Climbing roses are the high note of any garden

Height is an important visual element in a garden, but you don’t need an arbor or expensive structure to gain some lift. Even an inexpensive wooden stake can be put to use for climbing roses. Just make sure you pick the right rose for the right structure. Some rambling roses can reach massive proportions.|

In all likelihood you prefer looking at a mountainous landscape over a flat vista any day.

The eyes want a place to pause, a feature that stands out from the sameness.

What’s true of sweeping natural landscapes is also true in your own backyard. While you can’t construct a mountain, you can create some height with climbing roses.

Train these gorgeous blooms to smother an arbor, coil up a wall, overtake a gazebo or even crawl up a tree or wall. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in garden structures, you can add height with simple and inexpensive poles you pick up at the lumber yard or home improvement store, says Jan Tolmasoff, the rose impresario of the Russian River Rose Co. in Healdsburg.

It doesn’t even really matter how attractive the structure is. Eventually it will be covered in masses of roses.

Tolmasoff is holding a two-day climbing rose extravaganza April 27 and 28 in a picturesque display garden with an avenue of 12-foot arches each laden with multiple varieties of climbers. It may be more spectacle than you can muster. But Tolmasoff offers a number of ideas for incorporating climbing roses into your own yard.

Visitors to the garden this weekend can take a tour of the vast display garden to check out more than 100 varieties of climbing roses; Talmasoff has been collecting roses for three years. Experts will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to offer tips on selecting, growing and pruning these living monuments for the garden.

“They require tying and training,” Tolmasoff said of climbers. “But once you have them up and over whatever structure you’ve chosen, they’re not harder to care for.”

The exception are the huge ramblers. But she said she grooms them only every three to four years, just tidying up in between major prunings, but cutting out or sticking into the arbor, anything that might appear straggling and out of place.

There are three basic kinds of climbing roses. The smallest are “Pillars,” which reach 5 to 8 feet tall. These are perfect for wrapping around pillars and grow up walls or lattices.

Tolmasoff suggests buying inexpensive round tree stakes and placing them strategically in a sunny spot in the garden behind lower-growing plants for a bit of height.

Plant your rose first and then bang in the stake about 2 feet. Keep the best canes as they emerge - selecting about two to four - and then cut the rest out. Tie the canes up the post, wrapping them around, first one way, then the other, to create a lattice effect all around the post. This way it will completely cover the post.

Excellent choices for pillars include Garden Sun, which produces clusters of large, unique orange and apricot flowers that can measure up to 6 inches wide; Excellenz von Schubert, a fragrant mauve rebloomer introduced in the early 1900s; Falstaff, a dark crimson/purple David Austin rose with a prolific bloom and Flutterbye, which produces single-petaled flowers in a multitude of colors from yellow and apricot to tangerine, coral and pink.

It is relatively disease-free and well adapted to the Bay Area climate, with a delicate spicy fragrance.

Taller roses are the real “Climbers,” which grow 8 to 14 feet tall and are perfect for arches, or to spill over fences and balcony rails. You might also want to dress up a garage wall with their riotous color.

Tolmasoff suggests for these classic climbers, Collete, with its big soft and frilly blooms; Polka, which produces big, multi-petaled flowers in blends of apricot and peach; the apricot-orange Westerland; and Fourth of July, an All-America Rose Selection winner with sweetly scented, velvety red- and white-striped blooms. It’s prized for its ability to climb over horizontal and vertical surfaces.

Other good choices include Sombreuil, a David Austin rose with creamy white pink tinged rosettes, and All Ablaze, with showy clusters of big red flowers.

Then there are the “Ramblers,” gargantuan roses that will grow 14 to 30 feet and, as Tolmasoff puts it, “quickly engulf whatever you don’t want to see anymore with signs and scents that will make our heart sing.”

One of the enduring favorites among these massive roses is The Lady Banks Rose, a grand old gal that can be found all over Sonoma County, where it was popularly planted on old homesites and gardens starting in the late 19th century, Tolmasoff said. It’s usually one of the first to bloom, welcoming the spring rose season. It often starts in February, but this year, the roses have gotten off to a slow start. Tolmasoff said it makes a great fort for kids because it’s thornless.

Another antique early-blooming rambler that can still be seen gracing the backroads of Sonoma County is the pink Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot. They call it “The Loo Rose” in Australia, where it was commonly used to dress up outhouses, Tolmasoff laughs.

She prefers to give it a proper showcase on one of the magnificent 12-foot arbors that grace her rose walk.

Other good choices for ramblers include Renae, Phyllis Bide and Bubble Bath.

The most important thing, she said, is to pick the right rose for the right structure. Don’t train a rambler up a post. Also, stay away from disease-prone varieties or meek bloomers. You’re looking for the wow factor with climbing roses. Tolmasoff can be ruthless. If a rose doesn’t prove itself, it’s banished from her garden. Two that have not performed well, at least in her Healdsburg garden, she said, are the mauve Climbing Angel and Golden Showers.

The Russian River Rose Company is at 1685 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg. They can be reached at

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or

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