Climbing Roses vs Rambling Roses

posted this on 7 Mar 2017

People always say that you give the presents that you actually want for yourself.  I am not sure that that is right because one of the best presents I have received was ten bare root David Austin roses from a complete non-gardener friend of mine who loathes roses because she hates the surprise of the hidden thorns behind those innocently deceptive blooms. The pack included a mixture of rambling roses and climbing roses. Two years later I have to admit to one dying; my fault because I planted it next to an existing climbing rose fondly imagining that they would intertwine and look glorious but instead the new rose shrivelled and died. (Rule 1. If you have to plant a rose where a previous rose existed or even exists you need to change the surrounding soil entirely for the incomer to survive.) The others roses remain in fine fettle largely because I managed to 

Clematis Macropetala ‘Blue Bird’put them somewhere where they would flourish.

It is such an obvious mantra, but “right plant for right place” is essential if you are going to avoid massive disappointment and huge expense ….. and carry on gardening happily.

Roses framing a door or scrambling artfully through a tree Vita Sackville-West style are so much part of our gardening psyche that they would seem to be necessary in all gardens.

But before you plant like this, it is worth considering the difference between a rambling and a climbing rose. Ramblers are more vigorous, will cover a greater area and are ideal for interweaving through trees, covering unattractive oil tanks and disguising wooden fencing (careful that the fencing is strong enough!)

However that can make them hard to contain. Ramblers usually flower once a year on the shoots that grew last year. Some produce a blizzard of small to medium flowers. Pruning is simple in that you only need to cut back the shoots that are encroaching into gutters or over roof tiles and, over time when the plant gets crowded, remove some of the old stems once they have flowered.

My present included a pink pom-pom type – Rosa Felicite Perpetue. I saw it climbing through some pear trees (Pyrus Beurre Hardy) that grow against a west facing wall, and chosen for their frost-proof, pretty blossom. The roses would perpetuate (just like the name) the “blossom” well into June. It worked well and so the next stage, a little like layering clothes in the shoulder seasons, is to keep the wall interesting by adding a clematis or two. My preference will be to use an early flowering clematis like Clematis Macropetala ‘Blue Bird’ to contrast with the white pear blossom, and then a late, deep red clematis like Clematis Viticella ‘Abundance’ or Clematis ‘Niobe’ to complement the Astrantia ‘Claret’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ that are growing below. Niobe’s story is so sad however -  a mother boastful of her fourteen progeny to Leto, mother of only two but they happen to be Apollo and Artemis who are then commanded to slay the fourteen – that I shall probably play safe with Abundance! (The counterbalance is that Niobe is maybe the most beautifullarge flowered clematis - Ed.)

Climbing roses on the other hand behave more like the standard bush and shrub roses from which they often derive: you can have a Rosa ‘ Iceberg’  shrub rose and a Rosa’ Iceberg’ climber…go figure! In a wonderful use of language the climbing variety is known as a sport (and very successful at its sport it is.)  As a consequence, climbers’ flowers are often more showy, benefit from being viewed from below as they droop slightly, and they often repeat or seem to flower continuously, especially if you can dead head any spent flowers.  

All of that energy expended on flowering twice means that generally climbers will not grow as tall as ramblers. They also produce fewer shoots each year which do need to be trained in a balanced fan shape. Climbing roses also insist 

The Lady of The Lake Ros

on a more exacting pruning regime to ensure maximum floral impact, the niceties of which I am not even going to begin to describe here. There are lots of books on the subject and no doubt endless youtube videos.

Suffice it to say, and let’s call it Rule 2, wherever possible you should try to train climbing rose shoots as horizontally as possible so that the flowering laterals are produced all along its length to create an amazing display.

My surprise climber was Rosa ‘Shropshire Lad’. It always feels a little odd to make a rose male not least because Shropshire Lad is a perfection of pink, rococo flowers. Astride a dark, green door onto the terrace he has Trachelospermum jasminoides snaking through his limbs to double the scent. Later in July Clematis Viticella ‘Polish Spirit’ joins in to create a riot of flower and colour.

The fun you can have and the combinations you can create using climbing roses as a canvas is endless, and bear in mind that often roses can be bought more economically bare-rooted in the winter….if you can wait that long.  

Finally as with all rules there is an exception; there is a lovely rambling rose that does repeat flower from late spring to autumn. Needless to say it is down to the good offices of David Austin that such a rose has found its way onto the market: its name is The Lady of the Lake, long lasting and lissom she is.

Categories: Rose Advice
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