This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", 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.
The interest in Roses never seems to flag, except it be in new ones. The new Roses of late have been very much like new novels, attractive only in their names. Enthusiasts - and they are not few - will buy, and try, and endure disappointments, in the hope of the chance of having something good and new; but a Marechal Niel or a Madame Lacharme does not come every year. Yet there seems quite a glut of first-class Roses enumerated in every catalogue - there is, indeed, enough to satisfy the greatest craving for variety. Some of the oldest Roses still appear in the catalogues, and to our taste are preferable to very many of the newest. We do not refer to the Provence and Gallica Roses, but to the various Hybrid Roses. William Griffiths, Paul Ricaut, Coupe d'Hebe, Souvenir de la Malmaison, Mrs Bosan-quet, Devoniensis, were familiar names almost scores of years ago, and still they are to the front. What we would like to call attention to at present, with respect to this subject of Roses, is the desirability of cultivating them on their own roots, more especially such old Roses as we have mentioned, and also some of the middle-aged ones, so to speak, - such as Victor Verdier, Paul Neron, General Jacqueminot, Jules Margottin, and many more.
These are old classics, like Currer Bells or Waverleys - names which resist time. Our taste in this matter may be peculiar. We have always pitied the poor Rose perched on a 4-foot stilt, chained like a parrot to a pole - and also the Rose, as a dwarf, grafted to the gross Manetti stock; the former seems to say buy, buy, buy - the latter, die, die, die. If any one wants to plant Roses for posterity, then plant them on their own roots. If you are a tenant at will, subject to eviction, and cannot take your Roses with you, then plant them on the Manetti, or on the Brier, which is the better of the two. Very recently we saw rather an extensive rosary entirely (or nearly so) of plants on their own roots - fine, strong bushes, and comprising many of the comparatively newer sorts. They were selected and planted by a genuine rosarian and gardener, on his own ground, for himself and.his posterity. This was not accomplished in a year, but was the work of years of patience, the object kept steadily in view until it became an accomplished fact. If we had the planting of a rosary of our own to-day, we should plant nothing but Roses on their own roots.
All the varieties really worth growing can now be obtained from the leading Rose-growers on their own roots, at a slight advance in price on those worked on the Manetti. With the mulching of manure which should always be on the Rose-beds in winter, there need be no fear of the hardest frosts. Dryness at the root is the greatest enemy of the Rose. Under whatever circumstances, a gravelly soil, a hot, dry situation, is, in short, starvation. You can starve your Rose on its own roots; but with cow-manure and the water-pipe, its cultivation is possible on any soil. We have never seen better Roses than those grown on pure peat, manured heavily with cow-dung on a siliceous subsoil. Roses are not obtained from cuttings like Geraniums or Gooseberries - unless it be China or Hybrids of the China Roses, of which there are many - but are with the greatest ease propagated by budding or grafting; consequently the easy plan is the most in favour, and the propagation by cuttings or layers is neglected - yet the latter process is easy and successful. The hardest-wooded Provence or Gallica Rose is easily rooted by layering. Cuttings of the harder-wooded varieties are slow to strike roots, and are extremely liable to rot or damp-off at or under the surface of the soil.
This suggests that a dry airy atmosphere is the best condition in which to strike them. We have therefore been tolerably successful, by inserting cuttings round the side of small 4-inch pots, in rather stiff soil, and placing the pots, when filled, in the sun, much the same as Geranium cuttings, on gravel, at the foot of a wall, in the month of October, until the cuttings had formed the callus at their base, afterwards protecting them in a cold pit, well aired, where roots were formed in spring. By this means a pretty large percentage of cuttings will strike. Too much wet must be avoided; over-dryness at that season is not so much to be dreaded. We have also been successful, more or less, by inserting the cuttings in the open border, first making the position hard by treading, and then spreading a coat of puddle 2 inches deep over the surface, and inserting into the puddle good strong cuttings with a heel attached. In a short time the puddle stiffens, and firmly envelops the base of the cutting, excluding the air. In winter loose leaves can be spread between the rows of cuttings, to help to exclude frost. In this way we have seen more than 50 per cent struck. Much depends on the weather.
The proper time to insert the cuttings is early in October. The same success would not attend the operation if a cold frame is used, because of the damp stagnant atmosphere. Marvellous as are the Rose-bushes to be seen sometimes on the Manetti or other stocks in the open border, and more so as pot-Roses, still they are as nothing compared to what they are capable of growing to on their own roots, either in the open air or under glass - General Jacqueminot forming a bush so high that the writer could not reach the bunches of Roses.
The advantages of growing Roses on their own roots are many. There is no trouble with suckers - these become an advantage; there is not the misery of daily looking on a stock which is irretrievably dying by slow degrees, and starving the poor Rose; there is no staking or tying required, strangling is avoided, and chafing by the effect of the cord. They practically defy frost; for if killed to the surface, they will spring again from the roots.
Our professional wisdom was exercised in the selection and planting of several dozen choice Standards last spring - 2-feet stems, and fine heads. Spacious pits were dug; great care taken in the mixture of yellow loam and rotten manure; much grave deliberation on the planting, staking, and tying was expended; the hopes of the lady rosarian were high; watering and watching was not neglected; and woe betide a grub or a green-fly ! In May the foliage was good, and the buds numerous and plump. But it proved a grievous month for the Roses ! It was the daily privilege of two pet donkeys to be paraded on a walk adjoining the Roses. One morning early those sagacious and omnivorous animals undid the latch of the garden-gate, and perpetrated the deed they had long meditated - viz., ate off the leaves of the Roses, and found them good to the taste, and themselves no doubt wiser, like our first parents. In the morning the Roses were gone, but the 2-feet stems left. Our presence was summoned. What was to be done? Why, shoot the donkeys, and plant Roses on their own roots, was the advice of The Squire's Gardener.
[We thoroughly agree with every word here said of standard and dwarf grafted Roses. They are ugly and most expensive, and serve no good purpose, unless it be to produce a few extra-sized blooms for competition. - Ed].