Book Review—Growing Roses Organically by Barbara Wilde

On the first page this book makes the questionable claim “these pages will teach you all you need to know to start your rose garden right”.   All I need to know?  All I ever need to know?  All that is absolutely necessary to grow roses?  It seems unbelievable, yet after reading this book, it may be true.  At least I feel prepared with the tools to succeed.  Published by Rodale in 2002, this book is easy to use , read and reference.

It consists of five sections.  It begins with the history and types of roses, how to choose and plant.  Second is basic care; watering, fertilizing, pruning, diseases and insects.  Third is the gallery of roses; a sampling of roses that are best for growing organically.  Fourth is design; roses in mixed borders and wildlife gardens.  Finally it ends with a table of roses and the rose care calendar.  I like books that have a simple format and great pictures.  It doesn’t take a lot of searching through this book to find the information needed.  Like the fastpass at Disneyland, you get where you need to go without all the waiting and wading.  Wilde states “growing roses organically requires a holistic approach, rather than a linear one.”  In other words, consider the whole; healthy varieties, soil prep  and pest and disease problems.

She suggests that we need to consider the health heritage of a rose.  Apparently family history is important, as roses ‘vary enormously in their aility to resist or tolerate fungal diseases’.  It makes sense that ‘choosing healthy roses is the best way to ensure success in the organic garden.’  I found it enlightening to learn that the most disease prone roses are crimson, coral, orange and yellow (no, not Julia Child!).  It is easy to understand when one remembers that most of the old, hardy roses are white and pink.  As many roses were hybridized and bred for beauty, they lost disease resistance, alas.  In fact, Wilde says that many of the hybrid tea roses and floribunda roses are not suited to organic gardening.  Stop the photosynthesis!  Aren’t those most of the roses commonly sold?!?  Yes, but there is a solution in the family tree.  Many modern hybrid roses are bred with disease resistance, and there are loads of other options among the heirloom roses, many listed by Wilde in this book.

Most of the older roses for instance bloom once each season.  This gives the plant a chance to harden off as summer progresses, making the plant less penetrable to disease.  Repeat bloomers such as hybrid teas, however, keep producing tender new growth into the fall.  This allows easier access for viruses and fungal infection.  Why do we keep pushing plants to keep flowering?  Isn’t it worth waiting for one big show?  Are we losing our patience?  Some people think roses are so hard to grow and have to be handled with care.  Remember, it’s just another flowering shrub.  Put the right one in the right place, add sun and you will have success with a delicious scent.

Woodland Park Rose Garden
Woodland Park Rose Garden

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