Category: Modern Roses

Altissimo revisited

‘Altissimo’ was flowering early this season – and that’s when I first wrote about this distinctive rose. The trick is that ‘Altissimo’ never stopped blooming. When selecting roses for the local farmer’s market, I had a hard time not bringing this rose every week. The individual flowers don’t last too long, but the rose reblooms so quickly and consistently, I always had one in bloom. Here it is in early September with fresh flowers still coming. This is in a 1 gallon pot – once established in the landscape, it’s even more floriferous. Feed it well, and clip off spent flowers regularly for best performance.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t be completely vigilant about deadheading, and ‘Altissimo’ will reward you with beautiful large orange hips. Altissimo rose hips

Distant Drums

Griffith Buck bred this rose as part of his program to create a class of roses that had large flowers like the hybrid tea or grandiflora roses, but were more resistant to disease. While he may have made progress towards that goal, this rose is notable for one reason: the colour. Depending on the weather, the huge flowers can open in various depths of pink with an unusual russet or tan glow to the inner petals. It then fades out through pink, lavender and towards white.

The depth of this and complexity of this colour never fails to draw comment from visitors to my garden. The shrub itself is tidy and compact, to 3 or 4 feet in height, with the flowers held in clusters above a dense mass of leaves. Clear away spent flowers and hips, and Distant Drums will bloom again reliably. I planted this one with a cool looking ninebark shrub (Physocarpus) called “Mahogany Magic” to give some immediate interest to the front garden bed.


The simplicity of this rose makes me think that it’s close to a species rose, but nobody knows for sure. It’s classed as a gallica, maybe for lack of better information. While most near-species roses are nicest grown as a free standing shrub, I think you’ll find it rewarding to give ‘Complicata’ something to climb. You’ll find nicer pictures out there, but here’s one I snapped in the garden (aphids and all!):Rosa 'Complicata'

The blooms are dark pink at the edges, white nearer the center, with prominent yellow stamens. What you can’t see here is how large they are! The only other single I know to compete on bloom size is ‘Altissimo‘. The large size of the flowers, their simple form, wonderful scent, and the fact that it blooms in one main flush of flowers makes this a stunning shrub (or better, a climber) in early Summer.

‘Complicata’ can grow to 10 feet with some support, or to a lax shrub of 6 feet or so. It also sets hips after blooming, for fall/winter interest. We sell ‘Complicata’ for $10 in a 2 gallon pot.


You know this rose, even if you don’t know that you know this rose. ‘Bonica’ is so widely planted by landscapers that you’ll see a light pink rose at a strip mall or gas station, my first bet would be ‘Bonica’. I grow it because it’s a great garden rose, but I did pause in propagating it. Why should I offer it, I wondered, when it’s already out there in great numbers? Am I really adding to the diversity of roses available to local customers. No, not really. But I go back to my previous point: I grow it because it’s a great garden rose. If someone comes to me looking for a reliable pink landscape rose, I might offer them ‘Ballerina‘ or ‘Belinda’ first, but if they like ‘Bonica’ better, they’ve picked a winner nonetheless.

Bonica‘Bonica’ will bloom softer or deeper pink depending on the weather. Every bit the landscape shrub, this rose is adaptable to any situation. Leave to grow freely, and you’ll get a wide graceful shrub to about 4 feet tall and wide. If you want it for a smaller garden, you can control it with pruning, and it won’t harm the performance of the shrub.

Disease resistant, vigorous, free blooming, well-behaved – no wonder the landscapers like it. We sell it in 1 gallon pots for $10 and 2 gallon pots for $15.

Laura Ford

I was meeting with a bunch of “rose people” (which, by the way, wasn’t nearly as lame as that sounds) and I mentioned my soft spot for yellow roses. One of the guys there practically insisted that I try ‘Laura Ford’. Thanks, Bill. It was well worth tracking this rose down.

Laura FordIt’s not quite a class of its own, but it’s definitely in rare company. ‘Laura Ford’ is a climbing miniature rose. Jumbo shrimp, anyone? Yes, it seems a little contradictory to say a rose that can climb to 12 feet high and dominate a wall is a miniature rose. The answer to the contradiction is in the breeding. Most miniatures were bred, or at least influenced by a small group of hybridizers, who used Chinese roses to make a tough, repeat-repeat blooming rose with small flowers. Any rose that descends from these genes can be called a miniature – and ‘Lara Ford’ does have fairly small individual blooms. However, when this rose blooms, it often covers its canes with clusters of these perfectly-formed yellow flowers, which sometimes show a pink edge as they fade.

In addition, ‘Laura Ford’ has a good scent to its blooms, and it is one of the healthiest roses in my garden.

I sell ‘Laura Ford’ in 1 gallon pots for $10, and 2 gallon for $15.


I get some sideways looks when I describe ‘Ballerina’ as one of the tougher roses around. Maybe it’s the name. And certainly the dainty little white flowers with pink edges don’t shake the perception. When people think of tough roses, they’re more liable to think of something like a rugosa rose. By the very name (meaning “rugged”) and by the dangerous looking spines on each stem, rugosa roses seem built for toughness. And they are tough, don’t get me wrong, but put one side-by-side with ‘Ballerina’ in a somewhat shady location, and see which one comes out on top. ‘Ballerina’ can also stand up to wet conditions, hot conditions, cold winters (say zone 4ish) and it still blooms its head off all season.

Rosa 'Ballerina'‘Ballerina’ is an agreeable shrub to work with. It can grow as large as 6 feet high if you let it, and if you do, it blooms so impressively that it takes on the look of a hydrangea. It’s also quite happy to be trimmed to a smaller size to fit your landscape. Introduced in the 1930’s, it was ahead of its time, fulfilling the role in the garden that the popular landscape roses (like the ubiquitous ‘Bonica’) do today.


Do you like your roses subtle and graceful? This isn’t one of those. ‘Altissimo’ pounds out  a big red exclamation point every time it blooms, and that’s often. It’s late October as I write this post, and ‘Altissimo’ is happily blooming away in the greenhouse.

How do I sell you a rose like this one? It’s so different. Have a look:

Rosa 'Altissimo'


Did I say that it’s not graceful? That’s not true. The flowers are huge and loud individually, but they’re in scale with the plant, which is large and fast growing – a climber usually, but can also be left free-standing as an upright shrub. Look how healthy the leaves are in this picture. That’s typical of this rose. ‘Altissimo’ is one of the few roses in my greenhouse that I rarely see troubled by anything but aphids.

It’s distinctive, and totally worth putting into the garden as a trouble-free climber or shrub.