Climbing Roses vs Rambling Roses

What's the Difference?

Clematis Macropetala ‘Blue Bird’Rambling roses are more vigorous, will cover a greater area, and are ideal for interweaving through trees, covering unattractive oil tanks and disguising wooden fencing, but be sure that the fencing is strong enough!

Their vigour 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. As with most 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.

Pruning is simple in that in any one year, you only need to cut back the shoots that are encroaching into your gutters and so on. A bit of trimming side shoots after flowering will help, but is not essential. Whenever a mature plant, older than about six years, gets crowded, remove some old stems once they have flowered and look for the best new stems to position or tie in their place. Again, this is best done yearly if you want the best flower shows, but every few years is also fine: it depends on what you want to do with the plant. 
To restore an overgrown rambler, cut all the old stems to the ground, leaving almost all the one and two year old growth; only cut out the very weakest stems.

Climbing roses behave more like the standard shrub roses from which they typically derive: you can have a Rosa ‘ Iceberg’  shrub rose and a Rosa’ Iceberg’ climber.  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 deadhead the spent flowers. Climbing roses do need a yearly trim; each side shoot that flowered should be cut back by two thirds.  
To restore an overgrown climber, cut the oldest stems to the ground, leaving about five or six of the "youngest mature" stems to use as the framework for the new growth. Apart from the five or six younger stems that you keep, remove all other young shoots. 

All of that energy expended on flowering twice means that climbers will not generally 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 on a more exacting pruning regime to ensure maximum floral impact; more on rose pruning here.

Wherever possible, you should try to train climbing rose shoots as horizontally so that the flowering laterals are produced all along its length to create an amazing display.

A bit of rambling on my experiences

They 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 non-gardener friend of mine who dislikes roses as a flower because of the hidden thorns behind those innocent blooms. The pack included a mixture of rambling roses and climbing roses. Two years later, only one had died; my fault, because I planted it next to an existing climbing rose. I fondly imagined that they would intertwine and look glorious, but instead the new rose shrivelled and died due to "replant disease". As a rule, if you have to plant a rose (or most other plants) where a previous rose (or whatever) existed or exists, you need to dig deep and change the surrounding soil entirely for the incomer to survive. The others roses remain in fine fettle because I put them somewhere where they would flourish.

The Lady of The Lake Ros

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 beautiful large flowered clematis - Ed.)

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, but then again most plant breeders have been men and Shropshire Lad's name is a nod to its breeder, David Austin, who was himself a Shropshire man. 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 that good old "riot of flower and colour".

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