R.ose Purgatory is where bad roses go to redeem themselves.
What makes a rose bad?
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a very fragrant, double pink rose at my neighbor’s house. She graciously gave me a piece of it, which I planted by the propane tank at our old house. It languished there, not growing much and only throwing out a flower or two.
Then we moved, and with some trepidation I moved the rose to the south side of the deck where some ditch lilies had been growing. I added some well-composted manure from the horse farm around the corner, and hoped for the best.
That sweet little thing got a second wind and was now bent on taking over the whole bed. The rose couldn’t stay there, that was obvious. And it did have some faults, in addition to the alarming way it was sending out suckers. It only bloomed once, which is the way of many heirloom and antique roses. And the flowers tended to “ball” if the conditions weren’t just right. Balling is when the outer petals get dried out and act like a wrapper that keeps the flower from opening.
But–the fragrance was wonderful, and you didn’t have to stick your nose right in the flower to enjoy it. The fragrance wafted in the air, a cloud of perfume that would greet you and make you look for the source. And when the flowers opened properly, they were very pretty.
What to do, what to do? I realized if I grew it up against the garden shed, it could only grow sideways, because the shed would stop it in one direction and the lawn mower would cut off any shots in the opposite direction. And that area was not so cushy. The soil had not been amended, and I had already been planting extras of tough plants like hardy geraniums, ajuga, and the ditch lilies that were originally along the south deck. I had also been allowing my favorite weeds to stay: dame’s rocket, buttercups, jewelweed, and asters.
The unrepentant pink rose was dug up, and a piece of it relocated to the side of the garden shed, now dubbed Rose Purgatory. I decided to experiment with training it to the wall as I’ve seen Monty Don do on Gardener’s World. His climate is so different that I’m not sure if the timing of pruning and tying it to the wall is the same here, but I think this rose can handle any mistake I make. I already like how it’s blooming more along the horizontal stems.
Other roses have joined this one, though none have done as well–at least, not yet. ‘Jenny Duval’ was given to me by a woman who had a garden full of heirloom roses. She is another pink rose, and frankly, I’m not sure if she’s alive or dead. There is the white rugosa that was supposed to be ‘Madame Hardy’ but wasn’t, now banished from the west deck bed. And there is a rose given to me by another friend, which bloomed this year for the first time.
I don’t know the name of my neighbor’s rose. I’ve long suspected it was the rootstock of a grafted rose, where the graft died. It looks very similar to ‘Manetti,’ a rose that was used as understock in the 19th century. My neighbor lived in a 19th century farmhouse. I recently toured several gardens two hours north of here, and two of the gardens had this same rose. They were–you guessed it–19th century farmhouses. The few sources that describe ‘Manetti’ say it’s hardy to USDA Zone 6, which isn’t hardy enough for my climate and certainly not for the Zone 4 gardens I visited. Conclusion: either this rose is not ‘Manetti,’ or ‘Manetti’ is harder than all the experts believe! Edit: I’ve since brought my rose to Leon Ginenthal of Der Rosenmeister Nursery and he identified it as a pink damask rose.