This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
ONE is really led to ask, What becomes of the tens of thousands of budded and grafted Roses that are annually sent out from our nurseries? Are we to assume that they go on from year to year constituting positive additions to our existing Rose-gardens? Or are we, on the other hand, to acknowledge that these large numbers chiefly serve the purpose of maintaining, in a slightly extended form, our present Rose-plantations, by filling up the ranks of those that have been decimated by disease, starvation, and death? Is it not a certain fact that the culture and growth of Roses either in the form of standards budded on the Brier, or as dwarfs on the Manetti stock, is decidedly unpopular amongst the great mass of amateur growers, and also amongst a few of the professional gardeners, as they find the Rose, when grown under these artificial conditions, to be amongst all our hardy plants the most sickly, and liable to speedy exhaustion 1 There are reasons for this tendency to decay, of course, and it is worth while trying to discover them, although, perhaps, there are not a dozen readers of the 'Gardener' to whose minds these same thoughts have not already presented themselves, and who have felt all the miseries attendant upon Rose-cultivation if they have limited their operations exclusively to budded or grafted plants.
My earliest recollections of budded Roses date back for many years, and all through that long period the propagation of them has been going on literally by millions; and yet, could we but take a census of our stock of living Roses and compare it with what has been worked during the last twenty years, should we not exclaim, "How can this thing be?
But I shall perhaps be told it is preposterous to expect any Rose to live for twenty years. Why preposterous 1 Is it not a perfectly hardy shrub, capable of any amount of extension, withstanding cold or heat alike almost with impunity 1 And if this is its character, why should it not live twenty years as well as any other bush or shrub? I am not unconscious of another point that may be told against my position, and that is this - from year to year older kinds of Roses are deliberately destroyed to make way for newer kinds. This may be true in some instances, but I greatly doubt its general application. We are, as a people, far too conservative in our likes and dislikes to part with favourite old Roses if they thrive well; but if this point has any force at all, it will be found to be strongest in the fact that older kinds are constantly being replaced by others, simply because the former have proved to be failures. The conditions essential to artificial Rose-cultivation - that is, to plants worked on artificial stocks - are clean bottoms and hard pruning. These two conditions constitute the death-warrant of tens of thousands of Roses. Let it be understood that I am applying this assertion solely to standards and those worked as dwarfs upon the Manetti stock.
To pillar, wall, or other trained Roses, it does not apply, as hard pruning is not essential to them, fortunately for the continuity of their existence. Most climbing Roses are upon their own roots, so that their chances of continual reinvigoration by means of suckers or root-growth is assured. But the standard Rose worked upon the Brier must have no root-growths, as all such are looked upon as robbers to be at once annihilated; whilst the exigencies of their position compel the cultivator to keep the size of their heads within rigidly-prescribed limits. Then take the Manetti stock, so highly eulogised as an instrument of Rose-growth, but which, at least to those who have purchased it, has proved to be the source of continual disappointment. What amateur grower ever yet succeeded afterwards in obtaining from the Manetti such superb growths as were upon it when it was purchased from the nursery - so rich, so luxuriant, so full of promise? and when it is planted in rich deep soil, well manured and not deficient in moisture, and these long growths cut back in the spring to something like fair proportions, is it possible to produce its like again % I say seldom, if ever, from the budded Rose, but plenty from the root.
Nature's first law with the Manetti is self-preservation; and to promote this it thrusts up from the base of its stem or its roots a lot of luxuriant growths that, by the untutored, are believed to be made by the Rose itself, whilst the experienced cultivator cuts them away, but only to realise that he must have that or nothing.
How, then, would I have Roses grown? I reply, Upon their own roots. Mr C. J. Perry of Castle Bromwich, a famous amateur grower, once said: "No doubt the Manetti is very serviceable to those who require to propagate Roses in large quantities, but, as a permanent stock, I have for it a great dislike, and never plant Roses worked upon it except the new ones, which, as dwarfs, I cannot obtain in any other form." And again he says: "I have for several years noticed that, if any of the plants in my beds of dwarf-Roses (which consist entirely of these on the Manetti and those on their own roots) die, they are sure to be those on the Manetti. ... I would rather give three times the price for Roses on their own roots than for those on the Manetti, even if the latter were the largest." This is a very pronounced opinion, and one entitled to all possible respect. It is an opinion in which I cheerfully and cordially coincide, not only because it truly expresses my own views, but, I believe also, those of many other amateur Rose-cultivators.
After all, this long introduction is simply intended to lead the reader on to the consideration of this very important point - how most successfully to grow Roses. I write for the benefit of my fellow-amateur Rose-growers, as one who has done his best to solve this problem for himself; and my conclusions are these: 1st, Purchase or propagate plants on their own roots - that is to say, struck from cuttings; and 2d, Grow them in beds or lines under the pegging-down system. Here, in these two conditions, will be found the secret of success.
The Rose is very accommodating as to the nature of the soil in which it will grow, but it specially delights in depth. Newly-made ground, where a lot of rubbish of all kinds has been deposited, and with from 2 to 3 feet of fairly good soil on the surface, is just the place whereon to plant them - the drainage is good, and there is abundance of room for the roots to travel in without feeling the effects of drought. This is a much more important consideration than mulching or watering. However, I presume it is not convenient to every one to have such a place in which to plant Roses; but by the expenditure of a little extra labour it is possible to make the future home of the plants somewhat closely to approach these important conditions, and, having added thereto a moderate quantity of well-rotted manure, get the Roses planted out about 2 1/2 feet apart in the month of November, and cut all the growth back hard in the following March. Frorn the base of each will spring up shoots that will attain to a height of from 4 to 6 feet.
Almost all of these shoots will carry autumn flowers.
During the summer the beds should be kept very clean, and well stirred, and in the winter receive a top-dressing of manure. In the following February the shoots must be shortened to a length of from 20 to 14 inches, and then brought down and fastened within an inch or two of the ground by means of stout wooden pegs, in whichever direction may seem to be most convenient. From henceforth the plants may be looked upon as permanently established; and the cultivator has but to gather his flowers in the summer and autumn, cut out all the old wood, and cleanse and dress the bed in the winter, and shorten back and peg down the young growth early in the following spring. This, then, will be for many years to come the annually - recurring routine of labour necessary to be performed. The advantages presented by this mode of cultivation are many and obvious. It permits the Rose to exist under the most natural conditions, and to develop suckers or root-growth to an unlimited extent. Such strong shoots as are annually sent up also aid the root-extension wonderfully, the limitation to which can only be found in the depth or space prepared beforehand.
Then the whole of the flowers can be seen with perfect ease, as the lateral growth all comes upward, and forms in time a perfect mass of foliage and colour; the whole of the soil, also, is effectually shaded, and is kept cool and moist in hot weather. The period of blooming is also greatly prolonged, as the buds at the point of the shoots start first, and are succeeded by those nearer the base; these, again, being followed by the summer growth from the roots, which, as I have before mentioned, carry bloom all through the autumn.
Mr Perry has long been a bold practiser of the pegging system, and earnestly recommends it. He has beds of more than twelve years' planting, and yet they are as strong and vigorous as ever - indeed it would be difficult to prescribe the period that Roses might last under this mode of growth. In planting beds of Roses that are to be treated as here described, care should be exercised to keep the more robust growers in the centre, and the weaker ones on the outside. Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons are best for this kind of work. Tea-Roses it does not suit; but these latter should invariably be grown upon walls or as climbers. The Brier and Manetti stocks may be very useful for the purpose of quickly obtaining plants of new or scarce varieties, but, for all permanent work, nothing can beat the culture of Roses upon their own roots.