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Diggin' It

The Rose Whisperer: Growing Knock Out on high

By Lynn Hunt / August 25, 2009

Many shrub roses, including Knock Out, thrive in the North Carolina mountains

Photos courtesy of Lynn Hunt.

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When The Rose Whisper made its debut, I invited readers to send me their questions about our national flower. I confessed I probably wouldn’t know all the answers, but I’d do my best to get accurate information.

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Not long after that, I had a query from Ken in Boone, N.C., who wanted to learn if it was possible to grow roses in the mountains. I promised to check it out.

Actually, I was curious to know myself since I am quite familiar with another North Carolina mountain resort, Cashiers. My dad had a cottage there where he lived happily for six months a year for more than three decades.

He’d tried growing a few roses without success. I wondered if the problem wasn't so much the 3,484-foot elevation as the fact he was planting some of my stingy castoffs.

I remember one rose in particular that Dad struggled with for years. It was, as I described it, a dog called Sterling Silver. It had a hauntingly beautiful light mauve bloom -- that is, if it ever bloomed. The American Rose Society rated it a 4 on a scale of 10, and I think the voters were being quite generous.

At any rate, Dad rescued it from the trash pile and gave it a go at his little piece of heaven called Falls ‘N All. I think after several seasons with only one puny flower, he decided to go back to raising tomatoes.

So last week while my husband and I were in the Cashiers area (see Photo 2 above), I decided to get the dirt on growing roses there. I stopped in to see Robin at a lovely outdoor nursery, Chattooga Gardens. I noticed there were several pots of healthy-looking roses still available, as well as all manner of shrubs from azaleas to hydrangeas to viburnum. I was surprised so many kinds of plants could grow successfully on high.

Robin said that lots of roses grow beautifully in the region, particularly the Knock Out family. She also mentioned a few varieties I raise here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland including the shrub rose Sally Holmes and climbers Altissimo and New Dawn.  A single floribunda, Nearly Wild, was also a popular choice. Hybrid teas didn’t fare so well.

After chatting with Robin, I drove around and spotted beautiful garden patches at every turn. There were fabulous dahlias, towering coneflowers, and yes, Knock Out bushes covered with blooms.

As a result of my investigation, I discovered that you don’t have to leave gardening behind if you move to the mountains.  The growing season may be a bit shorter, but the months you have will be just as rewarding.

So Ken, rest assured you can have a blooming good time in Boone as well. The elevation there is only 3,266 feet. Gee, you’re practically a flatlander!

PSSST: Those of you who are feeling smug about the sparse Japanese beetle season this year should be warned experts are predicting the pests will have a banner year in 2010.

Editor’s note: You can find more posts by Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, at our blog archive. There are numerous garden articles on a variety of topics at the Monitor's main gardening page.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos — and possibly win a prize. All fruit photos on the site as of Sept. 30 will be considered for a prize.  Also, join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

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