Heirloom Roses in the Northwest

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By July Hays

June is the month when we hope summer will begin. Watching the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade in rain showers is just part of life in the Northwest. Although we know it won’t stop raining until after our 4th of July camping trip is spoiled, we can’t wait around to celebrate the beginning of rose season. The roses are blooming!

The ultimate June experience is visiting a rose display garden in full, fragrant bloom—and it’s very easy to find one in the Pacific Northwest. There are dozens of rose gardens in our public spaces, beginning with the delectable International Rose Test Garden in Portland or try the Woodland Park Zoo rose  garden in Seattle. Pt. Defiance Park in Tacoma has a spectacular rose garden, as well.

Then there are the rose nurseries! Two specialists who offer beautiful display gardens are Heirloom Roses in St. Paul, Oregon, and The Antique Rose Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Both are located in rural areas and invite visitors to bring a picnic lunch and spend some time enjoying the beauty.

Louise Clements of Heirloom Roses has a favorite quote from D.H. Lawrence: “The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread.” Certainly the display gardens Louise and her late husband, John, created are a feast for the senses. The couple began their rose business in 1972 by growing miniatures, some of which John hybridized himself. In 1987 they visited several rose growers in England, including David Austin, and John could see that disease resistant, fragrant roses were the wave of the future. Christine Hart, in charge of growing the roses now, says that Louise and John were committed to growing roses on their own roots (instead of grafting them onto a rootstock) and keeping them free of rose virus—decisions which led to a long-lived, healthy product.

The display gardens cover six acres, the largest rose display garden of any nursery in America.  Near the sales cottage is a planting that includes several different types of roses for a quick sampling of what Heirloom Roses is all about. There is also a 100-foot pergola with 50 varieties of ramblers blooming on it, delightful to walk under. One of the most fragrant is the fabled ‘Darlow’s Enigma’, a dainty-leaved old rose Louise and John obtained from Mike Darlow of Eugene. This rose has not been conclusively identified, but it is one of the top sellers at the nursery. The gardens also include a formal setting for the miniature roses (400 of them!), a Peace Garden, the Hope Garden, and a Fragrance Garden for many of the most fragrant varieties. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the sumptuous blooms.

Jackie and Don McElhose run the Antique Rose Farm near Snohomish. Their first love was with old roses, which were appropriate for their 1901 Victorian farmhouse. They grow many old roses on their own roots and also sell selected roses from the top rose breeders. Classic white lattice fencing sets off a large lawn, which is surrounded by hedges and beds of old roses. An arbor provides a place for more rose beds filled with fragrant old roses. Jackie is still visibly in love with her roses, showing off exquisite miniature moss roses, roses that are suitable for hanging baskets, the new David Austins and her selected easy-care floribundas and tea roses. “People don’t want to deal with diseases any more,” she says, “so we cater to that. The old roses that are trouble-free have an advantage.”

The Antique Rose Farm has put on a Rose Festival for the past 14 years, which includes an old rose show (this year on Sunday, June 15). The show provides an opportunity to see and compare the old roses at their peak.

Both Louise Clements and Jackie McElhose have suggestions for the new gardener who may have to deal with a small lot and shade from nearby houses. “Use climbing roses!” says Louise, pointing out that vertical space can be beautiful. Both nurseries offer an unusual number of climbers, ramblers and larger shrubs that can be grown on a fence, trellis, arbor or pillar. Although roses bloom best with at least six hours of sun, if you have dappled shade or part shade, Jackie suggests trying the small Knock Out series of shrub roses, or cultivars ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Ballerina’.

Louise specifically mentions the rugosa hybrid ‘Therese Bugnet’ as performing well in shadier conditions. The hybrid musk roses ‘Cornelia’ and ’Sally Holmes’ along with Austin roses ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘Winchester Cathedral’ get the nod from Chris Hart. She and Jackie both mention the China roses, “and don’t forget ‘Dainty Bess’” adds Louise, cautioning that shade will give roses a different—but still charming—form, with more willowy stems and fewer blooms.

Roses can be very successful in containers if the soil is substantial, according to Louise and Chris of Heirloom Roses. They advise regular garden soil (not potting soil), amended with fast-draining perlite and a bit of compost or rotted manure.

As for growing roses in the ground, no advice can be better than John Clements’ dictum: “…dig a BIG HOLE.”

Heirloom Roses and The Antique Rose Farm are well worth visiting this summer for the beauty of the rose, the artistry of the gardens and the pure pleasure of walking among the color and fragrance of this romantic flower.

To visit:

Antique Rose Farm
12220 Springhetti Rd.
Snohomish, WA 98296

Heirloom Roses
24062 NE Riverside Dr.
St. Paul, OR 97137


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