Creating an Heirloom Rose Garden

Creating an Heirloom Rose Garden

Heirloom roses can transform the garden into an old-world "rosarium," a rose garden like no other. Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias and Mosses are the five families that comprise the heirloom class of roses.

Most of today's roses are hybrids, upgrades, and new models. Although related to the roses of the ancient world, they are a still a breed apart. However, some--those listed above--have clung to their roots to enjoy a lovely old age.

While new roses are prized for their buds, heirloom roses are beloved for their gorgeous full blooms. In the Ancient Assyrian library at Nineveh (in Mesopotamia), clay tablets once referenced rose oils. In the ancient world, wild roses were prized for perfume and were thought by ancient Romans to keep disease at bay. Ancient Rhodes, an island in the Aegean Sea, was a famous producer of roses. The rose grew in popularity until it traveled to gardens around the world, where it changed, evolved, mixed and grew into a vast array of types. And even today, roses keep changing as new varieties and hybrids are introduced around the world.Heirloom roses are like pauses in time. These varieties have not changed since their conception, and with care and consideration, they may continue to bring their old-world charm to new gardens every year.

Varieties of Heirloom Roses

Gallicas - The Gallicas are considered the oldest of the antique roses, going all the way back to Greek and Roman days. It is perhaps possible that Cleopatra picked such a blossom during her stay in Rome. This rose is famous for its intensely deep coloring and strong fragrance. Within the Gallicas are particular types, like the once popular "Empress Josephine," or the largest of the Gallicas, "Charles de Mills."

Damask - Botanical historians believe the first Damask roses resulted from and cross between a Gallica rose and a wild species native to Persia--where Damasks originate. Damasks roses are taller and more thorny than Gallicas, and their colors are paler, from white to pale pink. Their fragrance is powerful no matter what color, and family favorites include "Madame Hardy" and "La Ville de Bruxelles."

Alba - Alba roses appear to have been entirely the work of Mother Nature. Although gardeners did not first cultivate them, these roses are beloved by them today for their lovely white and off-whites, and their unique growth pattern that is tree-like in nature. The pretty fragrance is sharp, and while their blooms are not over-sized, they are breathtaking when viewed collectively.

Centifolia - The Dutch have the distinction of developing the Centifolia roses during the seventeenth century. These blooms were prized by floral artists of the era. Most roses in this family sport a shade of pink. Some exceptional examples include "Tour De Malakoff," "Fantin-Latour," and "Paul Ricault."Moss - Although Moss roses were made popular by the Victorians, they are dated to 1696 in Carcassonne, France. As their name suggests, these roses contain a mossy-like appearance on their stems, sepals and leaflets. "Old Pink Moss" is considered the progenitor of all subsequent Moss roses. Other famous examples include "Salet," and "Nuit de Young." These classic roses are suitable for growing in any rose garden, whether your home is cottage style or a formal manor. Perhaps the single most important feature of all these roses is that their beauty compels us to share; gardeners who work with heirloom roses delight in showing off their blooms to family and friends. There are many ways to share the beauty of these roses and showcase them in your garden to great effect.

Designing Your Rose Garden

Choosing Roses

Be sure the roses you choose for your garden will tolerate the winter where you live. Most roses do fine down to about 20 F. If it gets colder than that in your area you need to select only hardy types. Most of the heirloom roses are quite hardy. Choose the right size and type of roses for the space you have available.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Container roses are more expensive than bare-root roses but are easier to plant."

Selecting a Planting Site

Roses need at least 6 hours a day of full sun. Sun in the morning is best, with light shade in the afternoon, especially in very hot areas. Roses thrive in loamy soil that drains well and is high in organic content. Dig a hole and fill it with water. Watch to see how fast the water drains. If the water is gone in a few hours the rose will thrive, if not, the area is too wet.

TIP: Susan advises, "Consider raised beds if your soil is poor. You can control the soil quality in a raised bed."

Planting Roses

Space roses at least 2 feet apart. Add organic matter, if necessary. Water immediately after planting and frequently until the plant is established.

TIP: Susan says, "If you have sandy soil you will need to water and feed your roses more frequently."

Caring For Roses

Fertilize roses when the first leaf buds out and again after bush bloom. Stop fertilizing about 2 months before you expect your first frost. Use rose or general purpose fertilizer, and be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Add a generous layer of mulch around roses to protect them from winter lows and help with moisture retention."

Heirloom roses only need to be pruned once a year, immediately after they flower.

TIP: Susan adds, "Use only clean and sharp pruners when you trim your rose."

Garden Structures

Arches and gazebos may flourish with antique climbers that bloom and scent the air with their fragrance. Trellises of country wood or Victorian wrought iron are perfect for some heirloom roses. They are ideal for classic gardens containing classical features.

Of course, gardening with antique plants does not mean your garden must be ornamented with antiques too--but it does add a decorative touch. As these roses were popular during the Victorian era when gardening became just as popular with the middle class as with the elite, it makes perfect sense to ornament your garden with other Victorian relics. From gazing balls to authentic marble basins, there is a wide range of ornaments to compliment your heirloom roses and transform your garden into an antique rosarium.

Click here to purchase rose gardening supplies.