Rose lovers are true romantics who, bewitched by scent and bedazzled by colour, strive to create a garden bed of luscious blooms. But putting scent and sentiment aside, many eventually arrive at a pragmatic point of view: climbing roses are a good deal. While they require no more space than a shrub rose, the long vertical growth of climbers delivers three or four times the flowers.
Cascading over a fence or draping a wall, the visual contrast of tender petals against rough wood, brick or stone creates an exquisite display of artistic tension. But to achieve these moments of rosy glory, we must first understand these plants and how best to use them.
Ramblers vs. Climbers
Climbing roses can be divided into two main groups, the antique ramblers and the modern climbers.
Ramblers are most often derived from old species types such as Rosa wichuraiana, R. multiflora and R. moschata, although occasionally modern breeders will create a new rambler cultivar by combining old ramblers and newer roses from different categories.
Ramblers usually have clusters of informal, often scented, five-centimetre-wide flowers, produced on many slender, pliable canes sent up from the plant's base. Without pruning and left to their own devices, ramblers will reliably produce large numbers of flowers all along their length. Growing from 3.5 to six metres tall, some ramblers are quite cold-hardy, and are perfect for scrambling up a tree or travelling across a pergola, creating a roiling mass of hundreds of flowers. Most bloom only once-for about six weeks starting in early summer - and require little pruning; just remove dead wood in spring and cut back to a manageable size every few years.
Modern Climbing Roses:
It wasn't until the mid-1900s that breeders focused on producing modern climbing roses that grew to a height of 1.8 to 3.5 metres and bloomed more than once per season.
Occasionally, a shrub-form rose will produce a cane that is noticeably longer and more vigorous than its other ones. This longer cane is characteristically different from the parent plant, and is the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation called a sport. If the sport is removed and vegetatively propagated, it usually results in a specimen with a climbing form and flowers identical to those of the parent plant. Some examples are 'Climbing Iceberg' (a.k.a. 'Climbing Schneewittchen'), a white floribunda sport; and red, clove-scented Altissimo (R. 'Delmur'), both reaching up to five metres tall and hardy to Zone 5. Modern climbers are sports of many categories of shrub-form roses, such as hybrid perpetuals, Chinese and hybrid teas, bourbons and floribundas.
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