All soils will not grow Roses equally well, but most kinds may be made to yield satisfactory results.
There is comfort in this dictum. In particular it cheers the heart of the man who has heard so much about clay for Roses, and has no clay within a hundred miles of him.
Emphatically all soils will not grow Roses equally well, and it is honest and prudent to recognise the truth. But, on the other hand, it is foolish to abandon the idea of growing Roses just because the soil in the garden is not of exactly the same texture as that of our all-conquering friend Mr. Silvercups.
There are not many golfers whose clubs are such magical weapons that every stroke off the tee lands the ball on the green, where a second stroke invariably puts it down - the round in 36, so please you! The average golfer does this only in his dreams; in his playaday hours he plods round in 180 or thereabouts.
It is nice to muse over imaginary triumphs on the Rose links - how, if we did happen to have that beautiful clayey soil which Silvercups possesses, at once substantial and silky, mellow and moist, his achievements in the show tent would pale before ours. Already our sideboard groans under the weight of the trophies we have won with that soil - the soil which we never see except in the still night hours. We bow acknowledgments and murmur thanks when congratulations pour in - only to be prodded, and bidden not to snore.
The awakening need not bring despair. After all, Roses will do on ordinary soil, if they are looked after, and cultivated, and loved. The soil at Kew is not wonderfully substantial, rather is it on the light side; yet Roses thrive there, and some of the "garden" varieties - which, remember, are amongst the most beautiful of all - even luxuriate. If the worst came to the worst, if the soil was little better than sand, there might still be Roses, for the rampant, huge-stemmed Rosa rugosa will succeed on the lightest of land.
The great essential is cultivation - the soil trenched and tumbled and manured, trees well planted and pruned. The stiff soil will not grow Roses well if it is not prepared. First as to drainage. If the soil is clay on a level, it ought to be drained. Hideous "ought"! Draining is troublesome, expensive, and above all "messy." Nobody likes to see clay-smeared labourers flinging heaps of sticky soil about the place, and cutting zigzags as though making entrenchments for an army. The temptation to do without it is strong, yet land that lies waterlogged for several months of the year is not good for Roses.
If the ground is under turf, one of two courses may be taken - the turf may be cut off and rolled for stacking, to come in for potting material a few months afterwards; or, if better material is available for this purpose, it may be chopped up and incorporated with the soil.
In any case, the top soil must be taken off and the next spit stirred. It is better still to remove two spits and turn over the third. Place the different spits back in the same positions as they occupied at first, and spread manure between them.
A soil on gravel is so far better that it will not require to be drained if on the level, but there its superiority ends. Such soils are frequently so light that it becomes advisable to add clay, if clay is procurable without a ruinous expenditure. If the upper strata are sandy, clay is particularly desirable for the planting layer. Mixed with decayed yard manure, it will add substance as well as fertility.
Many growers who have very stiff land to deal with burn the surface soil. This is an admirable plan, but naturally it entails expense. Ridging and liming will disintegrate it more cheaply. The soil should be ridged and well dressed with mortar rubbish in autumn, then late in winter manured and dug.
In dealing with a poor chalky soil, it is almost obligatory to go in for thorough measures and make capacious "pockets" for the Roses. The natural soil should be removed to a depth of at least 2 feet, and a mixture of turfy loam and yard manure substituted, 2 parts of the former to 1 part of the latter, with a sprinkling of mortar rubbish for preference.
Trenching and manuring soil raise its level. A piece of ground that has two spits shifted, and the third turned over, and which, moreover, has had additions of manure and mortar rubbish made to it, will be nearly 1 foot above its former level when the work is finished. It is, as might be expected, very loose, and a walking-stick pressed in will easily penetrate its entire length. Considerable settling must be expected, and should be allowed for in the planting.
Here, then, in a few words, is the common sense of soil preparation for Roses - stiff soil drained, ridged, limed, manured, and pulverised; light soil thickened with clay and stable manure.
The earlier in autumn the task can be tackled the better. There is the more time to get it done, and the more help from the elements. It is not necessary to plant immediately. Order the Roses early, of course, to ensure getting good stuff, but if the bed is not ready when they come, practise no undue haste. Lay the Roses in by the heels and go on with the soil preparation - steadily, deliberately, thoroughly.