Roses really are tough

When I was younger, the standard wisdom was to grow roses in their own separate beds away from everything else in the garden so that all of their special needy needs could be met.

Often these separate beds, bereft of anything other than the occasional Tagetes for companion planting/aphid pest control, left me quite averse to growing roses. I believed them just too reliant on water, chemicals and fertiliser, needing zero root competition, specialist pruning and just too prone to fungal disease to warrant the one or two annual flushes of flowers, however beautiful and fragrant.

But here in this climate, roses are incredibly tough and reliable: often amongst the few survivors in very old neglected gardens.

Point in case, a little patio rose bush that produces small white flowers in early summer. Here it is when I first moved in.


It doesn’t make for a particularly good cut flower, and I suspect that this was the reason it had never been pruned (that and the fact that my house had been a run-down rental for 35 years). The bush was riddled with dead-wood, it was growing underneath the eaves with almost no water and had couch, kikuyu and fescue grasses growing over and through it; completely wrapped through its root-ball.

While the exterior of the house was being renovated, the builder had his scaffolding and weatherboards strewn all over it for two months, its few living branches were snapped and it was starved of light.

None-the-less, it flowered three times: a small flush in mid spring, a big flush in summer and a small flush again at the end of autumn when the scaffolding was lifted off it.

So when it came to creating the bed out the front, I just couldn’t bring myself to remove such a survivor. Instead, I cut out all of the dead wood and gave it a serious prune, being sure to follow the traditional mantra of creating an open vase shape.

It needed moving from its current spot and its roots were riddled with kikuyu. So, with sharp axe, spade and secateurs, I took off more than half of the roots and chiselled out the kikuyu stolons that had merged with the wood of the roses’ root crown.

Quite drastic and quite a mess.

I honestly thought after such an attack, the rose would be destined for the compost heap.

But, with a liquid feed and some rain, here it is two weeks later, starting to shoot again:


In fact, given my new found respect for how tough rose plants are, I decided to buy a climbing Iceberg Rose to cover the brick wall in the newly cleared bed. You can see it to the left – it is still a bare rooted rose, but hopefully soon it will be just like the picture at the start of the post 🙂

Oh, and the rocks? Just temporary….every time I dig I unearth a small dry-stone retaining wall’s worth :-/


7 thoughts on “Roses really are tough

  1. Once again we seem to have encountered a similar situation! The wild roses at our place as well as the smaller ‘patio’ roses were never pruned yet are quite hardy despite being straggly instead of stately. 🙂
    In the spring the roses and a number of other flowering & fruiting plants and trees will get the prune of their life – it’s going to be a big job but well overdue
    Roses can be a real pain-in-the-neck… when I lived in the southern US, my bushes took an occasional attack by these fellas…
    They made the rose bushes look like they’d been hit by a drive-by. 😦
    Win some, lose some. Good luck!


  2. Thanks sweetk8. It always amazes me to think that we are growing the same plants 16,000km away! Drastic pruning can be very cathartic, especially when trying to resurrect neglected plants. BTW, those leaf cutter bees sure do a number on rose leaves – wow!


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