Tree roses look like children's drawings of plants, with their straight trunks, bushy green balls at the top and colorful blotches of blooms. They look like lollipops, fantasy plants: Tree roses dotted the Red Queen's croquet court in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." They are frivolous, but formal, like a party dress.
"Standards" is the technical term for roses and other plants trained to grow on tall, bare stems. That kind of training is atopiary technique that has moved in and out of garden fashion for thousands of years, as formal gardens and natural landscape styles have replaced each other in an endless cycle.
"Tree roses have always had a core of popularity," says Keith Zary, a rose hybridizer and vice president of research and development for Jackson & Perkins, one of the country's largest rose growers. "I think the reason they've become increasingly popular since about the mid-1980s has a lot to do with the new-found importance of the vertical aspects of gardening. It's really brought out how tree roses can be used in a very effective, architectural way."
Like fountains, tree roses are attention-grabbers, always a focal point, whether in a highly structured rooftop garden, beside a country-garden gate or at the center of a formal garden.
Tree roses are the product of horticultural fiddling. The roots and stem are of a hardy stock, usually Dr. Huey, with grafted growth buds of finer roses "planted" into the top of the stem. After they've been grown for a year or two in great fields of tree roses (mainly in California), the growth buds at the top of the stem look like swollen knuckles, from which the rose canes emerge on all sides. Dr. Huey rarely sends up shoots from the roots or along the stem; the stem serves only to convey water and nutrients to the roses at the top. Once they are "budded," tree roses don't get any taller, although their stems grow in diameter.
Any rose can be budded onto a stalk and turned into a tree rose, but some roses are more suitable than others. Jackson & Perkins offers about 300 varieties of roses, but only about 40 are grown in tree form, Zary says. Floribunda roses, which typically produce clusters of flowers, are excellent choices for this purpose, he says. Floribundas have a naturally rounded habit and rebloom quickly and often through the growing season.
Making a standard
Iceberg, a pure-white rose with many petals, and French Lace, a creamy-white rose with a soft, apricot-blush center, are often offered as tree roses. Both of these have a light fragrance. Baby Blanket, a ground-cover rose, and the new Flower Carpet roses also look spectacular in tree-rose form; their bushy and cascading habit make for great, lush tree roses.
David Austin, a British rose breeder whose English Roses have taken the rose world by storm, also recommends several of his roses for "standard" treatment, including Bibi Mazoon, Mary Rose and the Dark Lady. These are not yet in the American market.
Standard roses have the same requirements as all roses: lots of sun, plenty of moisture and regular applications of fertilizer. These charming plants are hard to neglect: Their flowers are at nose-level, and you'll find you inspect them daily. Held up in the open air on their stems, tree roses are troubled less than other roses by fungal diseases, which are encouraged by poor air circulation at ground level. Healthy roses tolerate minor blights and a few bugs, but organic sprays for insects and diseases are effective if you choose to use them. Aphids and whitefly can be chased off with a good blast of water from a hose. To keep the stems perfectly erect, tree roses should be staked.
Tree roses are very dignified. Put them anywhere you'd have a piece of garden sculpture. You might arrange groups of tree roses of different heights and colors in handsome pots on a porch or patio, or use several tree roses of the same size to dramatize the curves of a garden path. Under-plant them with petunias, verbenas, artemisia, lamb's ears or fragrant lavender. There are no rules. Trust your instincts, and follow your nose.
Retail garden shops are an excellent source for tree roses. Most buy from several major growers; good shops stock 20 or more varieties and several sizes. A 36-inch tree rose is most common, but 18-inch trees with miniature roses, 24-inch "patio" tree roses and impressive 48-inch plants also are available. Expect to pay $25 to $40.
Mail-order companies ship bare-root tree roses in early spring, while they're still dormant. These roses are easy to plant in pots or in the ground; just plant them at the soil line, which will be visible low on the stem.
Here are some mail-order sources:
Witherspoon Rose Culture offers probably the best mail-order selection of tree roses in the country: 24 varieties in four sizes. Witherspoon Rose Culture, P.O. Box 52489, Durham, N.C. 27717; (800) 643-0315; catalog $2.
Jackson & Perkins offers 16 tree-rose varieties in two sizes, 24- and 36-inch. Jackson & Perkins, P.O. Box 1028, Medford, Ore. 97501; (800) 872-7673; ask for the free New Roses 1997 catalog.
Wayside Gardens also sells a limited selection of tree roses. Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, S.C. 29695; (800) 845-1124. Ask for the Complete Rose Catalog, free.
Pub Date: 2/16/97