Yes, You Can Grow Roses

Yes, You Can Grow Roses

by Judy Barrett

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We hear roses are hard to grow. . . . We hear they require constant care and treatment. . . . Depending on where we live, we hear they can’t stand the heat . . . the cold . . . the humidity . . . the arid air. The list of reasons not to grow roses is long, yet we persevere.—from the first chapter

Most gardeners have tried, with more or less


We hear roses are hard to grow. . . . We hear they require constant care and treatment. . . . Depending on where we live, we hear they can’t stand the heat . . . the cold . . . the humidity . . . the arid air. The list of reasons not to grow roses is long, yet we persevere.—from the first chapter

Most gardeners have tried, with more or less success, to grow roses. For a plant that has been in cultivation all over the world for millennia, roses have an oddly persistent reputation for being finicky and disease-prone, difficult to establish, and in need of constant tending.

And then you see a sprawling shrub, loaded with yellow blossoms, spilling carelessly over a church dumpster or a climbing mass of red roses clambering over a chain link fence. You wonder why growing a rose bush in your backyard should be so intimidating.

Now, veteran gardener and author Judy Barrett tackles the persistent rumors and illusions that inhibit many of us from trying our hand at cultivating roses. She answers the most common questions (how to water, prune, train, and choose the best locations, among others) and then points readers in the direction of the many good choices to be had among both antique and old roses (the Bourbons and China roses, for example) and some newer varieties (hybrid teas, miniatures, and others). She also gives advice about cold-hardy roses and offers tips for ensuring success with heat- and drought-tolerant Earth-Kind® roses.

Illustrated with gorgeous photographs throughout, Yes, You Can Grow Roses will convince you that these beautiful plants are not nearly as fussy, frail, and persnickety as you thought. By following Barrett’s advice, you’ll enjoy season after season of durable, aromatic beauty in your garden.

Editorial Reviews

Tina Marie Wilcox

800x600 “Yes, You Can Grow Roses is an earthy and inspirational book for anyone who wants to grow roses.”—Tina Marie Wilcox, head gardener and herbalist, Ozark Folk Center's Heritage Herb Garden

Mike Shoup

"Judy Barrett's Yes, You Can Grow Roses is an easy to read, delightfully enlightening book on roses, providing a wealth of information for gardeners intent on expanding their knowledge of growing these versatile plants."--Mike Shoup, founder of The Antique Rose Emporium, author, Empress of the Garden
The Eagle - Glenn Dromgoole

" History comes alive in this beautifully designed book." --Glenn Dromgoole, The Eagle

Product Details

Texas A&M University Press
Publication date:
W. L. Moody Jr. Natural History Series , #49
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.30(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Yes, You Can Grow Roses

By Judy Barrett

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2013 Judy Barrett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62349-104-8


Roses Real and Mythological


Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
For nobody's toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be!
—Classic schoolyard rhyme

Now there is a misconception about roses that can easily be put to rest. But it is only one of many. Gardeners and nongardeners alike are plagued with myths, rumors, traditions, gossip, and other unreliable information about roses, that most popular of flowers.

We hear roses are hard to grow. We hear they are relentlessly attacked by bugs, diseases, fungi, and mysterious ailments. We hear they require constant care and medication like some cranky old aunt who has chronic and unpleasant complaints of all sorts. Depending on where we live, we hear they can't stand the heat or can't stand the cold, wilt under the humidity, or fry in the arid air. The list of reasons not to grow roses is long, yet we persevere. Why? Because we love roses. They are beautiful, fragrant, full of history and lore, and in general make us feel better about the world and the people in it. Also, deep down in our hearts, we know that all those bad rumors about just how hard it is to grow roses can't be true.

Fossils of roses have been found in the Colorado Rocky Mountains dating back to the Paleolithic era, roughly 32–35 million years ago. Archaeologists have found rose remains in China more than 40 million years old. Clearly, these are sturdy and persistent plants. The first requirement of a desirable garden plant is that it has a will to live—all on its own. For all those millions of years, you can be sure that roses were growing without benefit of sprays, poisons, and constant attention. In those ancient times, roses were not the big-blossomed beauties we know today. Generally, the flowers were small and had few petals, but they were always fragrant. Unlike many flowers, rose blossoms have no nectar to attract pollinators like bees, so they rely on their sweet scent to lure insects in to pollinate the plants and keep them going. Roses also produce flowers in a variety of colors, which in turn attract many different pollinators. To have viable and productive seeds, most plants need pollinating. Through the centuries, roses developed clever ways to make sure their seeds would produce more and more generations.

And speaking of pollinators, the Greeks, always ready with a story, explained why roses have thorns. According to legend, the Greek god of love, Eros, was sniffing a rose one day and enjoying the sweet smell when a bee emerged from the petals and stung him on the nose. Since those Greek gods were often spiteful, he decided to get his revenge by shooting the stem of the rose with his arrows—thus the sharp points on the rose stems that persist today. (Cupid was the Roman equivalent and still has his bow and arrow, so be careful!)

The Greeks were also responsible for calling roses the "king of flowers." They cultivated them in their gardens, as did the Egyptians as early as 3000 BC Roses were included in the Hanging Gardens of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The ancient Romans made wine from roses, and the Chinese were cultivating roses nearly five thousand years ago and using them for medicine, food, and scent.

Legend has it that the rose growing on the church wall at Hildesheim, Germany, is more than one thousand years old. It is said to date back to the ninth century BC If you look for pictures of the rose on the Internet, you can see an old bush growing up the side of the cathedral. Then you'll see close-up pictures of red roses, white roses, pink roses, and striated roses. Obviously there is still some mythology at work here. One fairly reliable source identifies the rose as a wild, single-blooming rose, Rosa canina or dog rose. The flowers are flat with five pale pink petals and a yellow center. The dog rose is native to Europe and was often used in European heraldry. It has a very prickly stem that helps it climb trees and buildings.

The cultivation of roses has spread since those times throughout the world. Roses have always been thought of as more than just common garden plants. They have been symbols of all sorts of human passion. In the fifteenth century they were identified with the two factions fighting to control England. The red rose symbolized the Lancasters, and the white rose symbolized the Yorks and thus the conflict that is known as the War of the Roses. Those were the days when most people could not read, and pictures were ways to communicate what was going on in the world. Not long after the War of the Roses ended, a rose appeared that combined both white and red in the same flower. It was known from then on as the York and Lancaster rose. Depictions of it have been used by British monarchs as a badge since the time of Henry II as a symbol of the new unity between the two groups.

In the Arab world, the rose was a masculine flower and was associated with secrecy and silence. Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians also denoted secrecy with a picture of a rose. Sub rosa means that what was said "under the rose" was to be kept confidential. The phrase, which was once literal since roses were painted on ceilings in rooms used for secret meetings, has become generally understood as relating to confidentiality. In Christian symbolism, the phrase relates to the privacy of confession. Today the phrase is used for everything from covert operations by the military to any secret meeting.

The most widespread symbolism of the rose, however, is with love and passion. Once more, it all started with the Greeks. The goddesses and gods of love, passion, lust, and fertility were all associated with roses. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of pleasure, joy, beauty, love, and procreation, and her most important sacred plant was the red rose. It was said to have been stained red when Aphrodite cut her feet on its thorns as she rushed to the aid of her dying lover, Adonis. Even the lesser-known deities had associations with roses. Chloris (Flora to the Romans) was a nymph who was known as the goddess of flowers. As she talked, her lips breathed spring roses and scattered them about the world.

Ancient rose symbolism was not limited to Greek and Roman mythology. In Egypt, the goddess Isis required that roses be used as offerings to her. Roses have been found in Egyptian tombs, where they were used as funerary wreaths. Throughout the classical world, Egypt was known for its perfumes. One of the most popular and famous of those perfumes used rose oil and created a rose scent. Cleopatra filled fountains with rose water in her palace and strewed rose petals on the dining room and boudoir floors to release the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

Throughout the various ancient cultures, the rose had deep significance. At its prime when it was fragrant and beautiful, the rose symbolized vitality and life. When the blossoms withered, the rose was a symbol of death. By returning every year to bloom again, the rose became a symbol of eternal or ever-renewing life.

The rose is often used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. During the early Middle Ages, the rose was associated with the excesses of pagan Rome, but associating the flower with Mary gained it respect that couldn't be questioned. White roses in Paradise were said to have blushed red when she kissed them. It is said that roses were Mary's favorite flowers, and she used roses to signify her reappearance at different times in history. She brought bouquets of roses with her when she miraculously appeared at Lourdes, Pontmain, Beauraing, and other locations. Mary is referred to in Latin as Rosa Mystica, the mystical rose. The golden rose and the thornless rose were also symbols of Mary and her perfection and purity.

The language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, was a Victorian fad in which individuals created tussy mussies (small handheld bouquets) that expressed feelings that otherwise could not be spoken in polite society. Various colors and flowers came to have different meanings. White roses symbolize purity and innocence. Red roses stand for passion and true love. Pink roses indicate affection but to a lesser degree. Depending on whom you believe, yellow roses symbolize friendship and warmth or jealousy and dying love. Yellow and red together communicate joy, happiness, and excitement. And the list goes on and on. If you once learn the language of flowers, you can write your own book without ever picking up a pen! It is amazing what you can say with a bouquet. The trick is to give it to someone who understands the message.

And it isn't just the choice of rose color that has significance. There is also a tradition of sending messages with roses that depend on the number you send. For example, sending one rose means love at first sight—"You are the one!"; 3 roses—"I love you"; 12 roses—"I care about you a dozen ways"; 24 roses—"I think of you 24 hours a day"; and on up to 999 roses, which signify everlasting and eternal love.

Poets and painters have contributed mightily to the symbolism of roses as associated with love and romance. Paintings of beautiful women and virile young men often contain roses as central elements. And poets just can't get enough of roses in their work. Shakespeare had Juliet famously ask, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." Of course, she found out that names can be extremely important and that which we call a rose has a mystique all its own, unlike most other flowers. In Robert Frost's famous poem "The Rose Family," he notes that apples, pears, and plums are in the rose family, but they are not fraught with the emotion that comes with a rose. To his beloved, he says, "You, of course, are a rose—/But were always a rose."

By the seventeenth century, all of Europe was madly in love with roses. They were in such demand that some governments recognized roses and rose water as legal tender for payment of taxes and purchases. In the 1800s, Napoleon's wife, Josephine, had a huge rose garden built at her villa Chateau de Malmaison. That garden was said to contain a specimen of every rose available in Europe at the time. She grew about 250 varieties of roses.

But the 1800s marked the biggest change so far in the rose story. During the period when European plant explorers were scouring the world for new varieties and unusual plants, ever-blooming roses were brought from China to Europe. Until that time, most European roses bloomed only once a year, in the spring. With the arrival of Chinese roses in Europe, plant breeders went to work to develop beautiful roses that bloomed spring, summer, and fall. The roses of Europe contributed sweet scent and classic rose shape and form, and the roses of China added perpetual bloom and hardiness in both heat and cold. It was a lovely combination and one that inspired the development of hundreds of new varieties.

There were four "stud" roses brought to Europe from China that were essential to the development of the colorful, ever-blooming roses we love today. Slater's Crimson China was imported by Gilbert Slater in 1792. It was a perennial-flowering red rose of dwarf size with semi-double flowers. Parsons' Pink China was introduced in 1793 by Joseph Banks and was later named Old Blush. Sir A. Hume introduced Hume's Blush Tea-scented China in 1810. It is known for its large, elegant, pale pink flowers that bloom continuously. Parks' Yellow Tea-scented China was the fourth of the old stud roses. It came to England in 1824. Breeders immediately began working on developing new roses that had wonderful color, scent, size, and blooming capability. New classifications of roses were introduced, including Noisette, Bourbon, hybrid perpetual, hybrid tea, and hybrid China.

From this basic heritage come all the roses we know today and a lot we have forgotten. Roses that climb, roses that ramble, roses that are short or tall, thorny or not, roses that are in every hue and size and number of petals all have some basic genetics in common. The genetics are set, and we as people add the mystery and mythology that have made roses our favorite flower. The history of roses is long and fascinating, but it is also filled with myths and misconceptions that often just get in the way of enjoyable rose growing.


Myths and Misconceptions about Roses


Roses are delicate plants.

One reason that people believe roses are delicate plants is that the rose flower itself appears to be delicate. The petals are soft and easily torn; they quickly fall from the flower when it is cut and brought into the house; keeping a rosebud tightly furled is nearly impossible. Yet the fleeting nature of the rose flower is an indication of the sturdiness of the rose. The plant makes many flowers so it can reproduce itself and make more plants. Each blossom contains the potential for dozens more rosebushes, but first it has to shed the petals and mature into viable seeds.

While the flowers seem delicate, the plants themselves are sturdy. Typically, rosebushes have strong stems that branch and expand with little attention from a gardener. Most roses have prickles that vary from tiny little nibs to huge, vicious thorns. These prickles protect the rose from many invaders, including humans. Some very prickly roses are routinely recommended by nurseries for planting below or in front of a teenager's window to discourage unauthorized exits and entrances.

Some roses have been planted and used as fences to keep livestock in and marauders out. Thomas Affleck, a nurseryman in Southeast Texas near Brenham in the mid-1800s, sold cuttings of the Cherokee rose all over the state as the preferred fence for plantations and farms before barbed wire became widely available. You can still see the bright white single flowers with yellow centers blooming along the roadside in the spring. Macartney rose is another wild escape rose that flourishes across Texas and the rest of the South as a hedgerow plant. These were originally introduced into England from China in 1804. Both Macartney, Fortuniana, and Cherokee roses grow in tangled masses across pastures in the South, especially in Central and coastal Texas. They also have single white flowers with golden centers. Macartney bears hips in the fall; otherwise, they are hard to tell apart. Some of these plants were simply sticks when they were put into the ground, and they have survived 150 years without care or attention.

The biggest rosebush in the world is right here in the United States. In Tombstone, Arizona, there is a Lady Banks White rose that has been growing from a rootstock brought from Scotland in 1885. From a single trunk, it grows on an arbor that covers more than 8,000 square feet. Of course, it is hidden within walls, so you have to pay to see it, but it is a living testament to the sturdiness of roses. After all, Tombstone does not have the most welcoming climate for human or rose.

The sturdy stems of roses have been carried around the globe and back, first as plant explorers found new varieties in their searches through the far-flung corners of the world. They took their discoveries back to Europe from North America, South America, China, and other great distances, and they took them in the form of cuttings—bare rose stems. Later, when the great migrations of people began, roses went along for the ride. When Europeans left for America to find a new life, they took their favorite roses with them. There was not enough room for entire rosebushes, but there was room for small bundles of sticks—rose cuttings. For weeks and even months, those stems traveled across the ocean, and when they finally reached their destination, they put down roots and started to grow and bloom. No delicate plant could have done all that!


Roses have to be sprayed all the time.

Some people say they don't grow roses because they don't want to have to "spray" them. At one time, garden experts recommended a regular program of spraying roses with pesticides and fungicides to keep them healthy and alive.


Excerpted from Yes, You Can Grow Roses by Judy Barrett. Copyright © 2013 Judy Barrett. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

JUDY BARRETT is the author of What Can I Do with My Herbs?, What Makes Heirloom Plants So Great?, and Recipes From and For the Garden. Her online gardening resource is a favorite site for organic gardeners, and Barrett is a frequent speaker at gardening events and conferences across the South and Southwest. She lives in Taylor, Texas.

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