It may seem odd, but right this minute is the ideal time to prepare for new roses. A major cause of disappointment is the planting of roses on the spur of the moment in poorly prepared holes. Another source of failure is forgetting how the sun strikes in the summer -- often roses are planted in winter or early spring when there seems to be plenty of sun, but when trees leaf out it may be a different story in July, and the roses may not have enough light.
Now is a perfect time (choose a coolish day, needless to say) to decide exactly where a new rose is to go. Dig a hole 20 inches wide and 20 inches deep. Incorporate a good bucketful of peat moss, fully dampened but not sopping wet, and a handful or two of fertilizer. Ideally you may use half a bucket of rotted horse manure. Failing that use two small handfuls of 5-10-5 commercial fertilizer. Mix all of this thoroughly.
If you can find leaf mold, use a bucket of it. When fully stirred, with a spading fork, soak with the hose until saturated. Then leave it alone.
If you plant roses in mid-November or early December, the planting station you have made in July or August will be fine. When the plants arrive, just excavate enough to get the roots in without bending or twisting them. Firm the soil after the roots are covered. Use your feet, assuming the soil is fairly dry. Then water thoroughly.
About Christmas time, strew a few evergreen branches about the newly planted rose, removing them gradually in March.
Some firms send rose plants in November, others not until March. You get good results either way. I prefer fall planting if I can get the plants then, as I can from Canada.
The great American rose nurseries, such as Armstrong, Jackson & Perkins, etc., specialize in the newest roses. A few of these will still be in commerce 10 years from now, but most of them will be discontinued promptly. Novelties are the lifeblood of the rose business, however; tempting most gardeners year by year with flowers not seen before.
There are also a few nurseries that sell roses no longer common in commerce, and those nurseries are the places to look for offbeat varieties.
Among the best known such nurseries is Roses of Yesterday and Today, Browns Valley Rd., Watsonville, Calif., 95076-0398. The catalogue costs $2. Less well known to Americans is Pickering Nurseries, 670 Kingston Rd., Pickering, Ontario, Canada, L1V 1A6.
In recent years Pickering has increased the number of its varieties, not only of current (and many hard-to-find) hybrid teas and floribundas, but also of old roses. There is a fine selection of albas, gallicas, damasks and hybrid musks, as well as shrubs from 'Birdie Blye' to 'Westerland.' The list of climbers, mostly new, is outstanding.
I have hesitated to say much about one of the finest roses, 'Jaune Desprez,' since I knew of no American source for it until this year. Now Pickering lists it. My plant was imported from England, had to sit in quarantine for two years, and one way and another was a royal pain to acquire. Now anyone who wants it can get it dormant, bare-root, in the mail without the slightest bother, merely by sending a check. So I shall speak of it as possibly my favorite rose, with firm warnings that many gardeners would not look at it twice.
'Jaune Desprez' entered commerce in 1830. It is one of the first noisettes, a group of roses mainly tender to cold, but the earliest ones, before much tea rose blood entered the strain, are fairly hardy at least to Philadelphia.
'Jaune Desprez' is a large climber and I doubt it can be kept to a small plant. Even on young plants the new shoots are six feet long or so. Flowers are borne in clusters at the tips of these long shoots. They come freely from May till November once the plant has reached eight or 10 feet.It can grow to perhaps 30 feet. The flowers are small, about two inches across, a pale apricot pink with yellow glow in the center. They are semidouble and intensely fragrant of musk. The color and the scent intensify in the fall.
The color is so pale it does not show up at a distance. The texture of the flowers is like oiled silk, but the blooms are not showy, really. The rose would never have gone out of commerce if many people had liked it, so be guided by that.
I recommend it only to gardeners who do not mind the pale coloring, and who will not have a fit if a cold winter cuts the plant to the ground. And who do not mind the long shoots rocketing out in various directions. To me it seems a flawless rose, and I mention it only because (as the Good Book says in another connection) it was lost, and is found.