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In the Garden

Stand and Deliver

Climbing roses, bearing a bounty of colorful blooms, rise up and fan out where space is tight.

January 24, 2002|ROBERT SMAUS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When you've finally run out of room for rose bushes, simply look up at that tree overhead; or out along a wall or fence. This is where an increasing number of gardeners are finding places for roses of the climbing kind.

In Pasadena, Richard Tjoe can look up at a majestic climbing rose planted against his chimney, or he can look out at it though a second-story window.

The explosively colored 'Fourth of July,' fanned out on a bare wall, is the first thing you see driving up to Patrick Anderson's Fallbrook home. There wasn't enough space in the narrow strip between house and driveway for even a miniature rose, but there was plenty of room on the wall. Climbing roses need very little ground in which to grow.

Gardeners also are discovering that true climbing roses are tougher and need less care than rose bushes. "I think it's in the bloodlines," said rose breeder Tom Carruth of Weeks Wholesale Rose Grower in Upland.

He has developed quite a string of new climbers, including the wild, award-winning 'Fourth of July' and the only slightly tamer 'Berries 'n' Cream.' His newest climber, introduced this winter, is 'Spice So Nice', which has peachy-pink blooms and a sweet juniper smell.

True climbers like Carruth's, or other favorites such as 'Joseph's Coat,' 'Blaze' and 'Don Juan,' have a naturally clambering forebear in their lineage.

It should be noted that climbing roses do not cling like ivy, nor do they twine like morning glories. They simply make very long stems that lean on others, needing some kind of support. They use their sometimes wicked thorns (which often curve backward like the barbs on fishhooks) to grab and snag unsuspecting branches and unprotected arms.

On one occasion, my children, now grown, had to free me from the vicious thorns of a climbing 'Belle Portugaise' that had me pinned to the roof like a hide left out to dry. I no longer found her quite so belle and, in a pique, hacked her to the ground the next day.

But climbing roses are so vigorous, said hybridizer Carruth, that they "bounce right back" even after being eaten by insects or smitten by disease. Some, such as the tried-and-true, multicolored 'Joseph's Coat,' aren't affected by either.

"It has absolutely no problems," according to Del Mar landscape designer Linda Chisari. She never has to spray--"I think the aphids are scared of the thorns"--and it blooms and blooms and blooms, with outrageous flowers colored red, orange and yellow.

A good, modern climber will cycle four or five times each season, though Chisari thinks that 'Joseph's Coat' is never out of bloom. Anderson's 'Fourth of July' bloomed all year, even for Christmas, and a few flowers remain on it now.

A couple of climbers are actually evergreen vines, such as the deservedly famous Lady Banks' rose. And though it flowers only once in spring, the sheets of flowers last for several weeks. A spectacular one regularly thrills visitors to the historic El Molino Viejo structure on Old Mill Road in San Marino.

Carruth has been working with climbers because he feels that no other category of roses produces as many "flowers per square inch." He also thinks that natural, genetic climbers aren't getting the attention they deserve from breeders. Compared with the hundreds of recent hybrid tea bushes, there have been only a handful of new climbers, if you don't count what are called "climbing sports."

Climbing sports, such as 'Climbing Peace' or 'Climbing Queen Elizabeth,' are mutations of popular rose varieties that tend to climb. Unfortunately, many of these do not tend to bloom, at least in California, according to Carruth and others. While 'Queen Elizabeth' does fine, 'Cl. Queen Elizabeth' seldom flowers.

One big exception is the climbing sport of the popular and foolproof 'Iceberg,' which never fails to bloom or get rave reviews from home gardeners and designers such as Chisari, who said, "It's just so easy." She keeps one trained on the lamppost in her frontyard, even though it needs a lot of restraint, since it would like to grow to about 15 feet tall.

Garden designer Julie Heinsheimer includes it on her list of favorites, though it is probably the most ordinary rose she grows on her 21/2 acres of garden in Rolling Hills, where there's room for new and old climbers. She favors some old-timers such as her favorite, 'Mme. Alfred Carriere,' which she has used to cleverly disguise a dead crape myrtle in the middle of her vegetable garden, by training it up into the exanimate canopy.

In her garden, roses climb many trees. The big single flowers of 'Sally Holmes' burst from an apricot, and there are roses in the olive trees and on the palms.

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