We don’t have a number for how many gardeners in Calgary grow roses, but Lois Hole tells us that 4 out of 5 in England do, where the rose is the national flower. There is enormous variety in the Rosa genus, with many new varieties being developed every year across the world. Here in Calgary, we have our own particular challenges with altitude, short growing season, Chinooks, periods of drought and snow possible every month. Nevertheless, roses are hugely popular and many thrive in our gardens, just like their owners (or servants, if you choose to care for the more tender types). If you look on book store shelves, you will find volumes of books on how to choose, how to care for, how to master the art of rose growing. Beware the lovely picture-laden tomes written for other climates – pretty to look at but impossible here. For the purposes of this article, we will talk about only those roses that can be grown successfully in Calgary.
Hardy roses can survive our winter on their own without extra work by the gardener. They are tough. Size-wise, they vary from miniature and ground cover types only a few inches tall to great shrubs, climbers, hedges and every size in between. The flowers themselves can be single (12 petals or less), semi-double (13-20 petals) or double (20 or more petals). Colours vary from pure white through all the pinks and reds to peach and yellow. Some of them, like Morden Sunrise, have a range of colour in each bloom. They are most often grown on their own root-stock.
Most “Old Garden Roses” bloom only once per year, but within that three or four week period produce as many blooms as others who bloom for months. Even though labelled “hardy”, it can be a good idea to mulch them in the fall as if they were tender.
“Parkland Roses” are bred specifically for Canadian prairie conditions at Morden, Manitoba. They are extremely hardy and most bloom all summer long. Anything with “Morden” in its name is a Parkland rose.
“Explorer Roses” were created by Agriculture Canada and are named for Canadian explorers, a particularly tough and hardy breed of men. These modern shrubs are crosses of Rosa Rugosa or Rosa Kordesii. John Cabot, for example, will grow up to 7 feet tall, and blooms until stopped by frost.
“Canadian Artists” is the newest series of hardy roses, developed in Canada and named in celebration of Canadian artists. They are bred to be exceptionally hardy, reliable, and disease resistant. Look for names like Emily Carr and Oscar Peterson.
Tender roses need more help from the Calgary gardener. Briefly, you must mulch them in the fall, and make an effort to cover them with snow if Mother Nature is stingy throughout the winter. This category includes Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, English roses, Miniatures and most grafted roses. The serious rose grower may go so far as to dig them up and bury them in a trench in an empty bed for protection, but a good layer of peat moss and something to keep it in place, like black soil or old carpet should be effective. Styrofoam boxes and insulated tarps also work. If your roses are in pots, you can move them into an insulated heated garage, remembering to water them from time to time as they rest. Hybrid Teas are the darlings of rose society competitions, but don’t always make a grand show in the garden. Floribundas give a bouquet on every branch. Grandifloras are the best of the Hybrid Tea and Floribunda, providing long-stemmed clusters that repeat and repeat.
There you have it – we are spoiled for choice. Calgary has an enthusiastic Rose Society, with knowledgeable members who would love to help you.
Barbara Shorrock is a retired realtor, gardener, writer, reader, and traveler. She can be found most first Wednesdays at the Queensland Garden Club in Queensland.