Cheryl McAnear McCamy, Morgan County Master Gardeners


During a drive down a rural road, one might spy an abandoned farmhouse. More often than not, the crumbling chimney and decaying foundation will have a stalwart sentry standing guard over all. The everlasting symbol of love and friendship, the rosebush, is there.

Long gone is the family who once inhabited the house, but the lonely rose stays on, ever loyal to its home. This resilience and longevity are two of the reasons roses are my favorite landscape plants. Cast aside the image you may have of the finicky high maintenance diva of the plant world and embrace the factors that make roses the horticultural backbone of the ornamental garden.

Although roses appear delicate, they are durable shrubs that live for decades. The cultivation of roses dates back thousands of years, to the Greek and Roman civilizations and the ancient gardens of China and Turkey. Today, there exists a huge diversity of roses worldwide.

Roses belong to the large Rosaceae family of blooming plants and to the genus Rosa. They are divided into three major categories. Within these categories are subgroupings of roses according to their similarities.

Species roses are roses that grow naturally in the wild. Some of them grow large, forming thorny bloom-covered thickets. They can tolerate cold weather and bloom only once a season. They have single flowers with five petals.

The second major category, old garden roses, includes roses that were cultivated in gardens before 1867, the year the first hybrid tea was introduced. They are fragrant, able to thrive under difficult conditions, and disease resistant. There are compact bushes, elegant tall shrubs, and vigorous climbers in this very large group.

Modern roses are the category most recognized and include the roses often used by florists and found in suburban yards. They are bred for large flowers and continual bloom. They are available in climbing form, hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, shrub, landscape and miniature versions. They are not very disease resistant and require careful maintenance.

Of all the varieties of roses, I have a definite favorite. I believe every rose garden should include polyantha roses. These compact dwarf roses within the old rose category are the most prolific bloomers of all roses. The Fairy rose (Rosa The Fairy) is the most wonderful of polyantha roses. Steadily popular since it’s introduction in 1932, it is a shrub rose with hundreds of fully double shell pink tiny blooms clustered on attractive fern-like evergreen foliage.

It is extremely disease resistant and is shade tolerant. It is impervious to hot weather and does not need constant watering. It is also a very showy container plant. As long as The Fairy has proper drainage and adequate air circulation around it, it needs virtually no attention.

I do put organic mulch or compost around mine periodically during the growing season, and infrequently I apply some slow-release fertilizer in the soil around them. A delightful habit of this particular rose is that it propagates itself naturally. A cane will often droop to the ground, root, and establish a new rosebush. This self -propagation characteristic has awarded me an entire hedge of wonderful Fairy roses!

Whether you are lucky enough to find The Fairy rose at a local garden center or if you order it online, you will not regret planting this most outstanding, energetic, and carefree rose. The reward will be years of effortless year-round beauty in your garden.

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— Cheryl McAnear McCamy is a member of the Morgan County Master Gardeners Association. Members write columns periodically with gardening tips.

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