Landscape Design for the Rosarian

There is something wonderful about passing a personal favorite rose – in my yard it is Purple Tiger, with its unique coloring and fragrance – every day as you come and go. The first task of a landscape designer is to complete thorough site analysis.  This includes a basic mapping of the property which can be as simple as a 1/4″ = 1′ scale drawing on graph paper.  Lot dimensions can be found on the property description of your annual tax statement or by requesting information from the plat maps at your local city planning office.

Additional dimensions can be measured in the field and added. Other information is also gathered – including descriptions of contiguous land use (what is next door), topography (changes in elevation), soil types, existing vegetation, microclimate areas, and the location of existing structures, utilities and special features.  In residential design having a questionnaire that the covers the needs, wants and dreams of the owners/occupants of the property is a useful tool.The second step of the design process is not a single step but rather the evolution of the overall design concept where numerous ideas are examined, combined and refined. 

It starts with simple rounded bubble or blob diagrams drawn on sheets of tracing paper placed on top of the base map.  These diagrams will show various possible alternatives in relationships between the expected uses of the property.  As the ideas are refined one variation or concept design will emerge that will seem to best satisfy all of the needs of the people and the particular site. 

Refinements will further define the spaces to be used by the people, the circulation patterns, allow for grading, utilities and service areas, and plan for vegetation. Plants are used for a variety of purposes in design – from creating focal points to blending architectural elements into the landscape. 

In general, vegetation will be described in terms of how it might meet design needs – as in looking for plant material with particular characteristics of size, shape, color, texture and bloom.

The final completed landscape design plan will define the character of the public spaces – those areas viewed or generally used by visitors.  It will also will define the private spaces – those used primarily by the residents for their needs and interests, including hobbies such as rose gardening and the service areas. 

This design plan will be refined to where the created spaces will be dimensioned, materials identified, additional structural elements defined, appropriate plant materials selected and a timetable suggested. Perspective sketches of the completed project may be included along with elevation drawings, if needed, and a planting plan detailing specific varieties and numbers of plants.

Roses with longer canes can be planted and trained to grow along a fence or over an arch. The planting plan is created by merging the concept design’s descriptions of plant needs by use and characteristics with actual plant materials. 

Rose growers can apply the basic principles to the placement of roses in their landscape.  Starting with the public space entry area of our residences, which logically begs for focus, we may consider adding favorite, or favored, roses to add color and fragrance potential. 

There is something wonderful about passing a personal favorite rose – in my yard it is Purple Tiger, with its unique coloring and fragrance – every day as you come and go.  Favored roses would include others with special characteristics of striking color, long bloom, pleasing fragrance and a height that puts the bloom at viewer level. 

These roses might be either container grown – adding a structural element – or planted in the ground.  Other focal points or accent locations – areas that you may wish to draw attention to – may be treated similarly.  Lucky for us, roses come with a variety of characteristics – color, sizes, textures, bloom period, fragrance, hardiness, etc. – which allows for multiple placement within the landscape.Most of us grow roses in separated beds, which might in fact be the correct placement for tender hybrids grown for competition in order to minimize maintenance and to handle winter protection constraints. 

Even these beds might be enhanced by placing especially fragrant roses at the entry points.  Many of our rose varieties can also be used to fulfill other landscape needs.  Roses, in particular varieties that do not need winter protection, may be used to add height, color and long season interest to cottage style flower beds.  In one mixed bed in my yard, within a microclimate created by accumulating snow, hybrid perpetuals flourish. 

Some of the more versatile roses, especially the hardy Canadian developed roses and the grand old garden rose varieties, may be used to soften architectural features when placed at building corners, the end of a fence or at a change in elevation.  Roses with longer canes can be planted and trained to grow along a fence or over an arch.  William Baffin, John Cabot, John Davis, Alexander MacKenzie and George Vancouver are good candidates here – with William Baffin being known for having the longest canes as well as complete winter hardiness. 

These roses can work to define space and to function as walls or even ceiling elements giving enclosure and scale to an outdoor space.  Tree roses might also be used as vertical elements.  Sometimes we look to plant material to provide privacy – visual and physical separation – from neighbors or for screening an unsightly view.  Similar plantings may frame, and therefore enhance, a welcome view or provide a backdrop for other plantings at some special times during the season.  Larger roses may fill this need.  Roses exist with enough variety – and some with tolerances for less than ideal conditions – that we can use them in foundation plantings where they may need to accommodate size constraints and other unique requirements.  Smaller roses would be terrific grown in mass plantings where they would read from a distance as a single unit. 

The smallest and lowest growing varieties might be used to border beds and walkways.  Other varieties, especially those heavily endowed with thorns, like the rugosas, would easily function as effective hedge material forming visual and traffic barriers.  Of course, don’t forget the roses that have special characteristics in addition to the beauty of their bloom, like R. glauca with the blue green foliage, R. eglanteria and Applejack with fragrant foliage and those such as R. blanda with great fall color and bright hips.

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