Exploration of Roses, Family Rosaceae, with Mark Bir

By Mark Bir, HF&G Horticulturist

Rosa ‘Dortmund’- Mary Ann Sears Swetland (MASS) Rose Garden

The rose family is diverse, numerous, cosmopolitan.  Of its several thousand members are the apples and pears, peaches and plums apricots and almonds, the raspberries and blackberries and all the brambles, the quinces and medlars and mountain-ash (breathe); the strawberries and cherries, the firethorns and hawthorns and loquats, the lady’s mantles and cinquefoils … and the roses.

Despite that diversity most hail from temperate climates.  The tropicalistas tend to be from drier regions but not exclusively-so. A witness-bearer for the wet tropics is the wonderfully named Rubus costaricensis of the Monteverde cloud forest.

And variety aside, all the Rosaceae share a “fingerprint” of sorts: five petals and five sepals slightly fused at the base; a five-chambered ovary (cut your apple ‘round the equator); and a corona of many stamens (shown in some of our photos).

That’s it—we’re all gettin’ good at this “families” stuff now, so let’s dig-in.

Rosa eleganteria – Western Reserve Herb Society (WRHS) Garden. Cultivated since at least 1551.

Garden roses are divided into two broad groups.  Those cultivated before 1900 are considered old or heirloom, like R. eleganteria above; we find these growing in our Western Reserve Herb Society Garden.  And those cultivated after 1900 are considered modern, like R. ‘Perdita’ below; we find these growing in our Mary Ann Sears Swetland Rose Garden.

Rosa ‘Perdita’ – MASS Rose Garden

Perdita is a modern rose by David Austin of Shropshire. His roses attempt to remember the old alongside the new.  Perdita has some of the old heavy perfume and toughness, but with some of the new stature, re-blooming, and refined grace.  Nearly perfect are you, Perdita.

Rosa ‘James Galway’- MASS Rose Garden

Another beautiful Austin hybrid, and another “double.”  Doubles are cultivated flowers that have more petals than they’d have in a wild state.  I think I might like them—but I’m not so sure that the bees share my opinion.

Rosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’ – MASS Rose Garden. Rugosa cultivar, since 1914.

Here’s a “single” that the bees obviously do like.  Rugosa roses are named for their handsome rugose leaves.  Rugosa is officially an Asian species rose that hybridizes easily with other species to make beautiful plants such as Frau Dagmar.

Rosa ‘Carefree Wonder’ – MASS Rose Garden. Tough modern from Iowa State U.

We all know the Knockout™ rose series: disease resistant and easy to grow, vigorously re-blooming, thoroughly modern.   But during their transformation have they left behind some of that intangible essence of “rose?”  The Austins, Carefrees, and other moderns that HF&G horticulturist Deyampert Giles has been planting in the Rose Garden step backward in time just enough to recall those lost essences.  Then roses they are for the modern aficionado!

Backward/forward: two more transitional heirlooms from the WRCS Garden.  Bourbon roses are French hybrids from the 1800s bred for size and toughness, making them some of the “oldest modern” roses.  Moyesii hybrids are another oldest modern hybrid, and this lovely R. ‘Geranium’ belongs in the herb garden even though technically it was introduced after 1900.

Rosa ‘Schneekoppe’ – MASS Rose Garden. A low-growing, rugged rugosa.

I end with my favorite rose.  It’s not a show-stopper but it rewards a long look with subtle beauty. It has an entrancing way of dancing in shadow and light.  Unfortunately, “Schneekoppe” translates half-poetically as “Snow Pavement,” but such is language and life.

Shadow and light, prose and poetry.  They intertwine in life like two rose canes in the garden.  Our world now is in profound pain and I am hurting along with it, but this morning I am also twined in roses and sunshine.  Maybe I find some healing in the two canes twining together, the twin verses of pain twining with beauty, and beauty growing the stronger cane.  Maybe our work together is now going to be like that.  Maybe through our gardens we can help Cleveland twine back the poetry of life with its pain.  No more maybes.  We can and we will bring roses and sunshine back to our town.