Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

All This Glory — And No Spray
Heavenly roses are the reward for a leap of faith in March

Rosa 'Ghislaine de félingonde' has double apricot flowers as pretty as their name. A modern rambler with a delicate growth habit, its flowers morph into yellow with tints of pink and fade to cream. It has little red hips and is nearly thornless.
Rosa 'Marie Pavié' is free-flowering and long-blooming, with dark-green foliage and few thorns. A bushy polyantha, it is small enough for containers, borders or hedges. The sweet-scented double flowers come in shades of pink.
Rosa 'La Bonne Maison' is a modern shrub or climbing rose bred in France. It has single white flowers with a pink reverse, which repeat bloom from early summer until first frost. Other virtues include a strong, sweet scent of cloves, no thorns and marble-size red hips in autumn.
Rosa 'Mutabilis' is an old China rose, popular for more than a century for its butterfly-like flowers that open yellow, turn to pink, soft orange and then bright watermelon. All this is going on at the same time, in a colorful show that lasts for months.
"Of all flowers methinks a rose is best" — William Shakespeare
Crescent Moon Rose Garden bursts with the fragrance and flower of 800 kinds of roses, their loose exuberance held slightly in check by pathways, lawns, ponds, arbors and a hedging of carnations.
ANYONE WHO has the pleasure of visiting Crescent Moon Rose Garden in mid-summer would never dream of disagreeing with Shakespeare that roses reign supreme. It is an intensely sensual experience to walk along paths lined with hundreds of roses. In this Whidbey Island retreat, roses climb trees, twist overhead along arbors, coat spreading bushes with their pastel ruffles; there's even a pale pink 'Constance Spry' twined around the rails of a purple bridge spanning the pond. You feel as if you could float in all the soft shades of pastels, nudged along by warm pulses of fragrance that shimmer in the air with a benign but pressing presence.

It may help to remember this summer scene when pruning and planting roses this month. It takes a forced suspension of logic to go outside in the cold wind and take clippers to a welter of bare, prickly branches or dig a hole in the mucky dirt to plant a sad stick of thorns. It may help to remember that even Tina Weakly's glorious five acres started out, and are renewed each year, with these same leap-of-faith March chores.

Before you plant a single new rose, consider that Crescent Moon Rose Garden is a bower of healthy blooms and leaves because each rose has been carefully chosen for disease resistance and repeat bloom as well as fragrance. Weakly loves roses, but she pairs her fondness with an expert, critical eye, growing only roses that do well in our climate without chemical intervention. If you've ever questioned whether it's really possible to grow healthy roses without spraying, her garden provides a resounding affirmative. Hybrid tea roses have also been banished. "You take a ramrod on a stick and you think that's a rose? No!" exclaims Weakly. She prefers noisettes, musks, polyanthas, English roses, ramblers, moss and rugosa roses. More than 800 kinds are flourishing here.

While roses are the main show, this garden isn't a monoculture. Little hedges of pinks and lavender line the paths, clematis and honeysuckle are threaded through climbing roses, and companion perennials fill out the beds.

Still, healthy roses are Weakly's focus — and her great achievement. To test for disease resistance, she plants new roses next to black-spotted plants to see if the newcomers are susceptible. She looks for roses that are neglect-tolerant and bloom brilliantly in less-than-ideal conditions. While it may take an extra season for own-root roses to get going, she finds them superior to grafted plants. "This is the first year we didn't even apply dormant spray, and I think we're fine," she says, gesturing to thousands of plump buds, perfect blooms and unblemished leaves.

A rose's vigor is in the care, as well as the choosing. Weakly prunes all the roses fairly heavily every other year, but the extent to which she cuts them down depends on the kind of rose. She prefers to plant roses in the right place with space to grow into their natural shape and size. Repeat bloomers need to be severely cut back to do their best. She cuts polyantha roses back to hip-height, David Austin roses to the waist (note: Weakly's not a tall woman). Mostly she gets the roses off to a good start and then lets them go. "If they don't make it, they're history," says Weakly. "I give them three years."

Each rose is planted into a nice big hole and the soil amended with composted manure and ground up alfalfa meal, with plentiful doses of water in the first year.

Weakly especially recommends these roses for Northwest gardens. Each is long blooming, dependably disease-free and very fragrant (except for 'Mutabilis' and R. glauca):

Crescent Moon Rose Garden doesn't sell roses, but is open by appointment and by chance most days April through September. Tours are available by appointment. There is no admission charge. 1911 Zylstra Road, Oak Harbor, WA 98277 360-679-1799.

Weakly's favorite purveyors of own-root roses are Heirloom Roses in Oregon (503-583-1576) and Vintage Gardens in California (707-829-2035).

Local nurseries with extensive rose lists include Christianson's Nursery and Greenhouse (15708 Best Road, Mount Vernon, WA; 360-466-3821) and Cottage Creek Nursery (13300 Avondale Road N.E., Woodinville, WA 98072; 425-883-8252).

Rosa glauca is a species rose grown as much for its distinctive pewter-colored foliage as for the star-like single pink and white flowers. An open-arched shrub, it fits well into a mixed border, can be kept in bounds with regular pruning and, with its reddish-purple shoots and soft blue-gray foliage, is ideal for flower arranging.
Rosa 'Blanc Double de Coubert' is a hybrid rugosa that blooms very early, repeats through the summer, and has one of the strongest, most lovely fragrances in all of rosedom. The flowers are large, pure white doubles with crumpled petals (which unfortunately don't self-clean) set against dark green, crinkled foliage. Rugosas are hardy, with good fall color and brightly colored hips.
Rosa 'The Gift' looks like the quintessential old-fashioned rose, with single white fragrant flowers in large clusters. A polyantha (a class of compact roses with glossy leaves and sprays of flowers), it grows to only 3 or 4 feet high, blooms constantly and has bright red hips.

Valerie Easton is manager at The Miller Horticultural Library. Her e-mail address is

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