Roses from A to Z logo


The Denver Post

MAY 19, 2006

By Jodi Torpey

EVEN WHEN fashion designer Carolyn Parker was jetting to New York with her latest collection, she longed to be in the garden. In those days, cutting expensive fabrics took the place of cutting flowers.

"It was a grueling process to come up with fashion collections five times a year," she says. She closed her design business on a whim in 1989 and began gardening full time. Roses called to her.

"Roses are so phenomenal. They have a very strong presence about them. We can relate to them on a heart-and-soul level. There are never enough roses."

Her garden in Lafayette, Calif., was the inspiration for her first book, The Poetry of Roses, and launched several new careers. "The roses were so gorgeous in spring they inspired me to take photographs." Now Parker is a garden designer, photographer and writer.

Her newest book, R Is for Rose: Reflections From a Passionate Rose Lover, also was inspired by the roses in her garden. While admiring the first blooms on a climbing ROULETII, she was struck with the idea to use roses and her personal stories to create a fragrant new alphabet.

Twenty-six rose species, from ALBA ROSA RUGOSA to ZEPHIRINE DROUHIN, make up Parker's meditation on roses.

"The genus itself is so diverse," she explains. "There are endless shapes and forms. From teeny, tiny little flowers with five petals to big, fat flowers with 50 petals. The bush itself takes many forms, some ramble for hundreds of feet."

Having a favorite rose for Parker is like having a favorite pair of earrings. They're the cherished pair until another pair comes along. She says she loves each rose, even the one that's the most difficult for her to grow.

N stands for NEVADA, a shrub rose with creamy-white blooms. She tried to grow NEVADA three times before it finally started to flourish.

F is for FOETIDA BICOLOR, another of Parker's favorites. This rose gave itself to the gene pool so gardeners could have multicolor roses from yellow to pink.

I is for ICEBERG, a white rose that Parker says should be enjoyed both outdoors and in. "Many people don't like to pick roses because they want to see them in the yard," she says. "But I think we should have fun and bring them inside to celebrate."

Can gardeners in our challenging climate grow rose gardens as beautiful as the ones in Parker's California backyard? After all, we don't get the winter rains that help create a March blooming frenzy.

One Colorado rose-growing expert is Heather Campbell, owner of High Country Roses in northeastern Utah. She comes from a long line of Colorado rose tenders. Her grandparents were founding members of the Pikes Peak Rose Society in Colorado Springs. In 1970 her father, Dr. William Campbell, founded Denver's High Country Rosarium.

"He started experimenting with roses because of his frustration trying to grow them in Colorado," she says. "He started by researching and collecting Old Garden Roses. Eventually he had 500 roses in his yard at First and Ash in Denver."

There are a number of ways our weather extremes discourage rose gardeners, Campbell explains. "We have warm winter weather followed by freezing, then thawing. We lack snow cover. Canes dry out, there's intense sunlight and a lack of humidity."

Like her father, she's found ways to overcome Colorado's challenging conditions. She says the No. 1 method is to select hardy varieties of roses.

"Old Garden Roses are the easiest to grow. Modern Foetida bicolor s blooms last only a day. In Persian, this ancient, spring-blooming rose is called doufrouyeh ( two faces ). (From "R Is for Rose" by Carolyn Parker / Horticulture Books) shrub roses are also hardy, with repeat bloom throughout the summer."

Campbell says roses packaged in plastic bags and purchased at discount stores should be treated as annuals. "These bare root roses are difficult to establish and hard to grow. People who say, 'I can't grow roses' probably tried growing these."

She recommends planting shrub roses because they provide color throughout the summer and fall and don't need as much care as roses in a formal garden. "Shrub roses are a wonderful addition to the landscape. They are just as easy to grow as a lilac bush."

She says that water-wise gardening techniques apply to roses too. Roses love organic material and need mulch to keep the soil at an even temperature.

Roses grown on their own roots, instead of grafted roses, are hardier in cold climates, says Campbell. "I'm very fond of 'Victorian Memory,"' she says. "It's a tall Canadian variety and we just recently found out 'Isabella Skinner' is its true name."

Another of her favorites is Winnipeg Parks, a low-growing Canadian shrub rose that features deep pink blooms from early spring to fall. Campbell says there's no need to provide winter protection for either of these shrub roses because they're hardy in zones 3 and 4.

Another of Campbell's recommendations is a rose-lover's coincidence. Her AUSTRIAN COPPER is the same FOETIDA BICOLOR that Carolyn Parker calls "dazzling."

Parker's sense of style lends itself to arranging roses. With her designer's eye, she creates colorful floral arrangements in unusual containers, such as demitasse cups, cake plates, mayonnaise jars and even a porcelain spoon.

For a springtime party, she likes to harvest long, blooming canes to bring into the house for Advertisement a spectacular display. She arranges the arching canes by placing them in a tall, narrow cylindrical vase. The canes easily fall into place, she says.

"Go to the cupboard and find an old cup or Grandma's bowl and think how a rose would fit into that container." Instead of long-stemmed roses standing tall in a vase, she'd rather see masses of flowers with shorter stems nudged cozily against each other.

Parker encourages gardeners to feel free to make mistakes when arranging roses. "Don't get stressed," she says. "Find another container and use the same flowers. Gradually you'll learn."

See samples of Parker's work at

U is for UKNOWN

In her book Carolyn Parker mentions the Celebration of Old Roses held annually in El Cerrito, Calif. Denver holds its own celebration at the Denver Rose Society's Old Garden Rose show June 4. Gardeners are invited to bring roses for display or identification. Many varieties of old and modern roses will be for sale from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Denver Botanic Gardens. For information call 303-420-8709.

Debunking roses' "difficult" reputation

Growing roses isn't as thorny a task as most people think, but rumors about the flowers' temperamental nature have given them a bad reputation.

Mary Kirby, a consulting rosarian and Jefferson County master gardener, buries some of the most common rose rumors.

RUMOR: Roses are too difficult to grow in Colorado.

TRUTH: Selecting the right variety for our climate makes growing easier.

"There are roses recommended for our area that do very well," Kirby explains. Shrub roses are hardy and can grow at higher altitudes. She says hybrid tea roses are fussier, but that ROULETII is an early bloomer with a fair repeat. It s fun to find interesting small containers to show off the sweet, fragrant blooms. Its long, prickly canes are more difficult to handle in a large arrangement. (From R is for Rose by Carolyn Parker / Horticulture Books) problem can be solved by choosing a planting site that gets at least six hours of sun each day.

Hybrid tea roses are grafted and should be planted with the graft (the bump at the base of the plant) 1 or 2 inches beneath ground level. "Protect with extra mulch in winter to hold in moisture. Winter watering is also very important," she says.

Kirby grows many roses, but her favorites include ST. PATRICK Hybrid Tea rose, JOHN DAVIS Canadian Explorer Rose, Griffith Buck's roses and the DORTMUND shrub rose. "That one is almost indestructible."

RUMOR: Roses need a lot of water.

TRUTH: "Roses aren't xeric, but they don't like to be overwatered, either." Roses like a well-drained soil and don't like standing water. They only need about 1 inch of water per week, she says. Use a drip irrigation system or water the ground and not the leaves to prevent disease.

RUMOR: Roses need special soil.

TRUTH: Roses don't need special soil, just a well-prepared soil. "I fill a wheelbarrow two-thirds full with garden soil and add one-third organic compost. I mix it well with a shovel and use that as a planting backfill," Kirby says. She waits to fertilize until the rose blooms and uses an organic fertilizer such as Mile-Hi Rose Food sold by the Denver Rose Society and at area garden centers.

RUMOR: Roses are too much work.

TRUTH: "Roses are as easy to care for as perennials, but I get more pleasure from roses," she says. Because of Colorado's dry climate, we don't have as many problems with rose diseases like black spot. Kirby deals with insect pests as they occur. She doesn't spray for aphids, but will take strong action against pests like the rose midge, which prevents roses from blooming.

"One of the biggest challenges I have with roses is keeping the deer off of them. Deer love rose buds. They also love the tender cane and leaves."

While a fence or other physical barrier is the best way to protect roses from deer, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension recommends blending eggs with water and spraying plants every two or three weeks.

"I was moderately successful with this last summer," she says.

For those intimidated by roses' reputation, Kirby suggests talking with other rose gardeners. "Learning from people who know how to grow roses saves frustration." She recommends contacting local rose societies, visiting the American Rose Society website ( and reading books like "Growing Roses in Colorado," compiled by the Denver Rose Society.