Roses are the most rewarding of exotic flowering shrubs and, despite some negative press in recent years, they are waterwise plants, ideal for West Australian gardens — if grown the right way.
Roses are without doubt the darling of the garden lover's garden. Few other plants produce such stunning flower displays for so long, as well as adding value with delicious fragrance and the ability to bring the blooms indoors.
WA gardeners are particularly blessed because there are few places on the planet as good for growing these beauties, and we have some of the most stunning rose gardens in the country.
Our free-draining soils, extra daylight hours and our hot, dry summers make growing roses here easier than anywhere else.
THE FORTUNIANA BREAKTHROUGH
If there was one complaint a gardener could have, it would be that roses do not like drying out; something that proved a challenge to gardeners here more than 150 years ago when irrigation systems were rare. The solution came in a rose rootstock called Rosa x fortuniana, which originated in China but was being used with enormous success in Florida and California where conditions were similar to our summers.
Roses grafted to this vigorous wild rose assumed characteristics of the rootstock, with greater disease resistance, great vigour and an ability to survive long periods without requiring any supplementary watering during hot, dry spells. They are valuable assets for those wanting truly beautiful rose bushes without having to work hard at it.
Today, local growers such as Swiss Rose Garden Nursery, Roworth's Rose Nursery, Jarrahdale Roses, Melville Nurseries and organisations such as the Rose Society of WA recommend it exclusively and rely on the fact that fortuniana makes the rose a valuable part of a waterwise garden in the west.
If you are buying roses, always ask or look for signs indicating the rose is grown on fortuniana rootstock; it's the difference between stunning success and dismal failure.
The real boom in rose breeding started in Europe in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s, when families such as Meilland and Delbard starting crossbreeding Chinese roses with European and North American varieties with stunning results.
These families and another from England, the Austins, have had an enormous impact on gardens across WA, with famous names such as Lili Marlene, Peace, Double Delight, Mr Lincoln and David Austin all adding tremendous value to local gardens.
The rose-breeding industry has continued to evolve dramatically in recent years but it has surprised me just how few of these new genetic lines are getting attention here. These plants have been bred to have superior performance to old-fashioned varieties and the results make it so much easier to be a successful rose grower at home.
English breeder David Austin commenced serious breeding in 1949 and is still heavily involved today in working old-world romantic rose genetics into modern hybrids to deliver repeat flowering, complex flower structures with strong, appealing fragrance.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Leigh Siebler from David Austin Roses about how its roses are trialled for suitability to Australian garden conditions.
Mr Siebler explained David Austin Roses were trialled by licensed growers in all States, including WA, before release. We were typically two to three years behind the releases in the UK.
Kim Syrus presents as part of my team on The Garden Gurus TV series and his day job is managing the interests of the French breeder Meilland Roses in Australia.
I asked him about what attracted him to managing the Meilland rose collection in Australia. He said the Meillands had bred some of the world's iconic rose varieties — Gold Bunny, Papa Meilland, Sonia and, of course, Peace, the first rose to be inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies' Hall of Fame, and considered the world's favourite rose.
He has the wonderful job of assessing this prestigious international firm's new varieties under our local conditions. He then has the difficult task of choosing only the roses that have excelled through the rigorous selection process for sale to the Australian home gardener.
They are also constantly trying to improve on what is already commercially available.
I asked Mr Syrus about his must-have Meilland roses for a beginner and he suggested Peace, Gold Bunny, Seduction, Pierre de Ronsard and Sir Donald Bradman.
Mother's Love is one that's relatively new and is a hybrid tea rose with pale pink flowers, producing masses of cutting-quality blooms perfumed to perfection.
Simply Magic is another relatively new floribunda rose and has strawberry pink flowers. As the name suggests, this is a remarkable rose, constantly covered in bunches of bloom. It's a low-growing bush, which makes it ideal for borders and even growing in containers.
When it comes to new varieties from Meilland, I've seen first hand how well the breeding program has gone for this family-owned rose- breeding company. The Knock Out collection, a family of floribunda roses, is fast becoming famous for its incredible flower production, producing hundreds of flowers long into winter when other varieties have shut down and started going dormant.
Another brilliant release is Child's Love, a hybrid tea rose with plum pink blooms. New for this year, this highly perfumed rose with its frilly bloom is set to become a regular in gardens because it is quite different in its appearance. The rose is also special as its sale supports women's and children's hospitals nationally.
Did you know?
The most popular David Austin roses in WA are Golden Celebration, Eglantyne, Princess Alexandra of Kent, William Shakespeare 2000 and Winchester Cathedral.
TIP: One bit of wisdom that Leigh Siebler from David Austin Roses provided was that the large, double and many-petalled flowers of some David Austin Rose varieties will last longer if given a little bit of shelter from the sun in the hottest part of the day. In Perth, that means they will look and grow better if located on the south side of your home and get a little afternoon shade.
Trev's top three tips for growing roses
Roses are fantastic, waterwise (if grown on the right rootstock) shrubs and, despite the fuss made by some about care techniques, they are not hard to grow. In fact, enjoying success with roses at home is simple.
1. Make sure you have enriched your garden soil with compost and humus and set up a drip irrigation system for each plant.
2. Mulch the garden bed's surface area to a depth of 100mm with coarse organic garden mulch. Then make sure you harvest blooms for vases indoors and as gifts when you're visiting friends.
3. The more you prune the flowers, the more the bush will produce. Winter pruning is not a hard thing to do and experts at specialist nurseries like the multi-award winning Bob Melville, of Melville Rose Nurseries, are happy to provide advice. They regularly run gardening advice clinics from their nurseries if you would like some extra help.