Roses are shades of red
June 20, 2005
My red “Linda Campbell” rose is blooming against a gray boulder. Too bad it is most visible from the street, not from my house.
I counted 24 double blooms surrounded by clusters of buds. It is a red going in the direction of maroon, not orange. I can never remember: Is that crimson or scarlet? Not the color the catalog promised, but just right. She’s approaching my height and should get as wide, big enough for the weight of the flowers to bend the canes down over the stone.
There is a group of rugged basalt boulders below our house, with a niche between two of them I wanted to plant. While thinking about it, I came across an old clipping in my files. It reproduced a spare, realistic painting by a German artist: a spindly rosebush against a gray stone wall, with a single blood red flower, one small dab of red. I searched high and low for that clipping this week, wishing to credit the artist. Do you think I could find it? Anyway, the picture gave me the idea of planting a red rose between those rocks.
I chose “Linda Campbell,” a hybrid rugosa rose, having the original wild Rosa rugosa in its family tree. “Rugosa” means wrinkled and the leaves feel crinkly between your fingers. A surprising number of roses do really well here, the rugosas among them. They can live with our extremes of heat and cold, our late and early frosts, our dry air and most of our soil, especially if old manure or compost is added to it. “Linda” blooms again and again over the summer. There were still a few roses when it got really cold last fall. After it leafs out and I can tell what is healthy, I clip out dead twigs and stems. About as carefree as a rose can be.
When I gaze at my vignette, I see the picture that so beguiled me 35 years ago as clearly in my mind’s eye as I see the rose in front of me. While I am trying to show it to you in words, I realize with chagrin that I can’t remember the picture at all! Was the wall brick or stone or perhaps even concrete? Was there really only one bloom? Was it a single rose or a double? Was it cloudy or sunny? This is interesting! My mind stubbornly insists that it is seeing that painting perfectly. Whatever the mechanism operating here, I am happy that it has allowed me to accurately re-create the feelings that first inspired me in the painting.
Before I ventured into unknown territory, I planted two tried and true old favorites thriving from Aspen to Grand Junction: Rosa foetida bicolor (Austrian Copper) and “Harison’s Yellow,” both shrub roses. “Austrian Copper” has bright single flowers gaily orange red on top and yellow underneath, a party on a bush. It has been known since before 1590 (though most likely not in Basalt!) The “Harison’s Yellow” was brought west by the Forty-niners and has bright double blooms the color of daffodils up and down its arching canes. The intense shower of gold defines late spring around here as lilacs do earlier. Planted Earth has made a wonderful hedge out of them along Highway 82.
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I acquired another local favorite, a dark red one, often seen draping over porches and fences, but not in the usual way. I couldn’t figure out its name or why it had gone out of fashion so drastically that no one sold it anymore. I purchased another rose, which didn’t amount to much, until it took off one spring after a particularly dry, cold winter. I was surprised but delighted by its vigorous growth. Funny thing though, when it bloomed, it looked just like the rose I had been fruitlessly searching for! Gradually, enlightenment dawned.
Many roses are grafted. The top of one rose is joined to the root of another. Trouble is, if the top dies in winter, the rose that sprouts in the spring will not be the same rose you thought you bought. I would not plant a rose that isn’t own-root in my garden again. But I’m very glad to have “the dark red one.” If you want one, too, you know how to get it.