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I've always admired beautiful rose gardens; The Huntington, The LA Arboretum, Rose Hills, Portland, Oregon, (sorry, but I'm on the west coast), but was always warned about all the hard work that they command.
The Hybrid Teas do take some extra effort, but with the popularity of Floribundas and the new English, and Garden Rose varieties, you can have a garden that rivals the most famous without a lot of effort.
Take a quick look at this link to see the Rose Garden at the Huntington Gardens in beautiful San Marino, California.
I will be going over just the basics of culture as I want to deal more with the design of the gardens than the basics of growing.
Let's talk about a few important things to remember. If you would like more information on the growing requirements of roses, you can pick from several books at your local book store.
As with most garden types, Rose Gardens are easy if you follow a few simple steps. As always, a little thought in the beginning will pay off in big dividends later.
The first matter to consider is sun exposure. Your Roses need to receive at least 6 hours of full sun a day. This is very important as nothing else you do will help if your rose garden is in the shade.
Good drainage is also very important. If your site is not reasonably fast draining, either choose another site, or build raised beds.
Soil Prep is the foundation that your plants will use to grow on for years to come. A little extra effort to add mulch to the soil before you plant along with some well-rotted manure will go a long way towards long term general plant health & vigor.
A good rule of thumb is to use a 2 cu ft bag of mulch for every 3 rose plants, in addition, use a 1 cu ft bag of manure per 2-3 plants. This should be tilled into the soil as deep as the tiller will go, appx. 12-18".
This will insure a good start for your plants. Then at least once every winter or spring (depending on your climate), you should renew the manure after doing your yearly pruning.
At this point, while you are planning your rose garden, you should plan on installing drip irrigation. Roses do not like to have their leaves wet and appreciate the deep watering a drip system gives.
An emitter on either side of the plant will be enough to take care of it's needs. By not wetting the leaves, you will greatly reduce the chance of mildew and other diseases.
Now that we've taken care of the prep work, let's talk about what types of roses to plant. This is one of the keys to low maintenance rose gardens.
By choosing varieties that don't require a lot of care, you cut down on your time spent working in the garden and instead start enjoying it.
There has been a great renaissance of the old rose varieties that your grandparents knew. Before all the hybridizing of roses, these were the only roses they knew, and a lot of them are more disease resistant, beautiful and easy to grow than the fancy new varieties we have now.
Heirloom is the word used for these old roses that are being re-discovered and truly appreciated for their ease of care. Some of the categories of the better choices include; China, Bourbon, Noisette, Perpetual Damask, Hybrid Perpetual and Tea Roses.
These are by far, the most disease resistant, easy to grow, long flowering plants that grow without a lot of attention from you. The flowers are still beautiful and in most cases, the fragrance is un-equalled in their more modern cousins.
Modern roses that should be included in this low-maintenance category include more common and readily available varieties such as Floribundas, low growing Meidiland Roses, and others called either Landscape or Garden Roses.
David Austin's English roses fit this category as well. Being a cross between Old Roses, Hybrid Teas & Floribundas, these Roses have the charm & fragrance of the Heirloom Roses with color and form unlike anything the rose world has seen before.
All this and most of them inherited the easy going nature of their Floribunda parents. I have personally grown several of these and I can heartily recommend them. Some of the varieties have flowers that are the most beautiful with such delicately cut petals they easily rival any flowers in the plant world.
There are many different ways to include roses in your landscape. In mixed borders, Rose borders, Rose gardens, as a hedge, lining a path, or in a cutting garden, these roses look great. In my mixed borders, these Roses far outperform any other flowers blooming long after the others have finished.
I have included plans for a Small Rose Garden and a Contemplative Rose Garden Plan. If you prefer to design your own, just be sure to check the varieties you are using to see the mature height of the plants. Always put the tallest ones in the back and the shortest in the front. You can pick from the lists of varieties I have chosen for my designs and re-arrange them to your liking.
Roses also need good air circulation so be sure to plant them with at least 12" of space between them. You can mix the different types I have listed in the same garden with nice results.
I like to use the Meidiland Roses as a large scale ground cover, especially when I have a slope to cover. With their sprawling nature it doesn't take too many to cover a large area and they do look beautiful!
The best time to plant is during bare root season in your area. The plants are reasonably priced and you can either get them at your local garden center or I think it's fun to order some from mail order catalogs. You have a much wider selection to choose from. Follow the directions closely for treatment of the dormant plants and they will prove to be almost fool-proof.