Cottage Gardener 7: 60-61 (Oct 30, 1851)
ABOUT this time last year I made up my mind for an experiment on Perpetual Roses upon a large scale. It was founded on an old practice which I had often witnessed of training-down Moss Roses upon moss, a layer of this being placed all over the surface of the bed by way of mulching late in the spring. The Moss Roses did beautifully this way; the shoots were spread flat on the moss, and the side-shoots from them flowered at different heights from the moss according to their lengths, but the longest of them was much shorter than those from bushes not trained at all; and it is always so with bushes, or even trees, when their branches are trained down, or sideways, in a horizontal position. Now when we train a Pear-tree that way, we get flowers and fruit from short spurs along the main branches; but if the tree is at all vigorous a great number of fresh shoots will grow from the spurs, which we call breast-wood; and we all know how jealous Mr. Errington is about the use and abuse of his breast-wood. He never allows breast-wood at all; he nips off the points as fast as they get to a certain length, generally. Applying this principle to the trained shoots of the Moss Roses, those who treated them this way soon found themselves in a difficulty, and many experiments were tried to get over this difficulty: some tried to prune these Moss Roses as if they were Black Currants or Red Currants, Peach-trees, and all the other trees and bushes that used to be regularly pruned at that time; but all would not do; the Roses would not blow well the second year, and the third year they did worse; all the trained shoots turned as dry and old-looking as if they had been made many years before, and a profusion of suckers, like shoots, would spring up from the collar of the plants, or from the bottom of the main shoots where they had been bent down for training, and the upshot of the system was, that it condemned itself; no one could do any good with it after the first season, and many of us gardeners thought it died a natural death, like many more fanciful things which we tried from time to time and failed in. THE COTTAGE GARDENER had not been long in circulation, however, before inquiries began to drop in about the system of training-down Roses, and since I was turned over to the flower-garden department I set my face resolutely against the plan. I had always some cold water by me to cool the ardour of those who wanted to train down their Roses, whether upon moss or on the bare surface of the beds, and if I had put any value on being thought a consistent writer I must have gone on in my opposition to this way of growing Roses to the end of the chapter; but they say that consistency is only another name for obstinacy; at any rate, I began to think a good deal about the old way of training Roses. I recollected having heard some gardeners maintain that the plan was good and easy to be carried out, but then, from what I had seen myself, and had heard others as resolutely condemn, I put all this down on the side of consistency; but no matter how strong any of us hold an opinion, on whatever subject it may be, as soon as it is called in question by our own doubts about it, or by the surmises of other people, we begin to lose faith in it immediately, whether we choose to own it or not; but to own a fault, or a mistake, is by far the best way in the long run, and my experiment on the Roses—part of which I have told about already—has clearly proved that I was in the wrong; that all were wrong who doubted the good effects of training-down Roses; and not only that, but this experiment brought out a new fact, of which I am now as confident as I am of writing this letter.
The fact is, that none of the autumnal or Hybrid Perpetual Roses should be pruned at all, according to our ideas of pruning. We never apply the term pruning to our way of dressing Raspberry-bushes every year; we merely select so many of the strongest canes on a stool to fruit next year, and all the little ones, with the canes which bore the last crop, we cut clean out from the bottom; and if that is pruning, why, to lop off a bough which hangs over the road must be pruning also. Now these Perpetual Roses do better thus treated, like so many Raspberry plants, than by any other way hitherto in use, and equally so whether the shoots be trained down or horizontally, or merely left just in the way they took to grow last summer. I brought down the issue of this experiment already to the end of the first crop of bloom last June, and I then said that I would cut out the branches of some that had done flowering to see if that would do as well, or better, than letting them remain to the end of the season. Four plants of Madame Laffay, the best known representative of the Hybrid Perpetuals, and two of the Crimson Perpetuals, or Rose du Roi, as that of the Perpetual Damask Roses, were thus experimented on as they were going out of flower, and before the second growth began. They were not cut very close, but to this day they show that they were cut at the wrong time; in short, they ought not to have been pruned till the end of August, or sometime later, when the second growth was nearly finished, or better still, they might have been left to the end of October, and then, instead of pruning the side branches, all the last year's wood should be cut out, and this summer's growth laid in at full length. The easiest way for a beginner to mind this way of managing Perpetual Roses is to compare them to so many Raspberry-bushes, and to cut them exactly like them. The wood of one year is to be left at full length that winter, and at the next dressing time, after that wood is fruited, in the case of the Raspberry, and flowered in that of the Rose, it is to be cut clean away down to where the strong shoots for another season were grown from. The similarity of the treatment for the Raspberry and the Perpetual Rose goes still closer. When the Raspberry canes are selected and tied to a stake, or placed in any other way, it is customary to cut off the very points of them, more for the look of the thing than for any good it does for the next crop. The same is done, and must be done, in most cases, with the Perpetual Rose. Let us take Madame Laffay, for instance, and say that a good plant of it was trained in some way or other last winter, the shoots laid in at their full length, or nearly so; that these shoots made small side-shoots along their whole length last May, and that these small shoots flowered most profusely last June and to the middle of July; the young, second, or Midsummer shoots, which arose from the bottom of the trained ones, are now from eighteen inches to four feet or more in length, and in bloom at the top. By the time the bloom is over for this year, the old shoots that were trained down last winter are ready to be cut out altogether, and the young ones just going out of bloom, are ready and fit to be laid down, or sideways, in their stead, and the very tops which bore the flowers, but the other must be dressed a little if only to clear away the remains of the flower-stalks; so that the similarity is complete between the Raspberry and the Perpetual Rose under this system. Then, as to training, any conceivable way will do for either; but here comes a difference at last. The Raspberry will do very well standing upright, but the Rose will not, at least not except in very careful hands. A man or woman who can so manage an old Peach-tree as to have the young wood at the bottom of the wall as plentiful and nearly as vigorous as at the top, need not fear of getting Madame Laffay, and the like of it, to blossom without any pruning more than is stated above. All this is perfectly proved in some hundreds of specimens in the reserve rosary here this season, and there is no question at all about the matter in the minds of those who have seen the good effects of it, and the plan is to be continued from year to year. There are hundreds of suitable places for a row of vigorous Roses—a hedge, espalier, low wall, or what not, and this is the best way to treat the perpetual sorts in such places. A low Rose-hedge, along the side of a walk, would look very well in many situations; the top of the hedge need not be more than a foot from the ground when it is trained, although the shoots may have been four feet long before they are trained down in this hedge-fashion. If good strong plants of the free-growing kinds were planted at four feet apart in a row they could easily be brought to this hedge-fashion, or the shoots might be formed into little arches, as those of the Raspberry are sometimes trained. Or if we propose three rows of Roses to be planted along the side of a straight walk, the first row next the gravel might stand eighteen inches from it, and the plants be trained quite low, after the old fashion of training on mossed-beds, the shoots trained to the right and left; the second row might be trained in low arches, not more than two feet high in the centre of the arches, and two feet or thirty inches from the first row; the third row might be an espalier, say from four to five feet high. The espalier row need not be more than two feet from the centre row, if one was tied to a limited apace; all the plants in these rows might be planted at two feet apart in the row so as to get the whole effect intended; before the end of the first season, and after a few years, every other plant might be removed.
One more suggestion. All these Roses should be of the free-growing Hybrid Perpetuals, and every one of them, by all means, to be on their own roots, for this reason, that if worked plants are used, and their shoots trained very low, as is proposed for the first row, it would aggravate the disposition of the wild stocks to throw up numerous suckers; besides, these Roses will grow very well in many kinds of soil in which the Dog Rose stocks would not feel at home; and the Manetti Rose, which is the best to use on very poor, light soil, would neither increase or diminish the strength of such Perpetuals as I contemplate. Altogether, I think it is a foolish plan to bud these kinds on low stocks at all for any purpose or soil whatsoever. It may be that some of them would come sooner to a marketable size if worked on the Dog Rose; but as a set-off to that, let every one put in a hundred cuttings next week—which, by the way, is a very good time—of Hybrid Perpetuals, and another hundred of the Manetti Rose, or the Boursault, or any other Rose used for stocks, and the Perpetuals on their own roots will come to market twelve months before the same kinds if budded on the said cuttings as soon as they were fit, let alone the time and trouble in budding, tying, &c., &c.
About the end of October, or early in November, is as good a time as any, if not the best time, to put in cuttings of all the strong Hybrid Perpetuals, and of all the Climbing Roses. Let the cuttings be from four to six inches long, and if slipped from the old wood, so as to carry a head with them, all the better; and let only a couple of inches of the cuttings be left out of the ground, with a little sand at the bottom, and the soil pressed hard to them, in some shady place, most of them will root and make fine plants by next autumn.