NOW HERE comes a gardener afraid of the climbing hybrid tea rose, 'Peace,' since he has heard it grows fantastically but never blooms. He has been told it gets black spot, cannot be pruned into reasonable submission, and, in general is far inferior to the bush form of 'Peace' which is his favorite rose.
He may rest easy, at least in the matter of 'Climbing Peace.' It makes a plant 20-by-20 feet if superbly treated, but it is no monster and is a reasonable choice for an ordinary small garage or a high wire fence. For that matter, one of the most beautiful specimens of this rose I ever saw was supported by a four-foot chain-link fence.
In bleak climates the mere fact that it makes a large plant means there is more of it to suffer from subzero winds and ice. But it is an excellent choice in Washington. It does indeed get black spot, but not seriously -- certainly not to the point you would avoid it on the score of had health.
On the contrary it is a superbly healthy climber, and its flowers are perhaps even larger and even handsomer than those of the bush. The climber is somewhat perfumed, the bush is not. In this city it blooms profusely.
Faithful readers may recall 'Peace' is far from being any favorite of mine, but in simple justice I assure the inquiring gardener that if he likes the flowers in the first place -- does not object to their enormous size and somewhat selfsatisfied air -- he will find 'Climbing Peace' a rose among roses.
Over the years I have been amazed by rose growers who write in to the American Rose Annual (in the Proof of the Pudding Department, where various new roses are evaluated by fairly knowledgeable gardeners who are trying them out) to complain of this or that climbing rose that there are "not enough blooms" or "is slow to get started."
Surely after 5,000 years of rose cultivation, gardeners have noticed that climbing roses are, after all, merely mortal plants (however miraculous in bloom) and not entirely free of ordinary physiological laws of growth?
No climbing rose exists which, the first year, will bloom freely and grow freely. It takes three years for a climbing rose from a nursery to make even a moderately mature large plant, and and most climbers will not bloom freely, or give any idea of their ultimate grand effect, before they have made large plants.
Some of them, by contrast, bloom freely indeed in their first and second years, and these never fail to bring on the complaint that they are "very slow to start climbing."
People do not expect dogwoods or mock oranges or lilacs to make a great show from young nursery plants. Why expect it of roses?
Another cause of complaint registered with innocent garden writers is that "there are not enough blooms at once" on the perpetual-flowering climbers.
If you want a great mass of bloom in May, there are plenty of climbing roses that will provide it; the white 'Silver Moon,' the pink 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' the sulfur 'Climbing Goldilocks,' the red 'Climbing Etoile do Hollande,' the buff-tawny 'Climbing Talisman' and so forth, to say nothing of those turn-of-the-century climbers or ramblers like 'Alberic Barbier,' 'Gardenia' and 'May Queen.'
But no climbing rose now blooms (and none in the future will bloom) with a spring mass of flower like these and then maintain that display four additional times during the summer and fall.
It is not the way any plant works.
There are often complaints about black spot. The old (1900) white 'Gardenia' never gets black spot, in my experience, and neither does the elegant single yellow 'Mermaid.' The great large climbing hybrid teas may indeed get black spot but usually it amounts to nothing, not even on 'Climbing Talisman,' which is quite susceptible to black spot in bush form. Also I never think of black spot as any problem whatever on the 100-year-old white 'Mme. Alfred Carriere' or the pink 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin' (post World War I).
I cannot see that it does much good for breeders to produce black spot-free climbers like the ones mentioned if they are promptly abandoned by browers. And why brother to raise a rose of superlative ruffled perfumed beauty like the last named rose if it is soon to be impossible to find at any nursery?
Of course all climbers have faults. The great pink madame flings herself about, can hardly be kept to a pillar, and in 50 years of watching her I have never seen even one flower appear after a great May flowering. 'Mme. Alfred Carriere,' on the other hand, blooms as steadliy through the season as any climber I can think of, but she, too, makes a very large plant suitable for covering the north front of the White House, or growing up 20 feet into a declining apple tree. And of course she never makes any great display after May; merely a handful of flowers here and there which are pleasant to cut, or to amuse the gardener wandering about.
'Mermaid' is both perpetual-flowering and black spot-free, and is moreover continually being praised over the decades as one of the most beautiful of all roses. Yet it has many drawbacks. First, it is extremely difficult to propagate, and growers therefore do not propagate it. Besides, it takes several years for it to get going properly and then it refuses to stop.
I have seen it grow around three sides of a large house from a single plant. It is fiercely armed with museum-quality thorns, but then it balks at being pruned, sometimes dying back and sometimes sulking for a year or two if abused.
As an untrained plant, it makes a great 12-foot mound which is lovely, but too large for many small gardens.
I suppose if it is hard to propagate, the nurserymen must charge more for the few plants he succeeds in propagating. But the rose-buying public balks at paying an extra dollar or two for such a plant.
So the grower (perhaps having been stuck with unsold 'Mermaids' a time or two) simply turns to easier subjects. Besides all that, this rose is just barely hardy in Washington and Philadelphia, and will not survive in colder climates.
If, then, some of the very greatest of climbing roses have many faults from the viewpoint of small town garden requirements and commercial requirements, it is hardly surprising that lesser roses should have a few falls from the common fantasies of the common rose grower.
People seem to want smaller climbing plants now, roses that grow only 7 to 10 feet high, and which bloom off and on through the summer. Many of them in fact, will if well cared for, but even when they perform at their best, they do not match the idiot vision of the romantic rose grower who evidently feels cheated if the plant is not as stuffed with color as an azalea from the late April to early December, and of course no climbing rose will fit his vision of what a rose ought to be.
'Golden Showers' is among the best continual-blooming climbers, and it grows admirably here. In pink-red two admirable ones are 'Parade' and 'Gladiator,' both scented.
'Spectuacular,' which has slight perfume, blooms off and on in shocking and exciting orange-red.It flings itself out a bit, rather than growing neatly up an 8-foot post, and the pink 'Blossomtime' which is highly perfumed and boasts smallish but perfect hybrid-tea blooms almost without stopping (though, again, no great mass of them after May) also likes to make a mound, a globe of a plant, and is happiest when grown as a large shrub. 'Climbing Goldilocks' makes a fairly glorious mass show in May, but not a great many flowers (though some) thereafter. Some do not like it because the blooms promptly fade from sulfur-lemon to off-white, and the blooms also become almost flat. That does not bother me, but some gardeners go to pieces at the fading of yellow roses. Climbing roses are among the best examples of Nobody's Perfect, though I might nominate 'Blossomtime' as the most nearly perfect pink climber for small city gardens. Since it is for all practical purposes flawless, healthy, neat, intensely perfumed, exquisitely colored, faithful in flowering all summer and fall, producing both buds and mature blooms of great substance, admirable for cutting -- naturally, it is now almost out of commerce. I notice Pickering Nurseries, 670 Kingston Rd., Pickering, Ontario, Canada, LIV 1A6, still sells it.
But if anybody knows a source for 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin' please tell me. It is too great a hassle to import roses from England, though Canada is as easy as ordering from an American company. The gorgeous madame really ought not be allowed to just vanish. When she was new, she sold for $5, a price 10 times the going rate. One of the best gardeners I knew bought it then, and kept it till he died half a century later. His friends were amazed, since he was not one for flinging dollars about. Said it was one of the best investments he ever made. Now, of course, it would be as cheap as any rose ever gets. The only problem now is to find it.