Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One Tall Tale

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!


  1. It is beautiful but you are right, research first, but I admit to impulse buying too and probably we all do when it comes to a beautiful plant.
    Goldenray Yorkies

  2. I had this rose on my spring rose order a quite few years back and was disappointed when I was told that they were sold out. I knew it was a monster sized rose, but somehow that did not intimidate me. You have reminded me that I always meant to reorder it. The only problem now is that the trees have really filled out and it would get only half sun. Hmm...I wonder if Lady Banks would come to hate me for not giving it enough sun. Roses do love the sun.

  3. Cher - Oh, yes, we all impulse shop. But sometimes we get a big surprise!

    3dogs - I hope you get it this time. I love that it's evergreen. I do think it loves the sun, though. I've planted roses before where trees have filled in then had to move the roses. Maybe you could trim the trees a bit?

  4. Your photos are absolutely lovely - I'd forgotten how delicate the blossoms are. I have to confess to having one of these in MUCH too small a garden - a crazy urge to live dangerously or something overtook me. Hopefully pruning shears will come to the rescue... (Someone at a local garden center told me Sir Joseph named the rose for his wife b/c he was in trouble for something or other...) :)

  5. I can't help thinking I'd love to have a rose like that; I'd much rather have to do some hard pruning than look on impatiently as plants take years and years to grow into their planned size...

    Mind you, considering my struggles pruning a thorny climbing rose, the idea of a virtually thornless rose also seems very appealing.

  6. Thanks for sharing the history of the LBR..it's one of my favorites and I can't tell you how excited I was to learn that one came with our new house! Still patiently waiting for it to bloom, but it shouldn't be long now!!

  7. Stacy - that is so funny! I had not heard that tale! I guess that was the modern equivalent of sending the wife flowers.

    Soren - I agree. Thornless roses are fabulous to have. Wish there were more of them, but the ones there are are usually fabulous.

    Erin - I'm glad you got one at your new house, too. It is a beautiful rose in the right place.

  8. I am a terrible impulse rose buyer. Even though roses struggle from mold in this area. It is the constant torment for myself and my brother. We call each other and weep and pull out hair (not really, that was a bit dramatic). But we keep trying.

    Yellow roses are my favorites. I am not sure how a monster rose would fair in my yard,though.

  9. What a lovely history of the Lady Banks rose Holley! I havent seen these petite roses before nor do I have a single rose plant in my garden but I still love roses of any kind!

  10. lifeshighway - I love roses, too, and would have to keep trying also. I hope you find a beautiful yellow rose that does well for you eventually, so you can keep your hair. :)

    p3chandan - There are several plants that I love to see in other people's gardens, but they just don't do well for me, so I understand. I'm glad you enjoyed looking at Lady Banks.

  11. Isn't that yellow beautiful! Nothing beats a gorgeous rose.

  12. Great story! Lady Banks grows many feet into giant redwoods here, so I agree, she is not petite. But beautiful, graceful and thornless.

  13. I love snowdrops for the same reason: each one has a fascinating person and story behind it. It makes the plant so much more fun.

  14. I too love this rose. I do not grow it, but I love to see it in bloom. Our botanical gardens in Birmingahm has a 30ft pergola covered in it. Awesome..

  15. Kelli - I agree! Roses can take my breath away.

    Masha - I bet that is just beautiful. Supposedly, Lady Banks is said to grow in the South with wisteria, blooming at the same time. I've never seen it grown that way, though, but I can imagine it would be a beautiful sight.

    Carolyn - I agree. The stories really bring a whole new dimension to plant collecting. A little history is such a fun thing to know about a plant.

    Redneck Rosarian - I bet that is a beautiful sight, especially when in bloom.


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