Spring is in the air and there are signs that the garden is coming together. Over the time I’ve been gardening, the climbing roses have been the trickiest to get right. I initially envisaged an abundance of rose blooms cascading around the front door and verandah posts of the old Australian farmhouse (1910 ) where we live. Along the front path, the enchantment of an archway laden with colour and fragrance would welcome our guests. This quintessential country garden appealed to me and seemed appropriate for the era and style of the house, being both charming and inviting.
Climbing roses provide height and elegance to a garden and create focal points, and as suggested in the title quote, serve as punctuation marks in the garden. They cascade from obelisks, tumble over fences, water tanks, tree stumps and old sheds or screen insightly machinery or bins. I discovered that the reality of achieving that look is not always as easy as it appears. There are many factors to consider for successful climbing roses; knowing the fundamental difference between the types of climbers, i.e. pillars, ramblers and climbing roses. Then the essential ‘must dos’ to learn and choices to make on type, thorns, colour, vigour, fragrance and the like.
Initially, I was keen to grow climbing roses to add some much-needed height to what can only be called a flat garden, and I was surprised that it took so much trial and error to find the right rose or at least the ones that behaved the way I wanted.
A sizeable front archway at the entrance to the garden is one area I’ve been working on to cover with climbing roses. And although the roses have grown to some extent, they were far from looking like the quintessential rose arbour I was after. The roses were disappointing, being either too prickly to tie up regularly, too billowy rather than strong long canes or did not want to climb upwards or sideways and were too leggy, so they looked unsightly and bare. I’m happy to say, however, that after many failed attempts, and more research, I think I have finally got it right. Time will tell and this is what I have discovered.
Roses are not natural climbing plants like Jasmine, Ivy or Clematis; they need the support of a robust and stable structure, wires, fences or a trellis. They need a gardener prepared to face the thorns regularly and tie them to the frame in a particular manner.
The central cane or stem must be trained to grow horizontally, so the stem is lying down across the framework, and more shoots will then grow straight up to thicken the coverage. This is the number one trick to beautiful climbing rose arbours with loads of blooms.
Twirling the rose stem around the wires or frame will slow sap flow and encourage more flower buds. If you tie the canes across the top of the archway or weave them under and over, more shoots will form, and more buds will create more blooms. Of course, to do this, the stems need to be pliable so it is easier to manage during late autumn and early winter.
Rose archways ideally should be 2 metres wide to prevent being caught by thorns as you walk through. Although the size of the garden may not allow this. My garden is more single-file along the path and archways, and I like to plant near thornless varieties to make it easier to wander the garden.
Pinkie and Bantry Bay roses were my first choice for my front archway. In this instance, my roses were eaten by wallabies and sheep, so I tried New Dawn, but I found the thorns excessive and too hard to manage when attaching the stems. After much deliberation, research, and transplanting the above to better positions, I’ve settled on Cecile Brunner roses. This archway is made from old steel welded-wire -mesh and fence posts for stability. It has a rustic look and the Cecile Brunner roses should provide thick coverage. From all I’ve read and my memories of Cecile Brunner in my Mother’s garden, I think it is the best choice; almost thornless, prolific and grows quickly. It is often called ‘the sweet heart rose’ for its small charming buttonhole blooms that are adorable in soft silvery pink.
There is an arch seat in what I call the Tea Garden on the north side of the property, which has Twilight Glow roses growing, and this one has been a standout, providing the primary learning curve for me on climbing roses. Once the long canes were attached horizontally across the top of the archway, many new stems grew upwards across the top. So that is the secret to making the roses thicken up.
Nahema was my first choice to grow on the archway along the side path. During the drought a few years ago, the Nahema rose was continuously under attack from two spotted mites and eventually removed to another area and is doing better in the more sheltered position. Now that arch has Papi Delbard rose I transplanted from a pot. It has old-world, double-cupped blooms in yellow, orange and apricot and is said to be hardy and disease resistant. It is almost to the top of the arch, so, fingers crossed for this season’s coverage.
On the front lawn is a metal Gazebo that has newly planted Kathleen Harrop climbing roses in two stone pots to grow 2- 3 metres up the sides. Two Quicksilver roses are also on a small archway along a front pathway. These have been fabulous so far; easy to train, disease resistant and flourishing. Then there’s the ready-made pool fence, where I tried Buff Beauty rose, but for some unknown reason, it did not bloom very much and always looked unhealthy, so sadly became part of my winter cull. In place, I planted the Bantry Bay that has flowered all winter and will billow along the pool fence. At the other end of the pool is Gold Bunny rose. The vibrant yellow blooms are always the first to bloom each Spring and I’m sure will flourish, now having been restricted in a pot since last year as a bare root rose.
Around the back of the farmhouse, which we all know in the country is actually the front are concrete water tanks that, once wire-weld-mesh is added, are perfect for climbing roses to grow on. Here I’ve planted Crepuscule and Joseph’s Coat climbing roses. Renae rose with Apple Blossom Clematis grows on the other large concrete water tank.
Guy Savoy– a superb, happy perfect climbing rose is on an old water tank stand by the kitchen window. And at the back doorway in huge pots are my absolute favourite Lady Of Shalott roses. I have these here to view from inside because the blooms look incredible with the light behind them, and they require a consistent inspection to check for blackspot. Easily done as I walk in and out.
Sometimes climbing pillar roses do not need to be trained but left as billowy bushes of roses instead, as I’ve done with the Lady of Shalott and Pierre de Ronsard roses.
Two large obelisks with climbing roses growing; Pierre Gagnaire and Soaring Spirits sit in pride of place at our front entrance. Both these roses make a gorgeous display. Pierre Gagnaire is thriving, and the latter is slow and steady. The steel obelisks were made to order and are perfect for climbing roses. Most rural gardens have a multitude of options for structures that can be used with wires or mesh for climbing roses such as old water tank stands, pergolas, verandah posts, old dunnies, tree stumps and logs, water tanks and of course fences. Sally Holmes and Penelope roses grow on tripod-style smaller steel obelisks in the main front garden bed.
Three Types of Climbing Roses
Pillar Roses – Many roses can be trained up a single post, pillar or small obelisk to create height and save space in the garden. For example, roses like Pierre de Ronsard, Teasing Georgia and Twilight Glow are suitable and have a fan-like growth but do not grow too tall and are called Pillar roses. Any climbing rose can be ‘ pillared’ too, and create an elevated mass of blooms if you do not have room for more archways, tunnels or arbours. The idea is to place the structure in the position and wrap the rose canes around it as it grows. The pillar can be metal or wood but must be well anchored to the ground. Plant the rose next to the pillar and wind the canes at a 45-degree angle around the pole as it grows. The lateral shoots will form off the central cane and, can be trimmed as needed.
Climbing roses are planted to grow over archways, arbours, gazebos or across a wall. Many spectacular climbing roses have large blooms like the David Austin roses and will grow with some help up any supporting structure. They just need tying on and a little training to ensure the canes lie flat or horizontally to allow maximum flowering. Climbers tend to repeat flower all season and are available in almost thornless varieties such as Nahema. They will grow from 2-4 metres.
Ramblers are climbing roses that are more vigorous and will grow up trees and over rose tunnels but usually, only flower once per season in an intense flush of colour. These roses will reach 10 metres or more and are often very thorny. These are best grown when there is ample space for them to expand.
For a luxuriant look, it is suggested to plant up to 3 roses per obelisk depending on the size. The experts suggest planting about 20 cm away from the obelisk otherwise it makes it difficult to train a rose especially if planted in the centre.
To create a rose arbour, it is recommended to plant 2-3 roses per side depending on the garden and the desired effect.
It is a personal choice whether all the roses on an arch are the same or varied in colour and type of plant for a multi-coloured effect. Roses and clematis or roses and Jasmine etc.
All that is needed now is the warmer weather, more sun and wait for the blooms, the fragrance and colour. Rose tunnel image from Pinterest.
The header Image is ‘The Rose Vine’ by American painter Emma Lampert Cooper
Content Di Baker 2022
Images as cited or unknown