Roses: Disease-resistant rose power for any garden

The award-winning Kordes Vigorosa series of roses promises long blooming times with minimal maintenance.

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    Velvety, fragrant Apricot Vigorosa has won three European Gold Medals for excellence.
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The evolution of the rose has taken some strange twists and turns throughout history.

For example, it was French Empress Josephine’s magnificent garden at Malmaison that rekindled a public desire to grow roses after interest had waned over many years.

That renewed fascination eventually led to the birth of the modern roses we know today, including long-stemmed hybrid teas that became the darlings of the rose world in the mid-1940s.

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But while breeders were trying to outdo one another with bigger blooms and higher spiral centers, many gardeners abandoned roses once again. They didn’t want to waste hours spraying, pruning, fertilizing, and watering a bush that might produce only a handful of flowers in a year.

Easy-care roses

Fortunately, a few breeders realized that the future of roses might lie in making the Queen of Flowers easier to grow. Bill Radler introduced the easy-care concept with Knock Out in 2000.

His original shrub produced roses with fewer than 10 petals and didn’t even smell like a rose, yet had attributes few other varieties could claim: It was disease resistant, oblivious to humidity, tolerated some shade, and was winter-hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Meanwhile in Germany, the legendary Kordes family was way ahead of the curve with a plan to breed roses for disease resistance as well as beauty. They completely stopped spraying their fields of roses 20 years ago.

Many plants couldn’t survive without their cocktail of chemicals. But those that did, ushered in a new generation of roses that were both low maintenance and beautiful.

The Fairy Tale line of roses has already been turning heads. Now Kordes is about to take landscape gardening to a new level with a series of roses that promise to carpet the garden floor with color from spring till hard frost.

The Vigorosas are long-blooming, low growing landscape shrubs that are heat-, cold-, and drought-resistant. They thrive in most soils and require no special pruning.

Each rose in the line has been awarded the prestigious ADR award – the highest decoration in Germany. Here in the US, they’ve earned a reputation for disease resistance and an ability to flourish under difficult circumstances.

Resistance to blackspot

David Zlesak, assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, has been studying blackspot-resistance in roses for many years.

One interesting aspect of the studies is that blackspot strains differ throughout the country. Which means that a rose that might be healthy in Texas could succumb to the disease in Washington. So testing roses with a variety of strains is important.

Thomas Proll of Kordes collects leaves affected by blackspot from different sources, then tries to infect his roses. “That way he can weed out those plants that can’t stand up to disease,” Dr. Zlesak explained. “So far we’re very encouraged with the performance of all the Vigorosas.”

The Vigorosa line contains eight varieties in a rainbow of eye-catching colors. Some like the raspberry-red Toscano are very rain resistant and make superb specimens in pots or hanging baskets.

Red Ribbons sports cascades of brilliant red double blooms that hover above dark green, glossy foliage. It grows about two feet tall and can spread 4 feet wide.

For sheer wow power you can’t beat Apricot Vigorosa with its semi-double fragrant blooms that age to a delicious swirl of pink and peach.

Like most of the line, Salmon and Sweet Vigorosa offer gorgeous foliage and an attractive spreading habit. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re also dependable bloomers, showing off from spring until well into the fall.

“There’s nothing not to like about these roses, “ raves Brad Jalbert, owner of Select Roses in Langley, British Columbia. “ They’re super easy to grow and more drought resistant than most shrubs in my garden.”

Vigorosa roses may be tough, but they’re charming as well. They shine as accents in a casual garden or in mass plantings, but can also serve admirably in more formal settings. Brad Jalbert says Toscana is perfect for public gardens, parks and street plantings. “They offer great color, they’re tidy and no care.”

In fact, it’s difficult to think of an area where these roses wouldn’t be a welcome addition. After all, they’re disease resistant blooming machines that thrive just about everywhere from the Deep South to Canada.

Just think what Empress Josephine could’ve done with them.

Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, is one of nine 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. You can follow her on Twitter.

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