Fletcher Derrick grew up in a home where the American Rose Society Bulletin was always on the coffee table. But Derrick, now an American Rose Society consulting rosarian, would be about 30 years old before deciding to plant his first roses.
It’s been more than four decades since he planted those three hybrid teas, a variety of rose: one cream-colored rose named Peace, a pinkish white one called Queen Elizabeth and a deep red one named Mr. Lincoln.
His passion for growing roses grew over the years, and today, he, like Jim Lancaster and Claude Thomas, is an American Rose Society consulting rosarian. They answer questions from the public about growing roses in the Lowcountry. Derrick and Lancaster alone, and Thomas with his wife, June, have raised numerous prize-winning roses.
This time of year, Derrick, like others passionate about roses, is enjoying the fall blooms, the best of the year, rosarians say. As summer’s intense heat and sunlight wanes, roses take longer to open, so their buds have time to grow larger. The same conditions allow buds to maintain their color and not be bleached by the sun.
Among the 25 rose bushes Derrick grows on James Island, his hybrid tea roses have done extremely well this fall, he says. They include Gemini and moonstone, top show roses in America over the past few years, he says. Others doing well are bride’s dream, signature, Mr. Lincoln and double delight, one of his favorites.
“I always tell people to grow roses successfully, you have to treat them like pets,” Derrick says. “You have to give them a little something every day. Roses require soil with good percolation. You may need to amend the soil with some good top soil mixed in with sand and peat moss, a third a third a third,” he says. “They don’t like wet feet.”
Before growing any kind of roses, Derrick recommends deciding what you want the roses to do. To form a bed, choose knockout roses, a repeat bloomer or floribunda variety, which tends to blooms in clusters; to cover a fence, he suggests an old garden climber such as the Lady Banks; for landscaping, try floribunda, a hearty repeat bloomer often seen at shopping centers, and that won’t need to be sprayed.
“There are some new sprays that are environmentally friendly,” Derrick says, suggesting fungicides from Honor Guard or Banner Maxx that have low toxicity. “We only have to spray every three or four weeks for black spots. Those are absorbed into the bush and sit on their leaves to retard the fungus. For the person who has fewer than 10 roses, there is a Bayer product called All-in-One, an insecticide and fungicide, used weekly.
Lancaster also says his roses bloom nearly all year long. His fall blooms continue until there is a freeze.
“Usually, it has to be a pretty good hard freeze to stop them from blooming, not something such as 31 degrees for a couple of hours,” Lancaster says. “There are many winters in this area when we don’t have that. So they continue to bloom until February, when you get ready to prune for spring.”
If a rose blooms in fall, it’s a repeat bloomer, one that first bloomed in spring and continued through the summer, Lancaster says. There may not be as many fall blooms on repeat bloomers as there are during that first bloom of spring, but people don’t usually grow roses that don’t bloom continuously, he says.
The yellow Lady Banks, which can grow to more than 12 feet, is an exception, Lancaster says. Some people grow only that Southern favorite, among the earliest of bloomers in spring.
A lot of roses don’t bloom but once, and that will be a spring bloom, says Lancaster who has about 200 rose bushes on Johns Island. Most don’t come into full bloom until the end of April, but again, the Lady Banks with its large yellow clusters blooms the first of April and is an exception.
While most Old Garden Roses, classes or roses known prior to 1867, bloom only in the spring, the Noisette rose is a repeat bloomer. Charleston is home to the Noisette, the first class of rose to be developed in America. The rose, developed by planter John Champney, was raised from seed by Philippe Noisette.
Lancaster says roses are more difficult to grow in the Lowcountry than in drier climates, but combating the diseases promoted by heat and humidity to grow healthy roses is worth the work. Those conditions mean that growing roses here requires extra care, but the reward is that they continue to bloom well into the fall, he says.
Roses in the Lowcountry, particularly the modern roses, those first known after 1867, are particularly susceptible to black spot caused by a fungus, Lancaster says. Rose growers also must watch out for and eliminate spider mites. The tiny insects eat the undersides of leaves.
Claude Thomas was director of the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory on Savannah Highway when he built a rose bed for his wife, June, many years ago, he says. His involvement in growing the roses was pretty much limited to telling his wife what fertilizer they needed.
Things changed when he retired in 2004 and took the lead in raising the roses, Thomas says. He half jokes that her main functions are weeding and cutting.
The late fall blooms are the best of the year, says Thomas, whose roses bloom six times a year. The second best is the first spring blooms, he says.
He grows hybrid tea roses.
“They are what I have always thought of as the typical rose.
“I like the size and the form is considered classical form. They open up from an urn shape and the petals are very tightly bound in a spiral. They gradually unwind.”
Thomas spends four hours a day, five days a week caring for the 96 rose bushes he and his wife have at their home on James Island. Those who are serious about competing in rose shows need to put in the time required to raise superior roses.
The couple take buckets of roses to churches for shut-ins, he says.
“We have so many that sometimes we run out of neighbors to give them to,” says Thomas, whose roses bloom from the first week in April to the first week in December. The later ones last longer.
Some of their roses are being exhibited at the Coastal Carolina Fair again this year.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.