Part of the lure of growing Old Garden Roses (roses dating back before 1836), is the history behind the rose. That was a time of chivalry, when men named roses after their wives and daughters. It was a time of exploration and discovery, when travels to other countries brought new and surprising plants to the western world.
This story begins with chivalry and exploration. It will end with fame. All told in the story of a rose, the Lady Banks. Rosa Banksiae. (There are more than one variety of this rose - they bloom either yellow or white.)
Lady Banks rose was found in China on a plant hunting expedition. These expeditions were no means a easy trek. These were life-threatening journeys through foreign territories. Hollywood could not come up with anything more action-packed than some of the dangers faced by these explorers.
And who paid for this expedition? The famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks. That's important, because when the plant was brought to him, he named it for his wife - thus the name Lady Banks. Wasn't that sweet?
But - if you're enthralled and want one now, just wait! You don't know the whole story! You see, I don't know how big the real Lady Banks was, but the rose named for her is not petite. She (the rose) grows so big she is considered a monster. A house-eater. Which is really sad because her thornless stems are a joy for the rose lover that is tired of being stuck with thorns. And even though the plant gets huge, her flowers are small. Each tiny flower is only about 1/2 inch wide, blooming in clusters. These clusters form the most beautiful corsages, fitting for a doll's wedding. She only blooms for a couple of weeks in spring, but she stays evergreen throughout the year. She grows in zones 7 through 10.
And now for the fame part of our story. The most famous Lady Banks rose is in Arizona, (the white variety) where it covers 8,000 sq. ft. and is over 100 years old! So, if you're looking for a large evergreen plant that blooms briefly in the spring, and can get as big as a tree, consider Lady Banks. But if you're looking for a sweet little rose to climb a small fence, remember: this little lady is one big mama!
Let's end this tale with a personal story of my garden. Did I mention I have two of these roses? I fell in love at the first sight of those petite little blooms and the thornless stems. I bought them on the spot, before I learned how large they would eventually become. After discovering this small idiosyncrasy, I transplanted them to places where they have much more space to spread out.
And, like all good tales, there is a moral to the story: Don't let a pretty bloom turn your head. It pays to do a little research before buying a rose!