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This Year's New Roses : Only Time Will Tell How These Newcomers Will Take to California, but What's Gardening Without a Sense of Adventure?

January 11, 1987|ROBERT SMAUS | Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

Early in January, nurseries are filled with roses, some new, some old. Although new roses new are always the star attractions, this year is different. The rose industry was in a bit of disarray last year--two of the largest companies were purchased by others--and for the first time in a while, some of the new roses come from nurseries outside California, the center, nationally, of rose growing. Very few Californians have had an opportunity to evaluate the newcomers, so if you try one you'll be taking your chances--though that might make things a little more adventurous. Also, Los Angeles is temporarily without an official All-America Rose Selections rose garden. (Every year the AARS awards rose varieties newly offered in the United States on the basis of their performance in test gardens.) Nevertheless, rose growers Jackson & Perkins gathered the three 1987 AARS winners and the Rose of the Year pictured here from their fields in Hemet.

The biggest news is that a "shrub" rose was one of the plants to win the coveted AARS medallion. If you said, "But all roses are shrubs," you'd be correct, of course. But, the AARS, not knowing quite what to do with roses that didn't fit into the other categories, has come up with a new category--shrub roses--that includes those that have smaller flowers than a typical floribunda and that grow quite bushy.

The new shrub rose is named 'Bonica.' Developed in France by the House of Meilland, it's used in that country along highways and the like as a landscape plant. Here, too, it is being suggested as a landscape plant because no one seems to believe that it will work in a rose garden. Also, it's uncertain how big 'Bonica' will grow in California. A good guess from Huntington Botanical Garden rosarian Claire Martin is that it will attain a circumference of five feet--maybe bigger.

The flowers can best be described as ordinary pink in color but quite pretty, a nice addition to a flower bed--perhaps in a supporting role, perhaps in the background behind other plants. The specimen at the Huntington has flowered consistently and is usually pruned with hedge shears. 'Bonica' is also said to produce abundant orange-red rose hips. Right now, before the bushes are pruned, the hips on the nearly dormant roses are the main show.

Another AARS rose that has yet to distinguish itself among local rose growers is 'Sheer Bliss.' It, too, is pink, but many consider it a little pale to be pretty. It's a vigorous, five-foot Hybrid Tea, with typically high-centered flowers borne singly on long stems, and it makes for a good cut flower, though it's not quick to re-bloom.

'New Year' is an AARS grandiflora, which is a category that falls somewhere between the small-flowered but floriferous floribundas and the large-flowered Hybrid Teas. There aren't all that many grandifloras ('Queen Elizabeth,' is the best known), and there certainly aren't that many orange roses. All of which might make 'New Year' worth a try, especially near the coast, where orange roses don't perform well in general. Described as "tangerine," 'New Year' is a soft orange.

The most praise generated by a new rose this year isn't an AARS winner. 'Summer Dream,' the Jackson & Perkins Rose of the Year, is a classic Hybrid Tea that is an apricot color in the center, shading to pink, then yellow, on the backs of the petals. The flowers are large--perfect for cutting--though the plant has not been that vigorous.

Another well-liked rose is 'Givenchy,' from the French Collection of Armstrong Roses, in Somis, Calif. It has been described by some as being much like the very popular 'Double Delight,' but not as red and with silvery tones on the petal edges--"a lovely garden rose," in one grower's opinion.

Roses are sold bare-root now, which means there is no soil with the plant, only bare roots. The best time to plant such roses is now, while they are dormant and leafless; it saves money and guarantees large roses in little time. When buying a bare-root rose, try to determine whether it is alive and well. That may be difficult, because the plant is completely dormant. If the roots are wrapped in a plastic bag and you get the rose home to find that the roots are rotten or dry, don't hesitate to take it back. At nurseries that still sell bare-root plants from bins or barrels filled with sawdust, you will be able to see the roots. Look for plump, firm roots--the more the better.

To make sure that the roots have not dried out, soak them overnight in a pail of water; then plant first thing in the morning. If the weather is sunny and hot, cover the plant with an ordinary paper bag for a few days once it has been planted.

Plant by digging an ample hole and mounding some soil in the bottom to create a small, cone-shaped perch for the rose roots to rest on (most nurseries can show or give you a diagram that explains this planting method). The plant should end up with the soil line right at the juncture of roots and stems.

Adding anything to the soil that goes back in the hole is optional with bare-root planting. Be sure to pack the soil down and to water it thoroughly once. Thereafter, water only when the soil dries out. Then, in March, fertilize.

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