Where to shop for roses in Sonoma County

Now is the time to pick your favorites while you can see them in bloom.|

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That, of course, depends on the beholder.

When the beholder is you, your preferences determine which rose is most beautiful.

May and June are the months when the most types of roses are in bloom, so it’s a great time to visit local nurseries and see which varieties please you the most, rather than picking a rose from a photo and a catalog sales pitch.

Before you go rose hunting, however, one of the best things you can do is visit the Redwood Empire Rose Society’s website (sonomaroses.org). There you’ll find the top local rose nurseries, best mail-order companies, sources for rose gardening tools, rose associations and the location of public rose gardens here in Sonoma County. You can start at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in downtown Santa Rosa for a lovely collection in a charming home-garden setting. The Redwood Empire Rose Society also maintains a display garden in front of the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center, 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.

If you visit the picturesque Garden Valley Ranch at 498 Pepper Road in Petaluma, you can see hundreds of roses flowering in real life. Visit its website at gardenvalley.com. You’ll need to make an appointment to visit, which you can do on the website.

Another excellent place to visit is the Russian River Rose Co. in Healdsburg (russian-river-rose.com), where 650 varieties of roses grow, from ancient varieties up to modern introductions. In Santa Rosa, King’s Nursery at 1212 13th St. has 126 varieties of roses you can see in bloom. Another favorite with a solid rose selection is Cottage Gardens in Petaluma.

Roses are in the same botanical family as apples, and what apples do for the taste buds, roses do for the nose. Although not all roses have a heavenly scent, the smell of a beautiful rose is a marvelous part of the package.

Some crowd-pleasers to consider

High on a list of favorite roses with a beautiful scent is ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ a rich red beauty.

If you can find ‘Gruss an Coburg,’ German for “greeting to Coburg,” the town where Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert was from, you’ll have a rose with a sweet, fresh scent. The multicolored ‘Double Delight’ is a visual treat with a spicy, citrusy fragrance. And ‘French Perfume’ is aptly named.

English rose breeder David Austin has introduced dozens of winning roses. His ‘Scepter’d Isle’ is a soft pink rose with a powerful scent. ‘Apricot Nectar’ is a Grandiflora rose of outstanding beauty and a lovely scent, recommended for our Zone 9 climate. It will star in any garden. If you find old-fashioned damask roses, they are the source of commercial rose oil, with a strong, true rose fragrance.

If your experience with roses is mostly with hybrid tea varieties, you will have noticed they tend to form big black blotches on their leaves. This is a fungus called black spot. A rose grower friend with lots of experience called hybrid teas “black spot on a stick,” and unless you spray them religiously with fungicide, they eventually will look sick.

But rose breeders in recent years have been emphasizing disease resistance, and today we have a class of roses called shrub roses that are remarkably disease-resistant. There’s a whole line of “Carefree” roses that bloom their heads off and stay healthy. ‘Carefree Wonder’ has a light, sweet scent.

There’s also a series of “Knockout” roses with good disease resistance, except for Rose Rosette disease, a virus that has no known treatment and kills all types of roses within two or three years. Breeders are working to create varieties resistant to the disease, but so far with no success. In the meantime, educate yourself by visiting the UC Davis webpage on Rose Rosette disease in California at tinyurl.com/2hhrbrpn. At this time, the only treatment is quick and early destruction of affected plants. (For more on rose diseases, the University of California has information at tinyurl.com/3svbs7fd).

When planning for roses in your landscape or garden, resist the urge to plant them in rows and files, an arrangement that might best be called a “museum of roses.” They function best ornamentally when worked into a landscape or garden planting as single shrubs, mixing with other plants with varying colors and shades of green leaves.

What roses have in abundance is color, from pure white (‘Iceberg’ variety) to soft pink, lavender, apricot, yellow, crimson and bright red. Situate them here and there so their strong hues are surprises to the eye rather than an overwhelming riot of color.

One performance or nonstop show?

In the 17th century, roses from China that rebloom throughout the growing season were brought to Europe, and breeders incorporated the genes for reblooming into once-blooming varieties to create our modern roses.

Roses that bloom throughout the growing season should be pruned hard when they are dormant in winter. They will bloom on the new growth they’ll put on during the coming season.

Old and ancient types such as gallicas bloom in May or June, and that’s it for the season. They bloom on last season’s wood and so should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. They’ll then produce new growth during the rest of the season, which will be the source of flowers next year.

Another thing to keep in mind is that rose canes produce flower buds when they are exposed to the most brilliant sunshine. So if you prune your roses to have lots of vertical stems, you’ll get flowers only at the tips of the upright canes.

To increase flowering — after all, that is what you’re after — stretch canes horizontally. You could, for example, tie them along a fence rail, exposing as much wood as possible to the strongest sunlight. Your roses will reward you with baskets of blooms.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based garden and food writer. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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