Roses for a Mediterranean Garden

A garden without roses? It’s possible but is it necessary? I did my research in 2022 and chose what I thought was a varied selection of robust roses. My experience so far shows that there are huge differences between varieties, even those said to be robust and resistant. And there are more aspects to consider besides flowering season, color and perfume.

Color and Perfume

I used to say I’d never plant a rose that did not bloom for six months of the year and that did not have a good perfume. Why should I? There were so many different roses to choose from for a garden in Switzerland.
Down here I have become somewhat more tolerant regarding the latter aspect, as the selection of excellently scented roses that flower for a long time and can also tolerate mediterranean heat is quite small.

Flowering Season

In the Mediterranean flowering season for roses starts in March/April or May at the latest and there may be flowers into July, depending on heat and rain. Then nothing much happens and after temperatures go down and the first fall rains come, flowering may pick up again in September for remontant varieties. Thus roses have to compete with an already exuberantly colorful spring garden instead of being able to play a starring role.

Filled or unfilled flowers

The heat in full sun can be oppressive even in May and heavy filled flower heads will tend to hang down – especially on younger plants whose stems are not yet very strong. Simpler or unfilled flowers tend to do better.

Sun or shade

The bright hot mediterranean sun can damage rose blossoms. Even if it’s only 28 degrees in June they may end up looking like dried up crepe paper. In the Mediterranean, at least at sea level, it is better to plant roses in half shade. Most of our roses should be in dappled shade once the new trees grow into their crowns.

Varieties of Roses for a Mediterranean Garden

Rugosa and pimpinellifolia have a name for being robust roses and tolerating some drought as well as poor soil. I have found though that they do less well here than other varieties, even with good soil and watering. Rosa chinensis, floribunda, moschata have worked better for me so far.

I know that this is only the second year for most of my varieties and one shold give roses time to develop but for me there are already some clear winners and losers:

Rosa rugosa Blanc Double de Coubert

A lovely, heavily scented rose that I had in my old garden in Switzerland. Planted here in August 2022, it bloomed in April through the beginning of June. The plant stayed very small however and during the heatwave in August, with leaves turning completely brown, it constantly threatened to die. In 2024 it has grown somewhat but has only had two flowers in the spring.

Rosa rugosa Roseraie de l’Haÿ

Another heavenly perfumed rugosa rose in a wonderful dark pink color. A favorite in Switzerland I wanted to try it here as well. Planted in August 2022, it flowered for 2-3 weeks in April-May and showed good growth. The flowers did not last long at all in the sunshine and during the heatwave in August the leaves turned brown and the plant seemed to have died during the following months. In 2024 it reappeared but stayed minuscule and did not flower at all.

Rosa pimpinellifolia Stanwell Perpetual

A rose that was purported to be robust and tolerant but turned out a bit of a dud as well. Planted in August 2022, it flowered for four weeks in April-May, but the plant itself stayed tiny. The flowers smelled very good but did not last long at all in the sunshine. During the heatwave in August it seemed to shrivel up and die but showed some new growth by November. In the spring of 2024 it flowered again a few times but so far has stayed minuscule.

Rosa moschata Felicia

A variety I hadn’t heard of before that has shown itself a bit more adapted to this climate. Planted in August 2022, it flowered for 2 weeks in May 2023 and showed good growth. The flowers were still rather small and the stems weak. It suffered during the heatwave in August by getting black spots on the leaves but when fall arrived it looked pretty good and had even grown a bit. In the spring of 2024 it came back very vigourous and healthy with dark green leaves and lots of buds that flowered from April through June and the beginning of July.
The flowers have a wonderful perfume. They are filled and tend to hang down sometimes, and they do not appreciate full Mediterranean sun, even if it’s only 27 degrees in June.

Rosa Fragrant Old Yellow

Another unknown (to me) variety that has shown itself very adapted to this climate. Planted in August 2022, it flowered for 2 weeks in May 2023 and showed good growth. The stems were a bit weak still and the big flowers mostly hung down. It grew well even during the summer and by the spring of 2024 it looked very vigourous and healthy with dark green leaves and lots of buds that flowered from April through June.
The flowers are large and filled and hang down sometimes, and they also do not appreciate full Mediterranean sun, even if it’s only 27 degrees.
Despite the name they have practically no scent at all, which is a bit disappointing.

Rosa floribunda Joseph’s Coat

I fell in love with this rose after seeing it online in 2023 while looking for more robust rose varieties. I planted it in November in the half shade behind an olive tree. It started spring very vigorously with dark green leaves and bloomed for a few weeks between in May and June. Had quite a bit of aphids though as well as black spot in July. The flowers last a long time and keep changing color while they fade. The colors are rather more red and fiery than I expected but it is a spectacular rose – even though it has practically no scent.
Its flowers are not very sun-tolerant either – even in the half shade.

Rosa chinensis Old Blush

Another rose I came across in 2023 while looking for more robust roses. I planted it in November in full sun. In the spring it looked healthy and vigorous and began to flower in March. Through June new flowers kept appearing. They have a great perfume, last a long time and seem to tolerate the sun quite well. An all-around winner so far.

Rosa Nahéma

I wanted at least one climbing rose for the wall separating the garden from the parking lot and I chose this Delbard rose for its color, scent and robust reputation. I planted it in November 2022 in a protected spot along the wall. It developed well and bloomed for two weeks in May. It suffered a lot during the hot summer and seemed about to die. But then developed new growth by November of 2023. This year it looks very good and has been flowering every few weeks since the end of May. The flowers are heavily scented.
Unfortunately, the rose doesn’t seem to know that it’s a climbing rose and the branches don’t seem to want to grow towards the wall – but we’ll get to grips with that in time.

Unknown Roses

A friend wanted to get rid of a number of rose bushes big and small in the late spring of 2023.
I took about eight of them – mostly unknowns, except for a “Hanabi” climbing rose. They all seemed to do quite well for a few months but four of them died in or after the very hot summer, including Hanabi. It looked great one day and two days later it was dead… I managed to take a cutting from one of the moribund ones and got it to grow roots in some water. It’s in a pot now, waiting to be planted out in the fall. All the other ones did great, despite being planted and re-planted wherever there was a spot available. They bloomed in the summer and the two yellow ones even into December. This year again they keep flowering since May, even in the full sun, without fail and without complaint. The flowers are not very filled and without any scent.

More Roses to come?

If I were to plant more roses I might try a Rosa chinensis sanguinea mutabilis – simple flowers that change color between yellow and red. And if I ever find a space for more climbers I’d maybe want a “Zephirine Drouhin” for a shady spot because of its wonderful Barbie-pink color and lovely scent.


Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *