My grandfather loved roses. He grew beautiful prize-winning roses. My mother, a knowledgeable gardener, followed suit and grew roses for pleasure. But NEVER, EVER did I want a rose garden. I witnessed the time it took my mother to tend to her roses, examining leaves for fungus or insects, pruning, deadheading, picking off the Japanese beetles and plunking them into soapy water. (She never knew that when she walked away I dumped them out and rinsed them with the hose. Playing with Japanese beetles was great entertainment for a youngster with no TV, video games or smart phones in the late 50’s)
Years ago, a landscape designer friend opened the back of her car and unloaded 3 healthy red single Knock Out roses (Rosa x ‘Knock Out’) for me. “You must have these,” she said. “Disease resistant, insect resistant, no deadheading, no pruning, blooms all summer…. Carefree!” I was grateful and appreciative but I was a little reluctant and wary. Carefree, indeed….
Carefree and continuous blooming were the two thoughts that stayed with me as I planted the three rose bushes center stage in my sunniest garden. The instructions read, “….compact plant, 3-4 feet tall and wide.” I played it safe and planted a little further apart, two side by side and one slightly angled behind.
That was that. For two years, they were true to form. They did bloom heavily from June to Thanksgiving or until a killing frost. The shape of the shrub was naturally round. I never deadheaded. I never pruned. Japanese beetles visited occasionally but did not swarm. No black spot. No mildew. No aphids. I got compliments. I beamed. Eventually this became my new ‘Red Garden.’
Just as the directions read, they reached 3 feet tall after a year, then 4 feet tall the next summer, but they continued to grow…. 5 feet, 6 feet, 7, 8, 9, 10 feet tall. Eventually two grew together appearing as one massive bush. They have withstood hurricanes, salt water spray, Nor’easters, and an earthquake, and they’re still growing. I do not prune. I do not spray. I do not deadhead and I don’t fertilize.
They ‘fibbed’ about the 4 foot height but it’s all good: It is a favorite hangout for birds in the garden; I have lovely cut flowers from June to Thanksgiving; they provide great curb appeal as people point and ask about them before getting out of their cars; and this summer they provided a profusion of blooms as a backdrop for a wedding reception and photographs.
K.I.S.S. in the garden. What more could a gardener want?
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester