A Good Home, Flowers, Garden, Gardening

A Way With Roses

I have a way with roses.

Image Via agardendiary.com
Image Via thegardendiary.com

Mostly, I kill them.

The problem is that I like roses, but roses would rather die than hang around me.

Now, at the start of another spring, I’m again caught between desire and common sense.


“Give your roses full sun”,  the gardening books said.

So I planted my roses in sunny places.

They died.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

Finally, one rose  gave me hope.

It bloomed.  It survived three winters.   And bloomed profusely.

And then it died.


One spring, the smell of a rose caught my nose.  It was a bushy pink rose that grew on tall thorny canes.

The woman in the garden centre said it was a shrub rose, and was “indestructible”.

Music to my ears.

It was one of those times when hope triumphs over experience.

I promptly bought three.

Via agardendiary.com
Healthy roses Via thegardendiary.com

They bloomed profusely, right from the get-go.  In spring and again in summer.

Their fragrance made me swoon.  

Their sweet smell would say: “Come hither”.  My feet acquired wings as I approached them.

Shocked by our success, my husband and I continued to do all the right things – we thought.  Moved low-growing plants from near their roots, fertilized in spring, cut the dead canes in the fall and spring,  watered around the roots and so on and so on.


And then, one early summer, after a rainy spring,  one rose developed black spot on its leaves.

I became a woman possessed — by Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth.

“Out,  damned spot!” I shrieked.

But the spots stayed.  The leaves turned yellow and fell on the soil below.

Another rose was doomed.

Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photo by Hamlin Grange

“Quickly remove the fallen leaves or they will contaminate the soil,” the gardening books said.

Lord, give me strength.  Who’s got the time to pick up every single leaf?


“Roses are like that,” a gardener friend said. “They’re very finicky”.

“Indestructible” had sounded so much more appealing.

It’s been several years and the spots return every summer. They spread to the two other bushes.   I’ve been threatening to get them chopped down and dug out, but -– it’s such a fragrant rose.  Such a prolific bloomer.  And the only rose that has hung around  for so many years.  Surely, that should count for something.

Surely, there must be a way…..


While I’ve never met them myself, some roses will survive anything.  Take Peggy Martin’s rose. 

This rose (below) was one of only two plants in Peggy’s garden to survive Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Blog Photo - Rose - Peggy Martin

I learned about Peggy and her resilient rose through Teresa Byington, whose beautiful and informative blog, The Garden Diary, is about roses. Peggy lost her home and 450 antique roses, but this rose survived under 20 feet of salt water.

I’m now convinced that what I need is a rose that can survive 20 forms of torture.  Clearly, I must be torturing these roses.

Why else would they die?

Congrats, you fabulous dames. (That’s Peggy, Teresa AND their intrepid roses.)


This post is dedicated to green-thumbs  Marion, Carol and Gundy.

69 thoughts on “A Way With Roses”

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only rose killer. Long ago I used to plant a beautiful yellow rose every year. It would look beautiful and smell wonderful, then die. Thusly, I learned to accept that for me, roses are just another annual.

  2. I’m assuming you live in a state that has distinct four seasons? Roses can be very finicky and needs special care to ride through winter.

      1. I used to live in Vancouver, Canada. My parents still live there and my dad has over 20 species of roses in his garden. Obviously ontario’s winters are harsher than vancouver’s, but I’m just puzzled why your roses do not make it? 😉

      2. I have two black thumbs – but only with roses.

        Seriously, I think roses demand a different kind of care from other flowering perennials. And maybe I don’t adhere to the regimen.
        And maybe there’s a thing called the ‘rose growing gene’…. some people just seem to grow roses very well.

    1. To Hopeful Herbalist: That’s a blessing, for sure! I think the wild ones are tougher. We had a place that had an island in the middle of a large pond. It was covered with beautiful light pink flowers. No-one ever tended it. It just took care of itself!!

  3. You have access to wonderful roses in Ontario … I have to mail-order roses from Pickering and Palatine, but you have them in your own back yard.

    Instead of taking advice from people who live in a different part of the country, or continent, go to the folks that grow rose successfully where you live and see what they grow and how they do it. There will certainly be some tips that you can take away and use in your own garden.

    In response to an earlier commenter … yellow is tough. It’s a relatively modern color and most yellow roses need more care than a majority of gardeners are willing to give them.

    1. Thanks, Connie.
      Good point!

      Methinks it’s not the plant but the plant-er. these beautiful flowers seem to do well in other people’s gardens….. it is most likely just that black thumb of mine.

  4. I’m feeling your pain on this one, although I have been able to grow roses with no problem. It’s everything else that dies. I am somewhat of a neglectful gardener, rather than having a black thumb. I do have what are called “knock-out” roses everywhere around my house and they require nothing from me other than a bunch of watering the first year. I’m clear in KS though, so don’t know if they would work that far North. Just a thought. I liked Connie’s idea of taking advice from people who grow roses where you live.

    1. Aha! With a name like Rose, you were BORN to grow roses. And the fact that everything else you plant dies, tells me something. In my garden, everything else grows. Except for roses.
      p..s Been to the rose growers in Pickering, etc. bought lovely roses, and followed their advice. It’s not THEIR fault. Nor that of the roses.
      It’s Kismet. Fate. Karma.
      Only the rose knows….

    1. Thanks, MT. Misery likes company. I was counting up the number of roses I killed over the years – I think it’s close to two dozen. That’s why I’m thankful to the three black spot ladies. They keep growing – in spite of my ministrations.

  5. Yes I too suffer from the inability to grow roses. After my brother passed away I planted Lady Diana rose, I put a banana peel in the ground, put some of my brothers’ ashes in too. It grew just fine that summer. Next summer, nothing. Broke my heart. Have you ever talked to Chris vanCleve, he is on twitter and has a wonderful blog. He is a rosarian. Chris and Theresa started a group on twitter called #rosechat. Maybe they can help you out. I can grow anything else, just not a rose. Try Rose of Sharon, it isn’t a rose but has beautiful blooms and quite a history. Luckily my neighbor can grow roses, so she brings some to me every summer.

    1. What an interesting story about planting your rose in your brother’s ashes, signifying its importance! But why a banana peel?

      It’s reading the blogs of Chris, Teresa and Connie (of Hartwood Roses) that got me hankering after roses again!

      I’m going to check my Myers Briggs personality profile to see if it says “cannot grow roses”. Like you, I’m glad to have a neighbour who can grow roses. You’re so right about Rose of Sharon – we have one and it’s such a profuse bloomer.

      Thanks very much for your reply.

  6. LOL’d at second line! I feel your rose pain…we’ve had them around but they’re so much work, I prefer plants I can eat if I have to put that much into ’em. 🙂

  7. I love roses, too, and I understand what it is like to struggle with black spot. I have learned to enjoy them until June or July when the black spot really kicks in. It doesn’t kill them, but makes them kind of ugly for the rest of the season.

    I do have a rose that doesn’t get black spot. It is called a KnocK Out Rose. It blooms like mad and has beautiful leaves. Last month all of the posts at one of my blogs were devoted to flowers. I can share the links to two posts that actually have photos of roses growing in my yard if you would like me to do that.


  8. I’m completely intimidated by roses so I’ve never brought them home and, therefore, never killed any (well, except that one . . . ). I limit my killing to begonias. 😦

  9. I had beautiful roses at my old house, but they hate my new place. A few are hanging on, but look pitiful. The Katrina rose is legendary down here. I had a Hurricane Ike rose. I didn’t even know it was missing until it reappeared! Every plant comes and goes. It is just an opportunity to plant something new.

  10. How sad Cynthia! I have a feeling that plants know when you desperately want them to do well. They wait until you are starting to feel hopeful and then curl up their toes just to spite you. I have never had much trouble with roses but there are a number of other plants I would love to keep but can’t – Daphnes for example. I have two rose bushes in this garden that aren’t doing as well as they ought but I am sure I have put them in the wrong place. I have been meaning to move them to a new place for about three years but keep forgetting.
    Richard doesn’t do as well with his roses because he doesn’t prune them properly and he plants them too close to other shrubs. (We garden separately – I don’t think our marriage would last if we shared flowerbeds. We have an understanding 😉 )

  11. Clare, what a wonderful reply. I’m smiling at the thought that plants can be spiteful. I, too, had a two-garden marriage till I was no longer able to hold up my end. So now, I still see the flower beds as mine, but the herb and vegetable gardener who lives here is kind enough to take care of them occasionally.

  12. 🙂 maybe you treat them too kindly? I know exactly how you feel – I planted ginger on my balcony (died), some hebe (died), passionflower (died), clematis (died) and 2 roses – one musk one other, both died, and then I changed my strategy, much like in life you have to learn to like what works – so I have hydrangeas in containers, and fuchsia, I grow begonias and drooping hearts, some camelias and I have 2 roses that have been with me three years but they rarely blossom at all, I am growing plants i selected to live in the shade and now they are happy and my little balcony garden looks happy – I had to say goodbye to plants I wanted but just werent for me. When I cut my roses back my friend comes over and I have a glass of wine in the kitchen while she shortens them dramatically – since she did that they have developed millions of buds (well not millions but loads) – she says i am too kind to them.

    1. I think I need a friend like yours. For the cutting back, and the glass of wine.

      Maybe I did treat them too kindly at first. Now I mostly ignore them.
      I love your reply and the list of things that died made me smile, only because I can relate. What great philosophy: ‘in life you have to learn to like what works’.

      1. 🙂 yes my friend is very valuable – I cook her dinner and she cuts the roses – while I wail in the background and ask her if she is sure she needs to cut them back so dramatically….one of my previous. much loved and pragmatic bosses used to give rose handling courses to her neighbours, she said to me that it never goes well, because in her words ” these housewives are just too soft to cut back dramatically enough and that is what rose needs” ( I think of her every time I stand in front of one of my plants shears in hand and apology on my lips..) – ah the list of things that died – still makes me sad but I am happy with what is growing now – I guess the life philosophy might be considered defeatist by some – but there really isn’t much point pursuing tropical plants in northern countries! Happy Sunday

      2. What an image. I can actually hear you wailing in the background because that would be me!
        I am too soft on my plants too. I have to screw up all my courage to prune them mightily. Now I don’t do so at all, but my husband has no such worries – he just lops those branches and limbs!
        Happy Sunday and wishing you also a good week.

      3. so you can relate then :)! Yes I wasn’t making it up, it really is true, my friend puts up with me and sends me back to the kitchen..

  13. The black spots are pathological fungus. Heirloom roses on their own rootstock are often hardier. I have also started using organic fertilizer with mycorhyzzal fungi for the roots. These beneficial root fungal partners help them obtain water and nutrients.

  14. Oh don’ t give up on roses, summer is not the same without them. Blackspot is nothing to do with black fingers or thumbs as you call them over there, we all get it. There are roses which aren’t too susceptible. Do try again. I couldn’t be without roses, they are the high spot of the summer.

  15. Beautiful, roses are irresistible! What gorgeous colours, Cynthia. Best to you as a gardener, I’m not even one 😉 Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  16. I’ve never tried to grow roses but planted knockout roses around my deck last spring. I was told they are hardy which is exactly what I look for in a flower. They seem to be coming back, fingers crossed. I have to remember to fertilize this weekend. With or without roses your gardens are beautiful.

      1. They seem to be coming back, strong and healthy, but it could still be too early to declare victory. Here’s to hoping! Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

    1. How encouraging, Allen. It is a rosa rugosa and the fragrance is lovely. I think it has a lot of black spot, though, which will take over in July and turn the leaves yellow.

  17. Roses are the bane of my life! I love them, but they get everything you can think of, including black spot! I spend so much time tending them, I must be nuts! Good luck with yours … 🙂

    1. Thanks, Julie. Such pretty flowers. Maybe this year I will try to ignore mine. Or try Michael and (the other) Julie’s advice, if I can get someone to help me.

  18. Oh Cynthia – I do sympathize with you. I love roses and darn if the rossette virus spread through our neighborhood and we lost 14 or 15 rose bushes, only 4 remain. The fragrance gets to me every time I walk past them and can’t get enough. Thanks for the shout out to the Garden Diary – can’t wait to browse the blog.

      1. Yesterday I was thinking about your roses when I was out trimming one of the bushes. Two of the rose bushes we took out two years ago from the disease have decided to come back up – no matter how many starters springs I pull out , come back they are and stronger. So I’ve decided to let them have their way and the small bushes are produces roses with no signs of the disease – who knew?! But the most gorgeous of all our bushes with red roses, the one that I based one of my paintings off of, looks like it is now on its last leg – sure we’ll lose this beauty. Rose bushes I love, but like you they frustrate me. Have a wonderful week ahead.

  19. Oh I love that deep purple one, Roses are one of my favorites too, one that not only grows in my home land Bermuda but here in Switzerland. They love the cold. This year I am going to try to keep my roses lovely, and find the ones that have disappeared behind underbrush.

    1. Good luck finding the ones that disappeared behind the underbrush! Sounds like an adventure.
      People sometimes ask how I could leave Jamaica for cold, snowy Canada, but I have been to Bermuda and the whole island seems to be covered by gorgeous flowers. Was it a big change for you?

      1. Yes can’t wait to find those hedgeroses. Well I moved from BDA when I was 18 then 5 years combined in Boston and Canada, so I was prepared for Switzerland. Don’t miss the heat but do miss the ocean which I could see every morning when I woke up and when I went to sleep and when I went to school and the sunshine.

  20. HI!
    I’m Janice from Reflections. Wow! 65 comments on this post! That is one good-looking building you have in your avatar.
    I dropped by to thank you for your visit to my site. I’m glad you liked my post “3 Shrewd Ways…” Nice to meet you.

  21. Humor and determination are a great combination! I tried having a rose garden…once. I followed the advice from talented gardeners and read books upon books about roses, but I still killed them all. A rose murderer, I am.

    I am so glad that I am not the only one that has managed to wipe out the “indestructible” varieties! We could really use a proper definition of “indestructible” and “disease resistant” 🙂

    It is amazing about the rose that survived Hurricane Katrina because Katrina took so many homes and gardens from the Mississippi coast and even inland. She took all my maple trees, and I haven’t planted a maple since!

    Perhaps, one of these days, I will plant a maple tree and try my hand at roses again! We should never give up 🙂

    1. We are rose murderers both, you and I. maybe they’ll put us in the same jail cell, and that would be great because I know that will be the most creatively decorated jail cell ever! (smile)

      Sorry Katrina took your maples. She was a beast, eh?

      1. Oh, we would have the most darling cell! 🙂

        Katrina had no mercy on anyone or anything. She took what she wanted and spared a few things along the way.

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