If you remember old-fashioned roses growing off your grandmother's front porch and long for that beauty at your home, consider the heirloom chestnut rose.
Antique roses are those grown prior to 1867 -- the date of the first hybrid-tea and of course the finest of the species of roses that have been growing seemingly forever.
The chestnut rose is also known as the burr rose and chinquapin rose. The old-fashioned medium pink double form, Rosa roxburghii plena, was discovered in the early 1800s in China and spread quickly to Europe and the United States. You can't get more heirloom than that. Ours are blooming at the Columbus Botanical Garden, creating the perfect complement to our historic farmhouse.
It is an extremely tough rose, which puts it at the top of everyone's list and is cold hardy though zone 5. We never spray ours. And though it is not a continuous repeat-blooming Knockout, it is definitely a long-blooming rose, which is a plus for such an antique.
It offers a garden texture that few other roses can duplicate. I love the burr or chestnut-like buds when not yet opened and the fern-like foliage. Every time I look at it I can imagine the famed artist Pierre Joseph Redoute applying its beauty to the canvas.
The plants reach close to 7 feet tall with an equal spread, so plan on giving it room to be all it can be. Roses need five to six hours of direct sun each day. Morning sun is essential, but afternoon shade is tolerated. Good air movement helps the dew and rain dry quickly, discouraging disease pressure, which again is considered low with the chestnut rose.
Avoid planting under the eaves of your home where gushing water can cause damage. When you are ready to plant, dig your planting hole two to three times wider than the rootball but no deeper. The wide hole allows for the quickest root-expansion and acclimation to your garden. Although the chestnut rose is not picky about soil, it should be fertile and well drained.
Fertilization is best based on a soil test, but normal application times are at bud break, at formation of first buds and then about every 6 weeks through summer. Very little pruning is needed. As always, remove any sick or dead canes, otherwise you can feel free to remove one-third of the bush after bloom as needed to maintain size and look.
This will be one of those roses that will make your neighbors envious with your green thumb, but combinations are what will make your garden look as if you know what you are doing. Because the rose is a large shrub with dreamy pink lightly fragrant blossoms, consider going with the cottage look.
It normally blooms at the same time as the blue larkspurs (Consolida ambigua) and a host of spikey blue salvias like the Victoria Blue and the Mystic Spires blue, a compact and superior Indigo Spires selection. Shasta daisies and rudbeckias also fit nicely in this cottage garden design.
You will have a lot of choices when it comes to roses for your garden. Keep your eyes out for the chestnut rose. If you find it, you'll be getting one of the best.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga. Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.