick out like a sore thumb.

I willingly acknowledge the charms of old garden roses (namely their whimsical forms and delicious fragrance) and encourage those fond of them to incorporate them in their landscapes, but I’m a major fan of modern roses.  Foremost, I’m constantly astounded by their nonstop determination to flourish because my love of roses is too deep to be satisfied with varieties that bloom only once a year.

Gallica Cardinal de Richelieu -1840- above right

Ambridge Rose, introduced 1994, below_______________

If you’re fond of drama in the garden, take a look at the many new varieties of landscape and floribunda roses — guaranteed bang for the buck.  Many of these determined-to-flourish varieties blossom with as many as 50 separate blooms on a single stem!

Once your roses are in place, consider compatible companions, always selecting those with similar requirements for water.  Never use plants that grow too tall or sink their roots too deeply.  Be forewarned that roses’ feeder roots die each winter, allowing roots of neighbors to invade their temporary vacant spaces.  Don’t invite trouble.

I like companion plants that can be pruned hard in winter (as are my roses) and guarantee an impressive floral display in spring—the same time my roses begin to strut their stuff.  Among my favorites are nepeta, Santa Barbara daisy, nemesia, lamb’s ear, scabiosa, alstroemeria, geranium, dianthus and less enthusiastically, dahlias.  These plants flourish where you need them most—at the foot of rosebushes, which grow progressively less attractive as summer wanes.  Besides camouflaging unsightly feet, companion plants also help control spider mites—no inconsequential advantage.

Now that you’ve heard my biases in landscaping with roses, form some of your own.  But, whatever else you do, plant roses—lots of them.


This article first appeared in the April 2004 issue of the American Rose, the monthly journal of the American Rose Society. Dan Bifano is a master consulting rosarian and past president of the Santa Barbara Rose Society. He is also very well known in his professional capacity as a successful designer of world class rose gardens.

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