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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Roses - You Can't Have It All

Just Joey roses
'Just Joey' roses from our garden.

I wish I could tell you there was one perfect rose that combines beauty, fragrance, vase life, health and vigor all in one gorgeous plant. But I’d be lying. So instead I’ll tell you about a few roses I’ve grown, listing the best things about them. Someday there may come a rose that combines all those best things in one variety, and that would be my perfect rose. But tastes are personal, so yours would be different, and that’s the fun of talking about roses.

Clockwise from top left: Pink Promise; Sally Holmes; Just Joey centered in a bouquet with pink ranunculus; French Lace in a bouquet (it's the ivory rose bottom center)

For beauty, my favorites are Just Joey, Pink Promise, French Lace and Sally Holmes. They’re big flowers, and their petals have some substance to them – not thin or papery. These are four of the best roses I grow, but even they have a few flaws. Just Joey is a little too prone to mildew to be perfect, and Pink Promise would need more scent to be flawless. French Lace isn’t highly scented or especially long lasting. Sally doesn’t last in a vase and the fragrance is minimal, so she’s not perfect either.

For fragrance, the best I’ve grown are Outta the Blue, Barbra Streisand and Just Joey. Mr. Lincoln is tops too, but I’ve actually never grown it – I’ve only admired it in my neighbor’s garden. It’s often said that fragrance has been bred out of modern roses. I don’t think that’s true, because these are modern roses. Barbra Streisand is the most fragrant rose I’ve grown, but so prone to disease and such poor vase life that I took it out of my garden. Outta the Blue is healthy but doesn’t last in the vase. I keep it anyway, because walking by and breathing in the fragrance is good enough for me.

For vase life, my best roses are Pink Promise, Eyepaint and Ingrid Bergman. All three last a week or more, and that’s unusual for roses.

For health, I have to commend Outta the Blue and Scentimental. There’s never a speck of rust, mildew or thrip on these roses. Unfortunately, they have other faults. Neither one will last in a vase. Outta the Blue simply shatters, all the petals falling off within a day, while Scentimental withers and turns brown.

For vigor – the ability to grow big, fast and strong – the winners in my garden are Sally Holmes, Outta the Blue and Elina. Elina is a lovely cut flower and it might go in the beauty category if it could stay free of thrip, the nasty little insects that cause the petals to turn brown at the edges. If I spray it with neem oil every day during budding, I can get vase-worthy blooms that last a week, but sometimes I don’t have time for that, so Elina doesn’t get top marks. But in spite of thrip, it’s big and vigorous in its growth habit. Outta the Blue and Sally Holmes are vigorous too, in fact, if you have limited space you shouldn’t plant these!

Eyepaint - a wonderful single rose
Snowfire is a red rose with white reverse side

For striking and unusual looks, I’ll make one more category and give the top awards to Snowfire and Eyepaint. Snowfire is red with a white reverse side, making it an unusual rose. There are a few roses that are colored this way (‘Love’ for example) but they aren’t as large as Snowfire. Sadly, Snowfire is very prone to mildew. Eyepaint is a single rose, red with a white ring at the center. It makes a good subject for my still life paintings and I’ve painted it many, many times. Both Snowfire and Eyepaint are thorny – you can’t imagine how horrible the stems are! Did I mention that my perfect rose would be thornless? Is that too much to ask?

oil painting
One of the many paintings I've made featuring 'Eyepaint'

In conclusion, I guess Just Joey and Pink Promise are as close to perfect as I’ve grown so far in my gardening life. What are your favorites?

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