Sustainable roses. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? If you’re like me, you love roses but don’t grow them because you equate growing roses with spraying lots of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Recently, I saw Peter Kukielsi, the curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at New York Botanical Garden talk about his efforts to transition the famous rose garden from a collection highly dependent on chemicals input, to what is now considered one of the most eco-friendly collection of roses in the world.
The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden houses over 4000 individual rose plants from almost 700 different varieties of roses. Obviously, Mr. Kukielski knows ALOT about growing roses. And about growing roses without spraying them with chemicals.
A Rose is a Rose is NOT a Rose
With over 167,000 cultivated roses available today, how on earth is anyone supposed to find the perfect rose to grow in their garden?
The problem with many cultivated roses is that they were bred for fragrance or color, not for cold hardiness or pest or disease resistance, the primary characteristics eco-friendly gardeners are looking for.
So when it comes to picking the best roses for your garden, remember…a rose is not always a rose.
The Keys to Growing Roses Sustainably
♦ Choose species roses. The oldest rose fossil found is over 34 million years old! That means roses have been around forever, and many roses have strong genes that inherently make them ideal for growing in your garden.
♦ Breeding matters. Kukielski recommends choosing cultivars from German rose breeder Kordes, among others. Apparently the germans have been growing roses for decades without chemicals so their cultivars are known to be disease resistance and consistently good performers at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.
♦ Another aspect of sustainable gardening is conserving water. EarthKind roses, a special designation given to different cultivars based on their performance in field trials throughout the county, do not need any supplemental watering after their first year. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is currently trialing dozens of EarthKind roses.
♦ “We have worms!” Just like growing any other type of plant sustainably, growing roses sustainably starts with healthy soil. Kukielski told a story about how excited he was to see worms return to the soil at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. He uses tons of composted manure and fish emulsion in the Garden.
♦ Companion planting is another key to growing roses without chemicals. Kukielski recommended planting 4 o-clock flowers (Mirabilis) around roses. He also recommended checking out the book Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte.
To make choosing a sustainable rose, or two, for your garden even easier, here’s a list of the top performing roses of 2010 at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden.