Reviewing roses

Graham Thomas has stood the test of time

Graham Thomas has stood the test of time

Who does not love the rose? The flower, I mean, for few could love the bush. While there are exceptions, most rose bushes are not noted as attractive and interesting shrubs. We grow them for the blooms.

I am no rose expert so the arrival in my letterbox of the NZ Rose Review for 2013-2014 was welcome. As far as I know, roses remain the top selling ornamental plant in this country despite the changing habits of gardeners.

Gone are the days when gardeners were willing to get out with their sprayer every couple of weeks, huffing on all manner of poisons to counteract diseases and fungi. I never did it but others told me it was pretty expensive and it certainly was not good for the soils or indeed the lives of beneficial insects. But the devotees got fine roses out of it. Environmentally, the rose spraying regime will not go down in history as one of gardening’s finest moments and much tighter restrictions on the sale of garden sprays have forced a change in attitude and management for most gardeners.

But what is a garden without roses? I want roses with masses of beautiful flowers on bushes which will thrive and stay looking okay (and okay is all I generally manage) without spraying. I don’t mind pruning and I will dead head, feed and mulch. But we do not regularly drench or spray any plants in our garden and we sure ain’t gonna do it for roses.

Enter the Rose Review. The most interesting pages for me are at the front of this 48 page booklet. There are rankings of the top roses in various categories as voted on by experienced rosarians. This is the sort of shortcut to information that I find useful in the case of roses because I want to have them in the garden but I am not sufficiently dedicated to spend a lot of time getting to grips with the detail.

Paddy Stephens - the top ranked rose overall. Again. (Photo: NZ Rose Soc)

Paddy Stephens – the top ranked rose overall. Again. (Photo: NZ Rose Soc)

‘Paddy Stephens’ is a clear winner. It tops the Hybrid Tea list for the tenth year in a row. A higher accolade in my books is that it also ranks number one on the Healthy Roses list. So as long as you want a coral orange Hybrid Tea, this is the one to get. I don’t grow Hybrid Teas, but many others do and it is a matter of personal taste.

Interestingly, for patriotic Waikato readers, ‘Hamilton Gardens’ is a proven star, too. It is ranked number 4 in the Hybrid Tea class and 3 in the Healthy Roses class. I looked it up and I see it is a sport of Paddy Stephens, so it is hardly a surprise that it is also a top performer. These are the work of this country’s foremost rose breeder, Sam McGredy.

Hamilton Gardens - sport of Paddy Stephens (Photo: NZ Rose Soc)

Hamilton Gardens – sport of Paddy Stephens (Photo: NZ Rose Soc)

‘Dublin Bay’ is still up there as the best large-flowered climber. In an industry driven by constant new releases, it is interesting that this variety which dates back to the 1970s has remained top of the pile. It is another McGredy rose. The world of roses owes a huge debt to this man.

I much prefer the floribundas and the shrub roses. ‘Raspberry Ice’ is top in the floribundas, and ‘Sally Holmes’ in the shrubs, with the tried and true ‘Graham Thomas’ coming second. I have Graham and Sally was already on my shopping list for this year. I can see I should have bought her years ago. We can’t credit her to our own Sam McGredy. This is the first rose ever bred by an amateur (Robert Holmes of the UK) to be inducted to the elite Rose Hall of Fame. Also in that heady company are “Graham Thomas’, ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Peace’ which are well known, even to non gardeners.

Sally Holmes - tried, true and still a top ranked variety (photo: NZ Rose Soc)

Sally Holmes – tried, true and still a top ranked variety (photo: NZ Rose Soc)

Most Fragrant Rose is topped by ‘Margaret Merril’ for another year. Patio roses are even further down my list than hybrid teas so I shall just say ‘Irresistible’, if you must.

If you are beyond the novice stage (and I have no illusions that I am anything above a novice when it comes to roses), the greater part of the Rose Review booklet is reviews of newer releases. They are all rated out of 10 as garden plant, exhibition bloom, on health and fragrance, with grower reports from around the country. All entries are accompanied by photos.

This is not an infomercial but it looks mighty good value for $7.50 (including postage). If you want your own copy, you can contact the secretary of the NZ Rose Society, Mrs Heather Macdonell (email:, phone or fax 06 329 2700).

Don’t expect to find any of the handy Rose Flower Carpets mentioned anywhere. These are produced by nurseries outside the small circle of specialist rose growers who are major contributors to this publication and the main market suppliers. There is another story in those sometime, perhaps.

Raspberry Ice (photo: NZ Rose Soc)

Raspberry Ice (photo: NZ Rose Soc)

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.