As long as you are happy to have bare stems visible in winter, climbing roses in your garden can be the greatest joy when in leaf and flower, creating a dramatic and romantic vertical display that can be almost any colour choose – and they are good value for money.
They are also extremely versatile – but they are not self-clinging and need supports: grow them up fences, walls, trellises and tree trunks, and over arches, arbours pergolas and gazebos – and over unsightly buildings. Or think laterally and have your roses scrambling along a fence: for best results stick to one variety, planted at regular 1.2- 1.5m (4-5ft) intervals and weave the shoots in and out of the support as they grow. Rose-swathed pillars and obelisks are increasingly popular, creating columns of colour that give height to your beds and borders.
Popular and well tried climbers for training up a house wall are ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Compassion’. Pillars and obelisks require roses with more flexible stems, such as thornless ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ that has gracefully arching canes and coral pink flower clusters with an old rose fragrance. Other good pillar type roses are the red ‘climbing Falstaff’, yellow ‘Golden Showers’ or the pink ‘climbing Gertrude Jeckyll’. If growing on wires, set the lowest at 45cm (18in) off the ground and space subsequent wires 30cm (12in) apart.
After roses around the door, a rose arch is the archetypical image of an English country garden. Plant climbing roses of the same variety on each side of an arbour or an arch, and then train their shoots to go over the top for a complete halo-effect of blooms. Twist the main stems gently around the uprights, keeping them as horizontal as possible, to encourage flowering shoots to form low down.
Climbing roses and rambling roses are not the same: as a rule, climbers have large flowers, leaves in groups of five leaflets, and they bloom repeatedly throughout summer and autumn. Ramblers usually have one flowering of large clusters of small flowers, giving a mass of colour, usually in June, and they flower on the previous year’s wood. Rambling roses tend to be rather too vigorous for the smaller garden, but are a fantastic sight if they are allowed to romp away over an old shed or garage.
Some of the more vigorous David Austin English roses can be grown as climbers. Flowering profusely, their generous, blowsy, fragrance-full blooms droop and nod. With a long flowering season, they are perfect grown around the front door or on a trellis shading the patio. They tend not to overwhelm their supports, so are some of the best roses for the small garden.
When planting climbing roses against a wall, keep the roots well away from the base where the soil is often very dry. Lean the stems in and fan them out before tying to stretched wires or trellis. Training the main shoots sideways and then upwards helps to create a well-balanced framework of branches and encourage the side shoots to grow outwards – the more horizontal shoots, the more flowers you will have!
Care of Climbing Roses
Deadhead during the flowering season to encourage further flowering. Remove dead, damaged, diseased or spindly growth, and keep checking for blackspot, removing and destroying leaves – do not compost them. Deal with aphids as soon as they infest your rose, because the damage will spoil the look of the plant.
Rose pruning helps the plant to grow vigorously and improves the size and number of flowers. It also means that your climbers are not all bare, leggy stems and no flowers for the first few feet. Climbers are routinely pruned at any time between late autumn and late winter, after the flowers have faded.
However, for the first two or three years a new climbing rose will be establishing its framework and will not require any pruning, only the training of long stems horizontally, to ensure the maximum of flowers.
Once you have the basic framework in place and decide your climbing rose is old enough to need pruning, first remove dead, diseased or dying branches, cut out any really old branches from the base, keeping and tying-in up to a maximum of six young, vigorous new shoots, then prune any flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length, to encourage branching. Use a saw to remove dead stumps at the base of the plant, where rain can collect and encourage rot and fungal diseases. Clear away any debris around the plant to stop the spores of blackspot from overwintering there.
In spring, spread a granular rose fertiliser over the soil and mulch with a 5cm (2in) layer of garden compost or well rotted manure. From early spring you will notice new shoots sprouting along the main branches that you tied in horizontally last year. Watch to see if they flower, and if they do, cut back these shoots to within 10-15cm (4-6ins) of the main lateral stems. The new shoots that will grow from these pruning cuts are next year’s flowering shoots.