Climbing Roses
Climbing Rose Light Konigin Rose in Arbor - Photo by Irene Roth


Climbing Roses and Rambling Roses,
A Scented History

        There is an assumption out in the amateur rose growing world that climbing roses and rambling roses differ from each other by their growth habit and growth character. Rambling roses are viewed as roses that like to amble in a lax manner over fences and sprawl almost horizontally in cascading profuse colour. The perspective regarding climbing roses is that they grow in an almost stiff and upward propelled nature next to walls and sides of buildings. The reality is that both types share these particular growth habits. Ramblers by definition, however, are actually climbing roses that have one only period of blossom each year, whereas climbers blossom repeatedly thoughout the season.

        In the world of rambling and climbing roses there are so many colourful and delicious scented varieties to choose from. But it was not always so. Before the eighteenth century both in North America and Europe, the roses within church gardens, castle grounds and those that simply appeared along roadways and paths on the edge of the wilderness were shrubby and limited in size and colour. But then as trade with China grew, during the eighteenth century, stories came back with tradesmen that had seen magnificent climbing rose specimens in the gardens and along river banks and roadways.

        In 1792 a knowledgable horticulturalist on a British mission to Peking spotted the climbing rose R bracteata and later it was named the Macartney rose. In 1803 a double white rampant climber dubbed R banksiae banksiae in honor of a Lady Banks, wife of the director of the British Horticultural Society, was discovered and shortly after the double yellow version R Banksiae lutea was also discovered. There were far more climbing roses discovered and whisked out of China in the mid nineteenth century. People went crazy for these floriferious "larger than life" versions of roses. Rose hybridizer were finding ways of bringing ever more climbers over from China and by the early 1900's there were many varieties on offer throughout Europe and many also finding their way into North America. Soon after the species R wichuraiana was discovered in the late 1800's, billowing climbers emerged including the well known Dorothy Perkins, American Pillar and Dr W Van Fleet which went on to sport the famous pale pink 'New Dawn.'

        Since those early discoveries and introductions of climbing roses into the nurseries and gardens of the western world, we have enjoyed the voluptuous nature of roses that grow and wind their way upward and over our walls, fences, toppling structures, even eyesores that are transformed with lush green and fragrant mounds of blooms. The author Rayford Clayton Reddell describes some of the most prolific climbers and ramblers as "house eaters" with reference to particular vigorous varieties as the lovely pale blossomed Rambling Rector, Francis E Lester whose blooms smell like "apple compote," and the R Banksaie Lutea which gobble up anything in their path! I can attest to the incredible speed of a rose covering a section of garden having grown the sweet fragrant coppery blossomed Albertine rose. It blooms but once but the show lasts for weeks and the the plant itself has a growth habit I can only compare to the nature of growth of a blackberry bush. Such roses have no true place in a smaller city garden. They belong in the country side sprawling along old fences and along sides of weatherbeaten sheds and barns.

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