Connie Hilker uses her garden to collect and preserve antique rose varieties in danger of being lost. The Cotton Candy variety shown here was originally bred by a California hybridizer named Ralph Moore and introduced in the 1950s. Comments a A Font Size Rambling roses — such as this Alexandre Girault at the author’s community garden in Washington — are vigorous, pliable and bloom just once a year in e… The rose lends itself to plant breeding as willingly as its cousin the apple, and gardeners have been trying to find the next perfect rose for centuries. In recent years this tinkering has reached a new pitch as breeders, growers and nurseries have frantically sought to reinvent the rose and reshape its image as a sickly and fussy plant. To a great extent they have succeeded, developing roses that bloom continually into fall and don’t need spraying. The shining example is the Knock Out rose, planted by the millions and defining office parks, hotel parking lots and home gardens where the owner doesn’t want to fuss with the plant life. Knock Out succeeds wildly as a bulletproof flowering shrub, but the plant is stiff in its habit and the off-key magenta bloom is hard to love. It is not the rose of Shakespeare sonnets. But there is a rose worthy of such poetic devotion and one that has stayed above the fray of the breeding revolution. This is the rambling rose — the spreading, luxuriant rose of arbors, trellises and pergolas that is so decadent in its vigor, flower count, colors, fragrances and sheer elan that it almost dares you to declare it old-fashioned. The rambler is not old-fashioned; it’s timeless. I can think of no other single plant that can lend an area of the garden so much drama, romance and character. So why doesn’t everyone have one? They can be hard to find, and they require some work, but the biggest drawback is that they bloom just once a year. A single bower may be in flower for a month, and extravagantly even for a rose, but those attributes don’t wash for consumers programmed for ever-blooming roses. THEY LOOK GREAT We don’t fret when the dogwood blooms but once a year, or the clematis or the viburnum. We should allow room in our hearts — and gardens — for ramblers, and you don’t need a thatched, low-eaved cottage to get the effect. I have two growing on a utilitarian fence around my community garden plot. By any objective measure, they look great, especially the French heirloom named Alexandre Girault, dripping from mid-May to mid-June with hundreds of scented, crimson-pink blooms. The lateral branches extend 25 feet, and the embrace would be more encompassing if I allowed it. Once the blooms fade, I spend about an hour cutting off all the spent flowers and then 10 minutes once a week through the summer trimming back the vegetative growth to keep it tidy-looking and clear of the adjoining path. […]
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