Spring is the season when the splendor of rose bushes is at its height. Despite their drop in popularity in recent years, mainly due to difficulties in care and maintenance, the sight of a large group of roses in full bloom, is unquestionably one of the highlights of the gardening year. While success depends on adopting correct horticultural practices, it actually starts or ends with a clear understanding of the design role to be played by the roses.
As roses are almost always grown for their flowers and not for the shape or form of the bush, (with the possible exception of climbing roses) the primary task is to carefully choose a color scheme. Randomly throwing colors together is as unlikely to achieve satisfying results in the garden, as it would be in the sitting room. Massing a single color, creates a strong, decisive design, and is always more effective than mixing colors together in a small space. A large group of Bordeaux rose flowers by a white wall for instance, can create a dramatic focal point in the garden. White flowers on the other hand, are often used by designers as a bridge or transition between different color groups.
For roses to be most effective, they have to relate well to the other elements in the garden. They are at their best where a quiet hedge serves as a background, while they tend to look “lost” in the middle of a large lawn. Roses should be given their pride of place. Planting herbaceous flowers between the bushes, whether annual or perennial, usually weakens the composition. It is preferable in my view, to cover the ground instead with a neat mulch of wood chippings.
Thought should also be given to the flower-type of the roses to be chosen. For this reason, familiarity with the various groups is desirable. Typical of hybrid tea roses for example, are large, spectacular flowers that appear singularly on each flower bud. In small intimate spaces, the “architecture” of the individual flower assumes greater significance than in a large border, so hybrid teas are often more suited to such locations. Floribunda roses on the other hand, produce a far greater quantity of flowers from each bud, although the individual flowers are invariably smaller and less interesting in their structure. If the effect desired is a very powerful mass of color, in a relatively large space, then choosing a variety from the floribunda group, could be preferable to a hybrid tea. Furthermore, many hybrid teas are highly fragrant, whereas floribundas are rarely so.
Although roses are grown essentially for their blooms, other design functions can also be considered. If a climbing plant is desired to cover a fence or a wall, a suitable rose could well be the answer. Miniature roses can look excellent as a transition between a lawn and a shrubbery, while some species roses (that is wild roses) enhance a Mediterranean style garden with their arching, sprawling form. Rambling roses of course can be used as large-scale ground covers.