Say it with roses -- living bushes, not cut bunches

February 06, 1994|By A. Cort Sinnes | A. Cort Sinnes,Universal Press Syndicate

This Valentine's Day, Americans will buy nearly $150 million worth of red roses at approximately $50 a dozen. While there's no denying their beauty, let's face it -- a dozen cut red roses is hardly the most original of gifts. Since every love is different, why not send a different kind of gift this year? Say, perhaps, a red rose bush? Or several for that matter, because, oddly enough, a living rose bush costs a fraction of the price of a dozen cut roses.

There's hardly a person who doesn't like roses, so a living rose bush makes a sure-fire gift any time of year. And any backyard, no matter how small, can make room for a rose or two.

Granted, the bare-root roses offered at this time of year in most nurseries and mail-order catalogs aren't going to look like much; the plants are, after all, just coming out of their period of dormancy. But there's always colorful wrapping paper, ribbon, and perhaps a tag with a color picture of the rose in full bloom. And with the first flush of warm weather, the plants will leaf out and begin offering their glorious blossoms, week after week, year after year.

Although it's possible to mix any number of roses in with an established shrub or flower border, don't plant them close to play areas where someone might accidentally back into the thorny bushes during a heated game of croquet or badminton. You may find it easier to give roses the little extra care they require (and cut down on the possibility of being nicked by their thorns) if you segregate the roses in a small bed of their own, perhaps enclosed with a simple wire or picket fence.

If you want the roses mainly for cutting, plant them in an out-of-the-way location, such as a side or service yard. Just be sure the location receives at least six hours of sunlight a day, has good air circulation and has a nearby source of water.

If you're looking for a red rose, the American Rose Society offers some assistance. From its guidebook, called "The Parks Rose Guide," comes this list of top-rated red hybrid tea roses (hybrid tea roses are the most popular of the five classes of roses): Mister Lincoln, Assoc di Cuori (sometime sold as Ace of Hearts), Chrysler Imperial, Tuxedo, Uncle Joe, Deep Secret, Trojan Victory, Jennifer Hart, Papa Meilland, John Waterer, American Dream, Ingrid Bergman, Heartbeat, National Trust, National Velvet and Proud Land.

If you're interested in miniature roses (plants that do not grow more than 12 inches tall), which do very well in containers, the American Rose Society top-rates Red Beauty, Black Jade, Red Rosamini, Cherry Magic and Rose Hills Red.

In addition to the popular hybrid tea and miniature roses, there are some "old" roses that, along with being easy to grow, are rich in history, romance and great beauty. An old rose is defined as a named variety grown before 1867. This cut-off year was picked by the American Rose Society because it was when the first hybrid tea rose, "La France," was introduced to the gardening public. Roses introduced after 1867 are considered "modern" roses.

In general, old roses are distinguished by form, fragrance, hardiness, and in some cases, extreme disease-resistance. Even with all that going for them, they fell out of favor during the last 100 years because most bloom only once a year, in spring. What the old roses lack in flowering frequency, they more than make up for in charm. Here are some of the best red old-rose varieties: Henri Martin, Will Scarlet, Dublin Bay (a climbing rose), and two very deep red (almost maroon) beauties known as Tuscany and Nuits de Young.

Of course, roses come in many colors besides red. Be aware, however, that different colors carry different messages, according to the language of flowers developed by Victorian lovers. Red roses signify love. White roses mean purity and spiritual love, and yellow roses, unfortunately, signify a decrease of love or -- shame on you -- infidelity.

In addition to a rose bush, consider enrolling your loved one in the American Rose Society. It is the largest special plant society in the United States, with membership made up of amateur gardeners who grow roses as a hobby for their own pleasure. A year's membership costs $32, and entitles members to 11 issues of the American Rose magazine, a copy of the Handbook for Selecting Roses (a reference guide rating all commercially available roses by class, color and performance) and much more. For more information, write or call the American Rose Society at P.O. Box 30000, Shreveport, La. 71130-0030; (318) 938-5402.

SOURCES

Here is a brief list of some of the catalogs that have made a specialty of handling roses, including new and old varieties:

* Jackson & Perkins, 2518 South Pacific Highway, Medford, Ore. 97501; catalog free.

* Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, S.C. 29695-0001; catalog free.

* Roses of Yesterday, 802 Brown's Valley Road, Watsonville, Calif. 95076; catalog $3.

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