American Rose Annual, 24: 20-23, (1939).
Hybrid Perpetuals in the Far North
Percy H. Wright
Wilkie, Saskatchewan, Canada
[Scanned and distributed by Henry Kuska, Nov 19, 1999]

EDITORS NOTE.—For many years we have been discussing rose hardiness because we believe that all America belongs to the rose in some one of its forms. Always the desire is to have finer flowers, richer colors, even though bitter winter winds endanger the plants. Here is detailed a method used in the 40 degree territory to obtain good roses.

*Vilna is north of latitude 54 degrees in a country of bitter cold winters.—EDITORS

Miss Cecilia Bell, and her brother, George Bell, were early settlers in the district of Vilna,* Alberta. Canada, north of Edmonton, nearing the area where many roses quite hardy in the more southerly parts of the Prairie Provinces have proved decidedly tender. The experiences of the Bells in growing Hybrid Perpetuals are a stimulus to all rose-lovers. I first got into touch with the Bells in 1935, when they sent me suckers of the semi-double strain of the native rose [R. woodsii], since named Athabasca. At that time Miss Bell wrote that her brother considered the flowers of the Hybrid Perpetuals so much superior to those of the Hybrid Rugosas that when first planting roses on his homestead he had chosen them. Roses of both types, he noted, required winter protection in the climate of northern Alberta, and since this was so, and since only a little additional care was needed for the protection of the better type, why not give them a trial? It is notable, though, that he did not choose the Hybrid Teas.

However, the experiment was not started without study, and, seen in the light of the results, some remarkably good judgment. First, he grafted scions of the varieties of his choice upon roots of the wild roses, either R. Macouni or R. acicularis, the common species of northern Alberta.

Secondly, he devised his own method of protection. When winter was due, the Hybrid Perpetual plants were cut back to 6-inch stems. Over this stem was placed a box 1 foot square and 1 foot deep, filled with sawdust and provided with a cover. Straw was piled over all. As the rose plantation was beside a good hedge, in the lee of it from the direction of the prevailing winds, the first blizzard of winter covered the whole several feet deep with a drift of snow.

*The pictures sent, which it is not practicable to reproduce, show vigorous Hybrid Perpetuals about 3 feet or more in height in full and fine bloom—EDITORS.

The photographs* show the success of the plan. After fifteen years the plants originally grafted were still thrifty and floriferous, and the later pictures, taken July 12, 1938, show the recent years, too, have been no less kind than the earlier. The Bells, it would appear, have discovered the secret of growing quality roses even close to the northern limits of settlement.

Comment is in point upon both the grafting on wild-rose stock and the method of protection. No one, as far as I am aware, has ever advanced a theory that grafting a tender rose, or a tender fruit tree, upon a hardy stock increases its intrinsic hardiness. No line of reasoning would lead us to expect any such gain. And yet, the practical result may very well be the same as though there were a direct influence.

The wild species seem to have adjusted themselves to the hours of sunlight of their native habitat in such a way that growth will cease, and the hardening process begin, at the approach of winter. In western Canada the wild roses commence to take on the autumn coloration about September 1, at which time sharp frosts sometimes occur, and growth should be nearing its end. It seems common sense to believe that when the wild roots try to cease work for the year, the long-season roses grafted upon them would experience a forced maturity. There is no necessity to suppose that the wild understock would entirely dominate the situation, for we may more easily suppose that between root and stem an exchange of hormone materials takes place, and that the ripening of the wood of the grafted portion of the plant is somewhat in advance of what it would be if on its own roots, or if growing on roots of a long-season species. Personally, I have little doubt that the survival and vigor of the Bell roses is to be attributed in no small measure to the use of the wild understock. In any case, about the only alternative for a hardy stock (at least if already grafted plants are to be purchased) is Rugosa. This is an everblooming rose, about half-hardy in western Canada, and a possibility occurs that the late autumn cell-activity of everblooming roses would make them ineffective toward inducing early maturity of plants worked upon them, though I have never known anyone to bring forward a theory that it would be so. These remarks, however, are far in advance of controlled experiment.

 R. Macouni and R. acicularis are roses that sucker freely, which habit makes them to some extent undesirable for understocks. In regard to this, Miss Bell writes:

"Ordinary cultivation takes care of most of the suckers. Some have risen 6 feet or more from the root, after over eighteen years, while some have grown so close in that a knife was needed to remove them. Perhaps not more than one or two per plant will come up each summer. The grafted tops grow thriftily, too. This year Frau Karl Druschki has a shoot almost 5 feet high, and several plants of Mrs. John Laing are 4 feet."

To return to the topic of protection by sawdust in wooden boxes, it will be noted how neatly the method avoids the great difficulty of protecting roses in the extreme North, namely, bringing moist earth into contact with unripe stems for too long a period. Covering by earth seems to be a method of protection much less safe in the Far North than in the intermediate areas, probably because the lack of ripeness in the wood at time of covering induces rapid decay. Covering the semi-hardy roses by earth, however, is evidently as good.

The second feature of the protection given is the advantage taken of the deep snowdrifts. Recent researches into the temperatures of the soil at various depths, made at Winnipeg, Manitoba, reveal the marvelous insulating value of snow. The Bell roses, asleep in their little boxes, in seasons when snow comes with, or before, any extensive cold, may often be called on to withstand a temperature never lower than 10° F., even though arctic storms rage overhead and sub-zero weather continues unabated for three or four months.

The success of the Bell plans for growing roses of the highest quality is given, not to induce rose-growers in other lands to adopt the same methods, but as a source of inspiration. Their experiences are not without lessons of general usefulness, but what is needed is evidently, in every case, a study of local conditions in the light of better understanding. This applies to all latitudes, not merely the Far North.