The Cottage Gardener 7: 190-191 (Dec 25, 1851)
Donald Beaton

From many letters which I have seen on the subject of pillar roses, I am led to believe that the subject is not understood by the great bulk of our amateur readers. What is a true pillar rose? is a very common question; and I believe that if it were addressed to ten gardeners, and as many nurserymen, there would have been, at least, twenty different answers returned. If you stick the handle of the house-broom, or mop, in the middle of the first flower-bed you come to, and plant an old moss rose against it, and afterwards use the knife sparingly, in three years, or, at any rate, in four years, you have a pillar rose. I once saw a common moss rose, fifteen feet high, against a stable wall, and I have no doubt the moss roses called Selina and Laneii, two of the best new mosses, would soon reach that height in very good rose soil, and against a wall; and if so with the old moss and its seedlings, why not with the old cabbage rose itself and its progeny? On the other hand, should you go to the young plantations and root up a young larch tree twenty or five-and-twenty feet high, and plant it in a hole in a corner of the lawn, after the manner of a post, not intending it to grow, and then plant the Felicite Perpetuelle or Bennett's Seedling against it, either of which would soon overtop your larch pole, if you give them good stuff to grow in, still you would only have a pillar rose. Now, any height between that of the said broomstick and this larch tree will do for a pillar rose, and it will be within the law to call it so, provided, at every pruning time you cut away all shoots which overtop the pole; but if you will allow the Dundee Rambler, or any other of the rambling roses, to grow beyond your twenty-feet-high pole or pillar, such shoots will assuredly grow on, and in time will bend over and come down to the very ground in many streams of living beauty, then, instead of a pillar rose, you have arose fountain. A "fountain of roses," however, is not of my manufacture; I was never so extravagant. Mr. Rivers is the architect who first planned and named this style of furnishing. The true origin of pillar roses, however, dates farther back than that of these fountains; it was on the first appearance of the hybrid Chinas and hybrid Bourbons that the foundation for pillar roses commenced, although it was some years afterwards before the idea of using them that way forced itself on the rose fancier. It was found impossible to keep these hybrids so dwarf as the old Provence and French roses. If they were pruned so close as was the fashion for dwarf roses, the hybrid ones would flower but very sparingly, and to this day some good growers are of opinion that we have not yet hit on the best way of pruning them, or on the proper season of pruning, even if we do know the right way. That question I intend to examine and discuss before I have done with the roses.

I well remember the disappointments we experienced, some twenty years back, in flowering the first good hybrid China rose that was sold—7s. 6d. and even 10s. 6d. was freely given for it, but after two or three years no gardener out of ten could flower it to his satisfaction. The more we pruned the more it would not flower; and the upshot of the thing was that a great prejudice against the new hybrids spread all over the country, caused by the first sample, which was, and is now, called George IV., a splendid dark rose, and such a grower! A true pillar rose, the parent plant of which is now a quarter of a century old, and still in good health, as our biographer will tell us, very likely, some of these days, unless, indeed, the newer race of hybrid perpetuals drive all other hybrids out of the market, as nine-tenths of our best gardeners have already driven them from their borders to high standards and rows of stately pillars, the only two forms in which they can over shine to the best advantage.

If I could reconcile myself to bush roses of the strong hybrid Chinas or hybrid Bourbons, it would be on this wise: I would choose a wide border that would hold four or five rows of them,—I would then plant them five feet apart each way, and never allow the knife to touch them in winter pruning. Every shoot would be allowed its full length until the flowering was over, and then, say early in July, I would thin out the shoots, not prune them, as I would a gooseberry bush in winter; in most cases, two-thirds of the shoots would be removed altogether, the very strongest, the weak ones, and the two-year-olds; the rest would be of medium growth, and would be left their lull length. After this cutting, the second growth, or Midsummer shoots, as we call them, would be sure to be too close to flower well next year. To remedy this, the whole would be looked over late in September, and all the crowded parts relieved by thinning, that is, the shoots to be removed would be cut as close to the stems which bore them as the knife could reach, that is our meaning whenever we advise thinning-out shoots of trees or bushes. This system, with some slight modifications, has been in use for some years among gardeners, but few of them have been bold enough to say so in print, because it is so much at variance with old-established rules. On the other hand, if we change these bushes into high standards we must prune a little after the thinning, at whatever time we choose to thin; not, however, because pruning is necessary for the health of the trees, or for increasing the bloom, but merely "for the look of the thing," to keep the head within reasonable bounds, and be well balanced all round.

For the same reason we prune them still closer when we have them against pillars, so that pillar roses, to keep a long time in good trim, must be thinned and pruned every year all the way up to the top, and no suckers, if possible, should ever be allowed to rise from the bottom of a pillar rose, for this reason, the youngest and healthiest shoots—as suckers are sure to be—are the readiest channels for the rising sap in the spring, and if the sap is allowed to run in that direction, what is to become of the shoots and branches which compose the pillar? Nothing, in short, but starvation, and the attacks of troublesome flies, red spider, and what not. It is true that a few suckers may become useful to screen bad management, by filling up bare places which the pruner should have foreseen and provided for; but to see suckers allowed for shifts of this kind under the eye of a good gardener, is as disgraceful to him as to see himself going about with a long beard.

Pillar roses, whatever be their height, look best when planted in straight rows, and all in one row ought to be as much as possible of the same height; they look remarkably well along both sides of a walk, either in dug borders or on grass, circular beds being cut out of the grass for the roots, the circles to be a yard wide, and the bottom of the rose allowed to spread out so as to hide all the bare soil, and to appear to a stranger as if it was growing directly out of the grass. When the pillar rose is first planted, the hole or bed for it on the grass should not exceed half-a-yard in diameter, for two reasons; the first of which is the temptation offered for planting some flowering plant for an edging to the rose, if the space was the full size at first, and although a judicious edging of the kind might look very pretty, it might prove a sad drawback to the experiment; and the second reason is the well-known aversion of all good gardeners to making a full provision for any fine bush or tree at the first planting, if it be on grass. We have found out, by long experience, that so long as we do not cramp the roots of such favourites, the holes for them cannot be too small at the first planting, and that it is best to increase the size of the hole year after year, or every two or three years, as the case may require, so that each time an immediate stimulus be given to the roots by the application of fresh compost as the roots increase. Besides, what an advantage it is for any of us who are not overburdened with money, that we can run the expense of providing for a row of pillar roses over so many years, instead of having it to do all at once, which is, perhaps, the greatest consideration of all. Purse gardening is all very well for those who can afford it, but it never carries the same credit with it as good management with small means, never fails to do. In some situations—as, for instance, at the end of a straight walk, or at both ends—the two opposite roses should be of the same kind; and when they reached the top of the pillars an arch might be carried over from pillar to pillar, and the roses trained over the arch. For these arches we ought to plant some of the evergreen climbing roses, and they would cover over the arch as soon as the others reached the top of the pillars. This arching of pillar roses is the very opposite of the festooning system, and would be a very good break between the pillar roses along one walk, and festoons on each side of the next walk turning from it in another direction.

There is nothing theoretical or hypothetical in these views; I have seen the whole of them in full perfection this very week in the gardens at Claremont, one of the finest seats in England, now occupied by the family of the late King of the French.

Now, after all this, suppose an amateur just beginning to take up the rose fancy, who has made up his mind to have some of all the sections in the manner treated of in the last few numbers of THE COTTAGE GARDENER, what shall we recommend to him for real pillar roses, seeing that almost all the sections furnish plants that may be so treated? But first of all, let us fix on some standard height for the pillars themselves. It must be quite obvious that if we exceed a given height, pillar roses will not make suitable accompaniments to a walk, however wide it may be, although as single objects, or in threes or fives, tall pillars would no doubt make a very striking effect. My own opinion is, that seven feet would be the proper height for a row of pillar roses, when they were planted in lines or rows along a walk; seven feet to be the right distance from the walk itself, and about ten feet from pillar to pillar in the row; and if there were two rows, one on each side of the walk, time pillars should stand opposite each other as true as possible; but in matters like this, which depend entirely on individual taste, I have no right or wish to push my own fancy;— the only part I would be absolute about, if I had the power, is that, whatever the height of the pillar may be, it should stand the length of its own height from the walk. Pillars were invented for roses nearly twenty years ago, and seven feet was then the average height recommended for the Hybrid Chinas, which soon followed on the heels of George the Fourth. The introduction of Hybrid Bourbons did not alter the height of the pillars; and if there was a patent law on the subject, such only would be entitled to pillars, and Chenedole being the finest of all the Hybrid Chinas, the first two opposite pillars would be covered with it, followed by old Brennus, Fulgens, Triomphe d'Angeres, and a host of other rivals, including two generals now prisoners at Ham, while Charles Duval and Coupe d'Hebe would probably dispute precedence among the Hybrid Bourbons; and for the second place of honour we have Las Casas, Paul Perras, and President Mole, striving against a new comer, Paul Ricaut.

Beaton Bibliography