Roses and Other Traditional Garden Plants

Oddly enough, despite the fact that I have been nattering on about mostly native plants since January, I love many of the traditional plants you would find in any perennial garden, and this is their peak time. I am a very laissez-faire gardener however, so the plants that I am writing about are sturdy, hardy, and reasonably well behaved.

Roses: Morden Blush

I love this rose. It’s a shrub rose, only lightly scented, but a lovely pink, and a dependable bloomer. Besides, it’s hardy to zone 3, -35°F. We are in zone 6, but we have had a couple of truly vicious winters this decade that this rose survived, completely unperturbed. It is one of the Parkland Series of roses that were developed by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at Morden Research Station in Manitoba. Yup. Manitoba.

This tough rose is blooming, despite living in a huge planter box with little supplementary water in June—mostly what has spilled over from filling watering cans for potted plants.

Morden Blush. These flowers were all new the morning they were photographed, except the paler one in the center. They fade to a very pale shell pink as they age. Photographed June 28, 2017.

A rose in a planter?

Many years ago, I had much of the concrete on this city lot removed. Why? The driveway had cut this lot into two pieces: a scruffy yard north of the house and driveway full of ground ivy and Canada thistle, with a three-car garage at the far end—a 92 or 93° turn from the driveway; the other portion had the house with yet more concrete behind it, and a much narrower sunbaked strip of so-called lawn on the south side of the house.

One day, my young children were playing in the backyard when a cable company contractor’s truck backed up the driveway all the way to the back fence. Fortunately, I had heard this uninvited truck turn in and shooed the kids out of the way, but when I confronted the driver, he informed me that the cable company could use my driveway anytime they wanted to.

That was the last straw. The garage came down alarmingly easily—it was riddled with carpenter ants and mildew. Then I hired someone to remove what turned out to be a very sturdy and solid double slab, the concrete behind the house, and much of the driveway. I built a very large planter box at the new end of the driveway. The box has about 2 cubic yards of soil in it, and the Morden Blush rose lives in it, surrounded by lamium. Did you know that a cubic yard of soil weighs about a ton? No more anything backing up to the back of this small lot.

The rest of the formerly paved area was rehabilitated and is covered with a shady garden. It’s where many of the plants I’ve discussed earlier this year live.

Rose: Windrush

I love this rose so much that I have moved it twice to find it a perfect spot. It’s finally happy next to the driveway by the Morden Blush planter—you can see a corner of it in the background. Windrush comes through our winters just fine—and it survived those two awful winters as well, albeit well covered with quite a bit of snow.

I was prowling around online to refresh my memory: this is a David Austin rose. A couple of websites describe it as lightly scented. !!! Not. It is very aromatic and lovely.

The buds are yellow, sometimes tinged with a little pink on the edges. They open yellow, and within hours go to cream.

A Windrush rose. The buds go from closed to open rapidly—this one was a peeking bud at 7 a.m., and completely open by 9:48 a.m., when I took the photo. By the end of day, it faded to a nice cream. Photographed July 3, 2017.

Larkspur: a Reliable Self Seeder

Larkspur self seeds happily, so it’s never in  quite the same place twice. We had plenty of rain this spring, so the larkspur got quite tall, four-and-a-half to five feet.

Larkspur, self seeded. Photographed June 28, 2017.

Larkspur is the gardening analog to watercolor painting—you cannot achieve total control over it, but if you just edit the rough spots—seedlings pull easily—the results are beguiling. This is the lazy efficient gardener’s answer to delphinium, which are lovely, but just too much work.

Lilies: Roma

I have had these for decades, starting with three bulbs that probably number over two dozen or so now.  They are an Asiatic lily hybrid that live with a couple of rather large roses. These are extremely hardy—according to the Shelmerdine Winnipeg Garden Centre,  they are hardy to zone 2a.

Roma lilies. Photographed July 4, 2017.

They are very sturdy, reliable plants that multiply nicely.


Finally, what would early summer be without daylilies? Yes, they are not native. Yes, they do make monoculture drifts. On the other hand, they do not toss seeds willy-nilly; neither do they spread like wildfire.

A daylily leaning into a sunbeam. This photograph is completely unretouched. Photographed July 4, 2017.

I tend to put them in tough spots, where they will eventually fill in and hit hardscape barriers. These are in a narrow bed that is getting heavily shaded by smokebushes as well as overrun by milkweed. Monarch butterflies are in so much trouble that I leave the milkweed alone, even though it’s a pretty poor spot for it. The monarchs still find it.

What have I learned from these plants?

  • It turns out that I really like scented flowers, although I do not like scented soaps, cleansers, candles, or kitty litter. Much as I love Morden Blush, it disappoints me that it is so lightly scented.
  • If you really love a plant and it’s not doing particularly well, try moving it, but not more than once a year, and not more than two or three times total. Generally, if a plant is too extreme—it’s either too fussy or it shows rampant tendencies, it goes in the compost pile.
  • Japanese beetles are manageable, most years:
    • Japanese beetles will let go of whatever they are holding on to if you jostle them—so I hold a supermarket veggie bag under the beetles before I jostle. Most fall in. I tie a knot in the bag and toss it. This works with asparagus beetles too.
    • Japanese beetles need well-watered soil to lay their eggs. It’s better to let the roses ride out some dryness.
  • It really is OK to let some plants go to seed, but be extremely careful with plants that have a reputation for invasiveness.
    • Larkspur are lovely and will fill in, but not crazily.
    • Daisies will behave if you deadhead them when the flowers are spent, but before they go to seed.
    • On the other hand, forget-me-nots have a completely terrifying ability to fill every bare square inch of soil and all the seams in your bricks and concrete as well. Cut them below all their flowers and make sure the trimmings go into a hot compost pile—either add rabbit litter to your pile, or send the trimmings out to your city’s compost program. Those bigger operations run hot piles that get hot enough to kill seeds.
  • Lily pollen stains terribly: take a tip from florists and snip the anthers before bringing them in as cut flowers; wear an old shirt that you will not mind or notice orange spots on. Lily pollen spots respond best to…scissors. They laugh at bleach. Best to demote that shirt to gardening.