Centuries ago, William Shakespeare’s Juliet said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps the saying is not as true as we would think. As modern rose gardening developed, so did the hybridizing of rose varieties. Encouraged to produce hardier specimens with larger blooms and heavier producing plants, rose growers cross-pollinated their specimens. The results are the hybrid tea roses and floribunda roses so popular and prevalent in today’s gardens. The heirloom rose, however, is poised for a comeback.
Heirloom roses, also known as antique roses, are defined as a variety of rose that is at least one hundred years old. These specimens have been carefully cultivated through the years so that plants can still be produced from their seeds. Though the number of actual varieties is hard to pinpoint, they fall into several categories. These Antique varieties are the Gallicas, the damasks, the albas, the centifolia and the moss. They are all prized for their heady fragrance and their large, beautiful blooms. Although modern growers have created hybrid roses as a kind of evolution, these antique varieties are as simple to grow as the hybrid tea and the floribunda.
Heirloom rose websites are abundant and your local garden center may even stock some antique varieties. Your local garden club or horticultural society may be an invaluable resource in finding the types that are most well suited to your climate and soil.
The same principles of rose gardening apply, whether you choose an heirloom variety or its descendants, but you may want to add some period flavor to your heirloom garden in the form of a Victorian gazing ball. You could also spice up a brand new gazebo with a lovely antique climbing variety.
Remember some basic rose care is always in order, so be sure to water at the base of the plants only. Leaves, stems and flowers should be avoided. This will help keep mold and rust away, which can damage your delicate plantings. Always keep the roots of your plants free of debris including fallen leaves, and practice careful and thoughtful pruning. Early spring pruning will ensure a healthy, productive plant throughout the summer season. Prune using a good quality shear and heavy gloves to protect your hands from thorns, paying careful attention to the center of the plant to increase the amount of air that can circulate through the plant later in the season.
You should aim to remove all dead wood, weak growth and old canes. Cutting to a standard height, depending on your particular variety will produce a strong, flowering plant. Be sure, also to clean your pruning shears with rubbing alcohol after each use to prevent mold or fungus from invading your plants.
With so many heirloom varieties to choose from, your garden will be a spectacular display of blooms throughout the season. You will also have the satisfaction of keeping the tradition of heirloom roses alive in your own landscape.
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