By growing roses organically you can save money, reduce your workload, and support a sustainable eco-system that produces beautiful and fragrant roses throughout the growing season, for food, medicine, and aesthetics.
When I was in the Toronto area last month I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. We were a week early to view the newly designed Centennial rose garden but they allowed us in for a peek. While we were there Cliff Carson, the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors came over and kindly answered our questions about the brand new rose garden that was just a week away from opening. The visit to this rose garden was inspirational.
The old centennial rose garden was planted in 1967, Canada’s 100th anniversary year, one year before my mother left Toronto, and brought me to Vancouver. It was planted with hybrid tea roses and floribunda roses, which are hard to keep disease free in the humid climate of Toronto. 50 years later the rose garden had languished and was in need of a complete overhaul.
In 2009 the government passed laws which prohibited cosmetic pesticide and herbicide use. Those fashionable roses needed heavy chemical inputs to stay free of black spot, powdery mildew, mosaic virus, and the usual insect pests like aphids, Japanese beetles, and spider mites. But growing roses with pesticides and herbicides wasn’t working anymore.
This year (2018) the Royal Botanical Gardens redesigned the rose garden using organic principles to create a healthy eco-system garden. The rose garden lies directly between the native plant — pollinator gardens and the herbalist gardens. These areas are rich in native flowering plants that attract beneficial predatory insects as well as pollinators. This alone however wasn’t enough to ensure success.
The new rose garden is planted on two acres with over 3,500 hardy rose bushes representing over 300 rose varieties, including a few Canadian introductions. There are hardy heritage roses like apothecary rose, damask rose, and other classic roses designed so that they introduce the story and genetics behind today’s fragrant, hardy roses. There are hardy Canadian roses like Therese Bugnet, a personal favorite of mine, and many hardy landscape roses.
The roses are planted close together. Some within a foot of each other. Some spots had two roses planted in the same hole. Between the display roses are over 6,500 companion plants like yarrow, lavender, salvia, and chives that discourage Japanese beetle and make roses more fragrant.
The roses are watered by a trickle irrigation system to ensure wise use of water resources and to create a deeply rooted, sustainable garden, which once established can be watered only with seasonal rain. The organic soil is mulched to inhibit weeds and retain moisture ensuring high soil organic matter.
7 tips for growing roses organically
The newly renovated rose garden cost three million dollars to create but you can take the principles and create a small scale, eco-system rose garden where you live. By growing roses organically you can save money, reduce your work, and support a sustainable eco-system that produces beautiful and fragrant roses for food, medicine, and aesthetics.
- Plant roses that are disease resistant
- Plant roses that are suitable for your climate
- Use a drip irrigation system to avoid splashing water on the leaves of roses
- Plant twice as many companion plants as you have rose bushes
- Plant roses closer together than you think they should be planted
- Build up the planting soil with organic amendments
- Mulch to retain moisture and inhibit weeds
Growing roses for medicine
And while you are considering the possibilities note that fragrant roses are one of the most bioactive, medicinal plants in the garden. They are rich in antioxidants and are traditionally used as medicinal plants, as well as culinary and cosmetic plants throughout the world. See this post about the medicinal benefits of roses.
Every part of the rose plant can be used medicinally except the thorns. Rose leaf tea has more antioxidants and polyphenols than green tea. Rose petal honey is a flavorful honey that is also beneficial for sore throats and coughs. Rosehips have traditionally been used as a vitamin C supplement and to ward off winter colds.
Ideally you will want to choose hardy, fragrant, repeat blooming roses for your rose garden from the Rugosa roses class, species roses that are hardy in your region, or single blooming roses from the Rosa gallica class. While there are many other hardy roses, these species of roses have proven to be highly medicinal and bioactive so they are optimal for herbal medicinal use, for cosmetic use, for culinary use and for just beautifying your home and garden.
Back to you:
Is it time to rethink your rose garden? You really can stop spraying your hybrid tea roses against black spot, and instead plant hardy, disease resistent roses with companion plants, to ensure a beautiful and fragrant rose garden and gain the benefits of rose medicine for your lifestyle. Your next step is to consider which hardy rose varieties are suitable for your garden. Check out this post for some ideas.