The Rose Book, a practical treatise on the culture of the rose (1864)  pp. 73-76

James Shirley Hibberd


THE rose is as luxuriant in its habits as in its beauty! It will not be starved, and it will disdain shabby treatment of every kind. It thrives in greatest perfection on a deep, strong, well-drained loam, and that must be liberally enriched with thoroughly-decayed manure. As the rose is somewhat of a gross feeder, any of the stronger manures may be advantageously employed in its cultivation: pigs' dung, night soil, superphosphate of lime, and stable dung; fresh manure should never come in contact with the roots. The dung must be well rotted and perfectly sweet, and it must be thoroughly incorporated with the soil before the roses are planted. But it does not follow that even if the soil of the garden is a deep strong loam, that therefore roses are sure to succeed on it. Leaving out the questions of aspect and climate, it is more a matter of actual experience than calculation as to whether roses will flourish in any particular spot, however well the soil may appear fitted for them. The roses must be tried on the soil, and until actual experience has proved its fitness for them, choice expensive kinds should not be planted in it. This point, however, is not often a difficult one to settle, for the mere observation of the condition of roses in neighbouring grounds, where the soil is of the same character, will generally determine what may or may not be done. But the fact should not be lost sight of that there is no mode of prejudging by the mere texture, depth, or character of the soil, even in conjunction with climate and situation, to what extent the spot is adapted for rose culture.

But supposing that you possess a deep strong loam, the first point is to ascertain the state of the drainage. Though roses are as fond of water as any of the choice garden plants we have, they will not endure to have it stagnate about them. The continuous winter rains lodging in a tenacious soil ruin them at the root, and devastate the collection; and unless there is a good natural drainage, means must be artificially devised for carrying off quickly all superfluous moisture. In laying out a rosarium the proper drainage of the soil would be the first consideration, and an efficient arrangement of drain-pipes would be the best mode of effecting it, unless, as just remarked, the sub-soil was of a character such as to render artificial drainage unnecessary.

Supposing the soil to be unsuitable, there would be great caution necessary in making the selection; and however carefully the selection may be made, it will still be necessary to improve the soil by any means available. The top spit of a pasture, especially of a loam inclining to clay, would be just the thing to cart into the compost yard, and lay up for roses. If turned once or twice for a season, and then incorporated with a liberal allowance of well-rotted stable dung, or the clearings from cucumber and melon pits, or with dung from a sheep walk gathered six months previously, it would form an admirable material in which to cultivate roses. This would have to be used according to the nature of the land requiring improvement. On a soil unfit for roses, merely because exhausted and poor, a layer of six inches turned in would perhaps be sufficient, especially if every year afterwards the plants had a dressing of dung; or if a few roses were wanted on a lawn in a soil too lean or hungry for them holes might be dug two feet deep and two feet across, and filled up with such soil, and the roses planted in them. In any case the soil ought to be brought to such a condition as to be fit to grow wheat or hops, and a good wheat soil is the very stuff in which roses are pretty sure to delight themselves and their proprietors.

When the utmost has been done to improve the soil, it may still be quite unsuitable for many of the choicer kinds; and where there is any reasonable cause for doubt it would be rash to plant extensively, and especially with expensive sorts. In fact it is not possible to decide to what extent roses may be grown on even the best soils until the thing has been tried, and therefore on one which bears the appearance of unfitness, let actual experiment determine before you risk much in the adventure. Many roses will make a good start in soils quite unfit for them, and when the first flush of youth is over they sicken and become worthless, or die outright; and on the best of soils for general purposes there are some sorts that refuse to make themselves "at home." Where Gloire de Rosamene does well you are pretty sure to find that La Reine turns consumptive, and vice versa. Mrs. Elliott is another that you cannot make sure of at all times, let the soil be what it may; nevertheless, in spite of such exceptional cases, those who love roses should take heart and wise counsel, and persevere cautiously, and there are but few spots in the whole area of the British isles where skill and patience will not succeed.

In the planting of a dry sand with roses those worked on Brier stocks are pretty sure to fail, for the dog rose demands a cool, moist, rich loam: sand, or any kind of loose shifting soil, it abominates. Here it is that roses on their own roots or on Manetti stocks prove especially valuable. Hybrid Perpetuals on their own roots are very accommodating, and when an uncongenial soil has been made the best of, those are the roses to risk upon it. Indeed, wherever there is a doubt about the suitability of a soil, roses on their own roots are to be preferred; for those that are worked are in an artificial condition, and less able to battle with adverse influences than such as from head to foot are "all of a piece," and carry their sap in continuous currents, the warfare between stocks and inserted buds being often greater than appears for a time, and even if trifling and of no moment when all external influences are favourable, every unfavourable circumstance aggravates it, and a bad soil most of all.

The other extreme of a heavy, wet clay bottom is to be met by an opposite practice in planting. Dog roses bear the effects of a wet bottom better than choice roses on their own roots, and if worked with strong-growing roses that otherwise would not survive on such a soil, the strength of the stock and its love of moisture will enable them to endure it; and Cabbage roses on their own roots will be the best kinds for dwarfs, because they also can fight against stagnant water better than most other kinds. Still, if you want roses to flourish and to last you must secure the best possible drainage, and provide two feet of rich, strong, hearty loam for every rose root you intend to plant. They like to bite the ground firmly, they like good living, and the only royal road to the rosery is in securing as far as possible the conditions which experience proves to be requisite.

As to situation, roses bear exposure well, and they like sunshine. A south-east aspect is the best, and it is advisable, if possible, to protect them from the cutting east blasts that tell so severely against vegetation of all kinds in early spring. In open grounds, beech, yew, or hornbeam hedges are good screens; but roses do not bear the drip of trees well, and need a full circulation of air about them to keep them healthy.