Do roses grow everywhere?

When we moved up here twelve years ago now I did not really think about roses.  I like roses but I like all sorts of things and there was so much else to think about with the prospect of trying to make a garden in a nearly one acre field high on a hillside.  But that first summer I found that there were some roses here.

Mainly they were these: wild roses in the hedges, simple dog roses, simple perfection.

And there was this one, an undistinguished looking shrub rose by the gate through to the field.  I have no idea what it is called.  The flowers are small but the colour is deep and the perfume is one of the strongest in the garden.  The first time I walked by and was hit by a waft of the scent I decided it could be as ordinary looking as it liked, as long as once a year it smelled like that.

And there was this one.  At the time it was struggling in the kitchen garden, growing between two posts and looking sad and straggly.  As part of a revamp of that bed I cut it right down to eighteen inches or so and decided that if it died it was just not meant to be.  Since then it has grown with renewed vigour.  Every few years I give it the chop again and that seems to rejuvenate it.  This too has a sweet scent and a sprawling form, neither shrub nor climber.  The flowers do not last long but there are lots of them.  I was quite cavalier about its survival ten years ago but now I would miss it if I lost it.

So after we had been here for a couple of summers I started to wonder if there were other roses which would cope with a thin stony soil.  "Roses like clay" someone told me and we are at the other end of the spectrum to a clay soil, our soil is more like a free draining sieve.  A good friend with a real passion for roses (thank you Zoe) suggested some tough ones and I began to experiment.

First of all I tried five rosa rugosa on a bank alongside the drive.  They looked like five sticks when they went in and I was visualising a bank of roses.  For a year or two they sulked as things often do here and then, realising that things were not going to get any better, they got their roots down and got on with it.  Now they are a great thicket more than ten feet across and five or six feet high.  They are not quite inpenetrable: a badger trail works its way through the centre of the clump if you look closely but they do throw their roses up to the sky in a very satisfying way.

Zoe also suggested rosa spinossima, also know as the Scotch rose.  This is a more shapely plant than my other roses, throwing out long arching stems, weighed down with flowers.

The flowers start as a strong pink and age to a paleness which I love.  I am not sure now why I only bought one plant of this rose.  I can feel another one coming on.

The next use of roses is maybe less successful but the jury is still out.  I went to visit RHS Hyde Hall with two gardening friends and I was very taken by a part of the garden where you walk right into and under the roses.  It is not a conventional rose garden.  All the roses are huge shrub roses as big as small trees.  I liked the sense of looking up at the flowers as well as across.  What I perhaps forgot was that plants up here often do not get to full size.  I planted five roses which were all supposed to achieve a similar presence.  They have all fared rather differently.

The white rugosa rose, blanc double de Coubert, is supposed to grow to about six foot tall but, unlike its pink sisters, it has not.  It is perhaps four foot high at the most and the flowers quickly spoil with the rain.  It is certainly a beautiful flower but the white roses in the hedge, rugosa alba,  seem better and stronger than the shrub.

The best one by far is this one, whose name of course I have lost.  The flowers start a rich yellow but quickly fade to buff.  I have three of these.  They are very strongly scented and the plants are well on the way to becoming huge.

This one will never be huge.  It is rosa primula, the incense rose, given to us by some dear friends.  It is quite a low growing rose up here but it flowers early with a perfection of form and a sweet clear scent which is memorable.  Thank you Brian and Joy.

And all the time the roses in the boundary hedge continue to thrive and to colonise new places while the roses in the mixed edible hedges we have put in produce flowers of a delicate beauty and hips if possible even more beautiful.  So there we are.  I have never liked formal rose gardens and I will never grow roses in great quantities, but I love the ones that like to live up here and the garden is richer and sweeter for them.  And I am intrigued in my travels to find roses thriving in Newfoundland and New Zealand, in Tasmania and Portugal.  Maybe there is a rose for everywhere, if you can find it.


  1. We had happy roses in Porterville, on clay soil tick, very hot surviving on grey water.
    Here I found white Icebergs (ick, but they have grown on me. Very fragrant and pickable)

    1. it's fascinating that's they survive your conditions and bloom away in Wales and Newfoundland!

  2. Rose Stanwell Perpetual doex well in my garden despite being in dry shade of large trees in summer and saturation in the winter. I think it is a relative of Rosa spinossima so is a toughie but very sweetly scented all summer with semi double white flowers. The petals obligingly drop off as opposed to being brown and slimy. Your roses look beautiful and a rose forest sounds amazing.

    1. I like the sound of stanwell perpetual! I must look out for it. sounds just the sort of rose which would manage here!

  3. There seem to be difficult conditions in most gardens, I think. We certainly have our share of challenges in our small Suffolk village garden, but roses are one of the success stories and seem to thrive in our poor soil and frost pocket conditions, and I love them all. I have recently planted a few gorgeous, scented roses in pots and loving the colours and smells. Unfortunately, they are being battered by heavy rain as I write this! It's satisfying to find out what works where and you certainly have some lovely flowers and colours on your mountain, Elizabeth x

    1. thank you Marianne! I haven't tried roses in pots but I should maybe have a look. I do like the idea of being able to place scent where it really works.

  4. I very much enjoyed reading this post , l am 63 and currently trying to lose a few pounds for an upcoming wedding. I wonder if you would mind telling me the names of the shops you visit in Ruthin and Tarporley, as a live in Gronant these lovely small towns are quite local to me


  5. I very much like your pattern it's beautiful,thank for sharing good i dea !
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