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Diggin' It

The top easy-care roses

The New York Botanical Garden names its top roses for easy care and disease resistance.

By Lynn Hunt / February 1, 2010

A visitor stops to smell the roses at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, part of the New York Botanical Garden. The garden does not use an toxic sprays on its plants so they must look good without chemicals.

Kathy Willens/AP

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For many years the Queen of Flowers has been labeled as one of the most chemically dependent plants in the garden. And to be honest, a good number of roses are fussy and high maintenance.

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That’s because over time, in the pursuit of what was hoped to be a more appealing bloom, disease resistance was bred out of many varieties. And casual gardeners found them too frustrating or time-consuming to bother with.

Now two developments are changing all that. First, the introduction of new varieties that bloom happily throughout the season without the need for constant attention. And secondly, the movement to curtail chemical spraying in both private and public gardens.

Peter Kukielski, curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, had to rethink his plans for 3,800-plus bushes after a no-spray rule was implemented there.

When I first interviewed him, the staff was observing a large group of newly planted roses selected for hardiness and disease resistance. He was immediately impressed with the line of Kordes Fairy Tale roses.

Now almost three years later, 845 roses have been evaluated for performance and beauty. And after receiving countless requests to name which roses he considers the best of the best, Peter has listed the garden’s Top 100 Performers.

The judging guidelines followed those used by the Earth-Kind Program, which conducts field trials to designate varieties that excel with minimal care. Roses at NYBG were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, and only repeat bloomers were considered for the list.

The winner? Ta da! The light-pink shrub rose Quietness, hybridized by the late Griffith Buck. Rosarians in various parts of the country have described it as nearly perfect, blooming in full sun or partial shade. It's fragrant, cold hardy, and supposedly doesn’t attract dreaded Japanese beetles.

Home Run, a shrub with Knock Out in its parentage, placed second. Ducher, a white China rose, snagged third.

Although not in the first three, the folks at Kordes need not be disappointed. Their roses including the climber Aloha, Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale, and Elegant Fairy Tale captured the remaining spaces in the Top 10. In fact, 16 of the disease-resistant Kordes roses made the top 20 and were listed as "Superior."

And what about Knock Out, the modest rose that started the movement towards carefree, chemical-free rose gardening? It came in a respectable 28th.

It wasn’t the pick of the posies, but don’t count out the trailblazer. Newer varieties may be turning heads, but it was Knock Out that convinced many gardeners to take another look at growing roses.

PSSSST: When available, I’ll post a list of the entire 100 Top Roses here.

Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, is one of eight garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. She grows roses and other plants in her garden on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

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