It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic picture than a country cottage covered in climbing roses.
Whether arching over a doorway, smothering a brick wall, twining around a rustic pole, or reaching up into the branches of an old tree, climbing roses are show-stoppers in the late spring and early summer garden.
Their eye-catching beauty is just the beginning -- climbers lend a sense of history and maturity to any setting. They soften the most formal architecture. And their ability to add colorful height can bring a ho-hum area of the garden to life in short order.
Climbing roses are a 'recent' sensation
Despite their centuries-old appearance, climbers are a Johnny-come-lately in the rose world. Hybrid descendants of ancient wild climbers became popular in the late 1800s.
Many large-flowered climbers appeared as a result of “sports” -- natural mutations -- from existing bushes.
Seeds from that rose, Champney’s Pink Cluster, produced the first recurrent climbers.
Of course, climbing roses can’t climb at all. In fact, they should probably be described as leaners. Their long canes don’t possess the tendrils that true climbing plants such as vines use to cling to objects.
Climbing roses need help -- strong, durable help -- no matter which structure they are tied to. Otherwise they would simply topple over under the weight of the heavy canes and sprawl across the ground.
Climbers dress up home exteriors
Most gardeners get their start with climbing roses by training them to frame an entranceway or adorn a trellis placed next to the house.
The first rule for success is to make sure your rose structure is weather resistant and rugged. The beams supporting a front porch will probably last for ages, but a flimsy, cheap trellis might not make it through the first season.
Also keep in mind that anytime you plant close to a house or garage, the ground there is likely to be the driest in the garden. Dig your hole at least 18 inches from the foundation and prepare the soil with plenty of organic matter.
Be sure to maintain a generous watering schedule for at least the first year and be patient -- most climbers will take three years to hit peak performance.
More ways to create garden standouts
Away from the house, your choice of structures for climbing roses is limited only to your imagination. A climbing rose trained to grow on an arbor, pergola, obelisk, or sturdy freestanding trellis will create a signature accent in your garden.
Fences and roses make beautiful companions. Blaze Improved or Joseph’s Coat can stop traffic when trained along a white picket fence. The pristine blooms of Sombreuil and Climbing Iceberg are unforgettable cascading over a rustic wooden fence.
Ramblers, with their long supple canes and dense clusters of small flowers, generally only bloom once yearly, but will put on a spectacular show when allowed to meander. Paul’s Himalayan Musk can spread up to 30 feet in length.
As you do with other structures, you will need to secure the rose canes to the fences for support. Plastic coated wire and nylon string can dig into growing stems, which is why I prefer twine, tie tape, or cut-up pantyhose to do the job safely.
Starting over with climbers
Sadly I had to leave all my beautiful climbers behind when I recently moved from Maryland to North Carolina. I am starting over and will devote some upcoming postings to my new mountain garden. So far, just the thought of one day seeing all those gorgeous roses blooming on high has already lifted my spirits.
Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs 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 in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter.