GARDENERS like to take on impossible projects and I was not surprised, therefore, to learn of an attempt to turn a delightful little rose called "The Fairy" into a tree.
There are such things as standard roses, in which a bare stalk or "truck" is made of a rugosa or other tough rose with a hybrid tea or floribunda budded at the top.
When sucessfully grown (which is almost never) the effect is charming in quaint fidgety way, but that is not what the gardener in question was attempting.
Since "The Fairy" is endlessly robust and healthy, he thought he could simply clip it into a tree.
He will not succeed at that, in this world or the next, since the rose on question is a born sprawler totally unsuited to the upright life.
In our happy climate, it is true, this rose can reach 5 feet, mounding itself up in a fine thicket and blooming, of course, as freely and constantly as any rose in cultivation.
Another rose I have seen people try to turn into a tree is the out-of-date hybrid tea, "President Herbert Hoover." It likes to go zooming for the sky, reaching 9 feet or so, somewhat in for the style of "Queen Elizabeth." Both are fine tall roses for a screen, but neither likes to bush out, and the gardener is likely to go to his grave whacking away towards his dream and wondering how a rose can be so stubborn.
I can think of one rose that makes a tree-type bush almost naturally - "Sarah Van Fleet," a rugosa hybrid. It has rugose, or pleated-wrinkled, leaves and clusters of quite fragrant (cloves) blooms perhaps 4 inches wide. It has a great spring flush, then odd flowers off and on until frost, and it does not form those dandy crabapple-seized fruits like some other rugosas.
In northern Europe its color is a bit harsh and jarring, but with it is a full deep pink with a tinge of blue in it, but very pretty as I think.
Its drawbacks are several. It likes to grow large, and could be kept lower than 8 feet only with some pains. Also, like many other rugosas, it is a living thorn factory. Anyone fiddling about with roses, especially the thorny babies (all the rugosas, "Mermaid," etc.) should get welders' gloves and save blood and blasphemy.
"Sarah" is peculiarly at odds with the naked paw, and this may as well be accepted to begin with. She also is a great believer in sending up an unlimited number of trunk. The way she works is this, a horizontal branch emerges a few inches from the ground, on a young plant, and shoot emerges from that branch that grows straight up. As the years go by, one has a regular thicket, probably impenetrable even by an aphid.
And yet - she can be sawed back any which way, and in three years one can have a somewhat gnarled object (a bit like an old olive tree) free of foliage for 4 feet and surmounted by a dense of lush canopy of leaves and bloom. The flowers are admittedly floppy and last only a day or two.
There is no rose that has all virtues.
But if I wanted a rose bush that looked like a tree, somewhat like a small old crabapple, I would choose "Sarah."
Another possibility is the old alba rose, "Celeste," which takes whacking rather well, though it too is a great believer in multiple stems. "The Great Maiden's Blush of the English" would probably do equally well. The wonderfully beautiful "Koenigen von Daenemark" (Queen of Denmark) does not grow tall enough to make a good standard.
Back to rose "trees" sold by nurserymen: They should always be staked and their trunks usually should be wrapped with a protective paper. If given full sun and admirable soil and plenty of manure they can be astonishing, with heads 6 feet through. You almost never- I repeat, almost never - see them looking like anything but witches brooms on a stick, but they can be superb.
But the point of all this (for not many, after all, ever felt the need for a rose that looked like a tree) is that we should always remember that irrepressible fancy of the gardener that takes off on the tangent, and resolves to use a plant (like "The Fairy") in the one way it cannot conceivably be used. Ignoring , of course, those others that would do just what he wished.
And if you point that out - with some tact, of course - he will say, "Yes, but I don't want a tree with flowers like 'Celestial' or 'Sarah.'"
No, he wants one well pepered all season with little pinks pills, and if uou gently tell him there simply is not a rose like the one he wants that will grow into a tree form, he looks at you dumbfounded. Surely there is? Surely plant wizards have done everything?
I notice gardeners (especially at first) think even such things as growth habit - sprawling, leggy, upright, dome-shaped and so on - can easily be changed with a nip here and a nip there. Doubtless some gardeners are busy growing oaks in clay pots.
They see a 30-foot canopy of "Silver Moon" in flower and think, now wouldn't that make a gorgeous luxuriant bush, and they try it.
It looks butchered, which it is. Treated as a 6-foot bush, it looks all right in May when the new growth and flowers conceal all sins. But then it tries to push out 15-foot wands of growth and these are relentlessy cut back, and the result is anything but graceful.
Sometimes I think the last thing a gardener comes to notice is the basic architecture of his plants.