2. Balcony roses: Who do you love? (March)

by Carolyn Thomas   ♥   @HeartSisters

I was bitten last summer by the Rose Bug – and in one lovely afternoon of browsing the Russell Nursery full-colour rose catalogue with my favourite son Ben, I decided to replace my balcony summer annual plants with masses of easy-care roses this year. Goodbye red geraniums and trailing blue lobelia! 

But I had a very specific list of my dream roses.

They had to do well in pots, first of all. Planting a tall top-heavy rosebush that grows with galloping speed (like that Kiftsgate rambling rose (pictured above) that I planted at my Vic West townhouse, for example, would not do well in a patio container that would quickly run out of room to accommodate its massive root system. So first on my wish list: must be suitable for container growing. No matter how gorgeous that picture in the rose catalogue might be, if your new rose isn’t happy scrunched into an under-sized pot, nobody will be happy. And I wanted a rosebush that would bloom like a geranium – in other words, whenever I plant a classic garden workhorse like the common geranium, I know that I’ll have non-stop, disease-and-insect-resistant, no-fuss bloom all summer, even well into winter, and sometimes, in the Mediterranean sub-climate we enjoy here on Canada’s balmy west coast, it might even over-winter so that we’ll watch it bloom again the next summer. Geraniums are Mother Nature’s near-perfect balcony plant!

My second big wish is for continuous bloom until frost not just the first showy blooms of June when all self-respecting roses open up nicely and then quit, but repeat bloomers right until frost.

Next, I really wanted a rosebush that would require no fussy treatment. (I know, I know, my list is starting to sound impossible, isn’t it?) In other words, healthy glossy leaves, no Black Spot, no powdery mildew, no aphids, no chemical sprays needed, none of the problems that roses are famous for. 

I also wanted a rose that rose growers call “well-behaved”.   Here’s what a well-behaved rose is like: the bud slowly swells in May, the petals begin to gracefully open, the bloom is breathtakingly beautiful (and – almost forgot:  fragrant!) and when those petals are finished, they very delicately fall, one at a time, down to the soil below. A well-behaved rose “pays its rent”, and is such a joy that it’s worth whatever small effort is required to keep it happy. Roses that are NOT well-behaved tend to have blooms that ball up as they fade, leaving ugly brown messes that insist on clinging desperately to their branches. They have problems with aphids and rose diseases. Their leaves look sickly. They give roses a bad name.

And what kind of rose did I finally choose for my inaugural balcony rose garden?

It’s called Popcorn Drift®, featuring soft buttery yellow buds that fade to a creamy white as they open – hence its evocative name.  Popcorn is one of the trademarked Drift® family of hardy groundcover roses that grow about two feet high and spread about two feet wide (which should fit nicely into any of my large balcony pots). Drift® roses are tough, disease resistant, winter-hardy repeat bloomers. The Drift® breeders describe them as “perfect for gardens small to large, for planters, and for mass commercial plantings. They brighten up borders, fill in empty spaces, meander around established plants, and can control erosion on hillsides and slopes.”   That impressive list is even longer than my own wish list!

MARCH UPDATE:   Because Drift® roses come in many irresistible colours, I couldn’t help myself: I ordered three other colours, too: Apricot, Red and Coral. My balcony rose garden will be a riot of colour this summer – I hope!

But wait!  Here’s what can happen when you finally decide on your must-have colours to order: when I drove out to Russell Nursery this morning to pick up our pre-ordered bare root roses, my Popcorn Drift® was NOT THERE among her carefully chosen Apricot, Red and Coral sisters. The growers had sold out. But luckily, Russell’s did have some other colours still available, so I chose one called Sweet Drift®, described as “forming full clusters of sweet pink blooms from mid-spring to the first hard freeze of late fall. No cottage garden is complete without the charming romance of Sweet Drift®.” Here’s what my new pink Sweet Drift® will look like some day (I hope!)


While I’m scanning the weather reports for sunny forecasts and searching for aphids, please remember to take time to smell the roses. . .

Read the next essay in this series about my balcony roses:

3. Balcony Roses: A Bare-Root Rose? Or a Rose in a Pot? (March)

Return to my HEART SISTERS  site, or find out more about my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease.  You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

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