Ramblers and Large Climbers
By Sue Hopkins—Written for the Rainy Rose Society
Photos by Marji Lynn and Sue Hopkins
Why grow ramblers into trees?
Beautiful towering firs and deciduous trees combine to offer a surprising and glorious burst of early to mid-summer color and fragrance when a rambler is trained up into their heights. Ramblers are ideal as little-to-no-care additions to the garden that add depth and substance. Several of them bloom in repeats and many will open after the spring flush has faded into memory, continuing the delight of roses in bloom during summer’s halcyon days. Ramblers are perfect for the widest range of gardeners, from those with not a moment to waste on rose care to those with fully landscaped properties to collectors with ‘nowhere to go but up’ with the next rose purchase. Even gardeners with a tall dead tree can offer it a second life as a rose trellis.
Good plant choices
The Horvath roses are setigera or wichurana hybrids and include ‘Gardenia’ (1899) with its shiny, broad green leaves and creamy white blooms, ‘Long John Silver’ (1934), and ‘Doubloons’ (1934). R. setigera is the closest to a native climbing rose that we have in the United States. These are hardy fellows descended from the hybridizing experiments of Michael Horvath (characterized by Horace McFarland as “the rose wizard”) in Rhode Island during the early 20th century.
Inspired by Horvath’s work with wichurana, the Barbier brothers of Orlean, France, developed the Barbier ramblers, with exqui-sitely colored blooms that draw on a heritage of r. wichurana and tea, prolific and healthy, and suitable for large structures in the garden as well as tree climbing. This family of ramblers includes ‘Albéric Barbier’(1900), ‘Albertine’ (1921), ‘Alexander Girault’ (1907), the highly fragrant ‘Auguste Gervais’ (1918), ‘François Guillot’ (1907), ‘Paul Transon’ (1900) and ‘François Juranville’(1906), which, according to Clair Martin, former Curator of The Huntington Rose Garden, is scented with gingerbread mixed with attar of rose. They are extremely disease resistant, particularly ‘Albéric Barbier’, with a scent like tea rose
(something special in a climate where tea roses may not flourish).
The family of Van Fleet ramblers include ‘American Pillar’ (1902), which dramatically graces the entry of the Jardin de Bagatelle in Paris… as well as the entire west side of our cottage. Another member of the family is ‘Dr. W. Van Fleet’ (1910), perhaps best known as the rose that sported unexpectedly into the first patented rose, ‘New Dawn’, and has large, orange-red hips that can be kept for fall color and as bird attractants. Other Van Fleet roses are ‘Alida Lovett’ (1905) and ‘Bess Lovett’ (1905), and the classic ‘Silver Moon’ (1910).
Michael H. Walsh, an English expatriate, managed the Joseph Hay estate in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in the late 19th century and became a passionate rose hybridizer. A trio of his very hardy, successful hybridizations from spe-cies roses are ‘America’ (1915), ‘Hiawatha’ (1904), ‘Minnehaha’ (1904), and ‘Evangeline’ (1906) whose pink and white single clusters remind one of apple blossoms and whose orange-yellow leaves add a splash of additional color in the fall ramblers.
More? Try ‘Trier’ (Lambert, 1904) a multiflora rambler that is a perpetual bloomer and the parent of many of the hybrid musk roses. Or ‘Treasure Trove’ (1977), an intense apricot pink rose of 23 petals hybridized from ‘Kiftsgate ‘and a hybrid tea cross, very disease resistant and vigorous as well. Consider ‘Chevy Chase’ (1939) for unscented but intensely cherry red roses, ‘cl. Cecile Brunner’(1894), pink perfectly formed rosebuds for your sweetheart, or ‘Veilchenblau’ (1909) for a deep blued-purple with charming yellow centers. ‘Seagull’ (1907), a white single, is another you might enjoy, rampant in bloom and growth and foolproof as well. ‘Madeleine Selzer ‘(1926) has few thorns and pale lemon-colored, well-scented flowers. ‘Mme. Alice Garnier’ (1906) is one of the most beautiful and fragrant of all ramblers, with shiny, dainty leaves and quilled salmon-pink petals. ‘Rambling Rector’ has semi-double white flowers and is perfectly willing to climb “up and over trees, hedges and buildings,” according to Trevor Grif-fiths, author of The Book of Classic Old Roses.
Where to plant
To plant a rose that will climb up into a large tree, dig the rose hole just outside the drip line (the outside edge of the furthermost lower branches), angle the plant toward the tree, then guide a bamboo pole onto the lowest branch, headed toward the trunk. After the rose is established in the tree, the bamboo pole can be removed. Planting out-side the drip line allows the rose to have sunshine, rain, and soil nutrients of its own rather than competing with the tree for resources.
Guide the whips (long and flexible springtime canes) along the bamboo or a rope. Even a permanent trellis will do, but make certain to use hard wood that will survive the challenge of years in wet ground. The rose will find its way up and out to the sunlight as time passes. This is not the work of a single season but several, with each passing year adding to the mass and volume, always well worth the anticipation. The great news? No pruning once the rose makes friends with the tree!
Pruning for a structure
Prune first after bloom, usually sometime after mid-summer, and follow up with a final pruning just before winter to protect the rose from swaying canes that may break in harsh weather conditions. Take the basal canes and trim all laterals (those smaller branches that come off the sides of the basal) to about 5-10 inches and above a bud eye. Tip the cane end to stimulate growth along the cane and be sure to aim the tip up at a 45-degree angle. This will increase bloom, so be firm about pruning excess plant material. Once the rose’s laterals are pruned the rose will be easy to maneuver in a horizontal fashion around the structure. If you find that you have a flourishing lateral whip cane, you may turn it into a main cane and develop new laterals from it in the same way. Each main cane should be wrapped around the structure at a 45-90 degree angle. If you only attach the rose cane vertically, you’ll only have roses at the top of the plant; horizontal placement allows roses at and below eye level. Roses on structures require much more care in that they must be rewound each year, limiting canes to the number that fit comfortably on the structure. Remember that the best bloom is on old wood, and add a new basal cane or two each year so that you can remove one or two canes that are two years old. Tip: check out Paul Zimmerman’s excellent instructional YouTube video, “How to Pillar a Rose.”
Attaching your rose
Tie roses with nylon rope, green stretch gardener’s tape, old pieces of pantyhose nylon, or twine (my favorite). If you’re tying to a metal structure, remember to tie around the metal first, knot or pad the tie to keep the rose cane from chafing or touching hot metal directly during the summer, then tie the rose to the structure. Each tie should encase the cane, holding it near but not on the structure. If you’re fortunate enough to have a willow nearby, you can use soft willow whips to tie the roses. They offer a lovely effect as they disappear into the foliage and will wear away by the following year.
Care and feeding
As with all other roses, alfalfa meal or tea, or, if you prefer, a favorite rose food, are probably all you need. Any other additives should be dependent on a soil evaluation of the site. If you have been tormented by black spot or mildew in other roses, you can relax with climbers. They will be beyond your reach and you’ll never see spotting or fuzz, if indeed it even exists. What a lovely thing to hunt for the bloom and not the spots! Generally, little or no care is necessary, though you may occasionally want to remove dead wood. Be wary of the springy nature of those long canes, though. No sharp tugging, and please dress appropriately with helmet, face shield and Kevlar® pants and jackets.
Nurseries and resources
Rogue Valley Roses (www.roguevalleyroses.com) has the region’s widest selection, offering plants of varied sizes from small bands to 5-gallon pots. Other online sources include Northland Rosarium in Spokane, WA (www.northlandrosarium.com), Vintage Gardens of Sebastopol, CA, (www.vintagegardens.com), and Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, TX (www.antiqueroseemporium.com). Locally, you may also find suitable plants at Christianson’s in Mt. Vernon or Raft Island Roses in Gig Harbor, but call first to be sure they have ramblers or large climbers in stock.
For specific information about these roses and other ramblers, go to www.helpmefind.com/rose/plants. Information is gathered from across the world and shared among rose lovers – the most current, detailed resource available for descriptions, photographs, garden listings, articles, nurseries and more.
Lords and ladies of the tallest trees
These very large ramblers belong in tall trees – ‘Bobbie James’ (Sunningdale, 1961), ‘Brenda Colvin’ (Colvin, 1970), ‘Guadalupe Volunteer’ (Hulse 1997), ‘Kiftsgate’ (Murrell 1954), and ‘Himalayan Musk Rambler’.
Whether you decide to send a rambler scrambling up to the blue skies in a tall tree or just delight in the lovely fra-grances and unique forms of a few canes structured on a tripod or post, I hope you’ll join me in the wonderful ad-venture of ramblers in your garden. They bring a beauty all their own and I can promise that you’ll anticipate them more eagerly every year. Who could ask for more?
Scanniello, Stephen and Bayard, Tania, Climbing Roses, Prentice Hall, 1994
Dickerson, Brent, The Old Rose Advisor, Volume II, Authors Choice Press, 2001
Martin, Clair, 100 Old Roses For The American Garden, Smith & Hawken, 2000
Griffiths, Trevor, The Book of Classic Old Roses, Michael Joseph Limited, 1987
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