The look and scent of roses adds a treasured touch to any garden, but many people shy away from planting them at the cottage. They know that a lot of the popular varieties in the south just won’t survive in Muskoka, where our summers are too short, our winters too cold, and our springs too unpredictable.
But gardeners are a determined bunch, and those who want roses have always found a way to have them. Even in the early 19th century, you could smell heritage roses blooming at farmhouses and villages across southern and central Ontario. (You can still see and smell many of these varieties in heritage gardens, like those at Black Creek Pioneer Village.) Not content with the varieties that were already available, breeders and growers worked to develop more varieties, selecting for colour, scent, bloom size or bloom amount, and, of course, survivability. There was so much demand for hardy roses that by the first decades of the 20th century, there was an official program at the Dominion Department of Agriculture to develop hardy roses that would survive in Canada.
Those projects have continued ever since. In the early 1970s, Agriculture Canada began releasing a series known as the Canadian Explorer Roses. With names like Champlain and Frontenac and Henry Hudson, they are gorgeous and tough – to qualify, they had to be disease-resistant, offer blooms all summer, and be capable of surviving winters down to minus 35 C with only snow for cover. Most are rated for zones two or three, and will grow quite well in Muskoka.
The quest for hardy roses took another step forward a few years ago, when the Canadian National Rose Program was established in Vineland. It was created by the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, an industry group that stepped in when Agriculture Canada announced it was cutting its rose breeding program. The nursery association took over all the genetic material from decades of breeding – and hired many of the same scientists – and launched the National Rose Program. The goal was simple: to develop roses that would survive winters of minus 40.
The program was launched in 2010, and by 2017 they had their first successes, roses that would together be known as the 49th Parallel Collection.
The first of them, Canadian Shield, was released in limited amounts in 2017, and released more widely this year. Spreading to more than a metre wide, and bearing bright red blooms all summer long, it was an instant hit, and was named the Plant of the Year at the annual Canada Blooms show in 2017.
Like the Canadian Explorer roses, the 49th Parallel Collection roses will bloom all summer, and require minimal care. They are pest-resistant so they need little or no spraying.
Canadian Shield will be followed by at least two more roses in coming years. Chinook Sunrise is being released in 2019. It blooms with a riot of coral colours set against dark green foliage. In 2021, we will see Aurora Borealis, a sunset pink rose. And after that, the plan is to release a new rose every year.
All these roses will be available to gardeners and landscapers in Canada, of course, but the real target is overseas. Gardeners in Scandinavia, and particularly in Russia, form an enormous, rose-hungry market, and Canada is rapidly becoming the world leader in developing hardy, pest-resistant roses.
So if you’ve always wanted to have roses at the cottage, but thought they were either too fussy or too tender, think again: if they will grow in Moscow and Yellowknife, you can be sure they’ll grow here. There is already an enormous variety of roses which we can plant for you, and there are many more on the way.