Under a Blanket of Roses: A Cautionary Tale


IMG_3257My Adventures with Climbing Roses

April has been such a beautiful month here in northern California, made more so by a few days of refreshing and long-hoped-for rains. Easter celebrations are over and I’m dreaming up new creations for my Flower Class as I enjoy these peaceful moments of springtime.

I’ve also been thinking about how we humans tend to take things for granted, and so easily dismiss as commonplace some of the most beautiful things that surround us in our lives.

IMG_3252For example, I was out in my back yard yesterday morning, and saw these gorgeous roses [at right] cascading joyfully down the wall. It was then that I realized that I have been taking for granted a massive expanse of climbing roses that cover most of the south side of my house! They are so much a part of my personal landscape that I hadn’t given the least thought to the fact that for the last few years, these amazing roses have provided a lush, thick blanket of crazy beauty over my head, a thicket of branches for friendly songbirds to nest in, and some very significant shade from the intense heat of the summer sun.

P1040315One day a few years ago, as I was wandering through the plant section of my local Walmart, I saw some climbing roses in full bloom, priced @ $9.99 each, no less. They were so pretty (have you discovered by now that I find it very difficult to resist the temptation of beautiful plants…?) and the idea struck me that I could plant a few of them along the long, bare south-facing wall of my house, which would break up the starkness of the wall and maybe even provide “just a bit” of shade and relief from the scorching summer heat. (Little did I dream that soon those innocent-looking little plants would cover the entire wall — but I’ll get to that….)

DSCF2293At that time, my son and his carpenter friend were looking for ways to make some extra cash, and after reassurances that yes, they were capable and no, they wouldn’t take the house down, we hired them to build a trellis along that south wall so we could plant the climbing rose bushes.

While they quickly drew up plans and bought a stack of lumber for the project, I grabbed two of the pink Cecile Brunner climbing roses and two Lady Banksias with creamy yellow flowers from Walmart. I knew nothing about the Banksias but had loved the soft pink Cecile Brunners since my childhood, where they grew in our garden and my flower-loving mother had taught me their names.

P1060622I was (and still am) very partial to the fresh, baby-pink C. Brunner roses; I adore their tiny rosy blooms and delicate scent, because somehow they have the ability to take me back to my childhood and my mother’s spirit. I would have purchased four of them without a second thought that day, but only two were available so I had to compromise by adding two of the Lady Banksias to fill in that huge space along the bedroom wall.

A couple of friends with Banksia rose experience warned me: “Be careful. Those things will grow to at least 30 feet or more!” But I laughed and dismissed their warnings as quite ridiculous, looking at the scrawny little rose vines in their black plastic pots and thinking, “No way! They’re dreaming. That could never happen!”

Looks like my friends knew what they were talking about!
            Looks like my friends were right… 

Here is where I confess to you that I am not a good “pruner.” That is just a fact. Others, like my daughters, can go out into a yard with clippers and pruning shears and whack away with delight and abandon till I fear there will be nothing left but desert.P1070207

As for me… I just let it all go, loving the way all those flowers and vines grow so happily and vigorously together – as if they were in the Garden of Eden. I just figure that if they were meant to be pruned and shaped, they would have grown that way!P1070199

This trait of mine has led to some expensive consequences. Paying gardeners to cut down a 30-foot-high wall of climbing roses soaring over our rooftop and threatening to invade the attic — that was one of them.

DSCF2445So my son Jonathan and his friend built a beautiful, functional and very sturdy trellis, much to my delight (and relief), and we planted the four rose plants under it along the wall – alternating the yellow roses with the pink ones. And I was very, very pleased!




Once they were planted, the roses grew like… well, yes, like weeds. Not only that but the runners of the more vigorously growing Lady Banksias obligingly provided a network of natural trellis so their slower-growing pink friends could join them on their enthusiastic climb to the skies! And before I knew it, they had all made it to the roof peak and were threatening to invade the attic through the vent. The situation had become drastic, and that’s when I had to face reality and call someone to get them under control.

 P1060620 P1000451



You might think I would have learned from my mistakes, but the truth is I have no regrets because honestly, I think it would be harder to change my non-pruning ways than it would be to keep hiring somebody to cut back the rose vines from time to time.

IMG_3538 IMG_3537 IMG_3539

Good thing this laissez-faire inclination was not my philosophy when it came to the raising of my seven exuberant children — because who knows how much farther off the garden path those little darlings would have wandered if I had not made at least some valiant efforts at training and “pruning” them!

If you’re curious to know more about my favorites, the dainty and captivating Cecile Brunners, here are two descriptions of these amazing climbers that I found online:

From David Austin Roses:

[Cecile Brunner is] a charming and reliable climbing rose bearing numerous, small, exquisitely formed flowers, like tiny hybrid teas. Their colour is a pale pink, deepening towards the centre. They hold their beauty long after the bud has opened. When cut, the flowers are sometimes known as ‘Sweetheart Roses’. The foliage is particularly fine and luxuriant and it is relatively thornless. Even though it does not repeat flower, it is certainly one of the most free-flowering climbers and is free of disease. 20 ft.

And from Dr. William C. Welch

Cecile Brunner is one of the most beloved and recognizable roses ever created. It was introduced in France by Joseph Pernet-Ducher in 1881. The original plant is a compact shrub 3-4 tall but the climbing form which was introduced in 1891 is even more vigorous and found more frequently in old cemeteries and homesites. The exquisitely formed soft, silvery formed pink buds make perfect boutonnieres and have a pleasantly sweet fragrance. They resemble perfectly formed miniature hybrid tea flowers. Cecile Brunner is affectionately known as The Sweetheart Rose and is a great gift for Valentines Day.

The climbing form is vigorous and naturally forms an umbrella shape ten or more feet tall and wide. It blooms profusely in the spring and fall but just sporadically in the summer months. The bush form blooms more consistently and is a good container specimen as well as hedge plant.

Like most of the other popular old roses Cecile Brunner can be grown on its own roots and is easily propagated from cuttings (for further information, readers may refer to my article on this subject in The Southern Garden section of the aggie-horticulture website on rooting roses). It is also widely available in containers at this time of year.

Roses thrive in sunny areas with well-drained soils. Established bush forms should be pruned in mid-February but it is best to wait till after the spring bloom to shape and prune the climbing selection. Roses grow well in sandy or clay soils but do especially well when it is amended with organic material such as composted pine bark or your own compost. Although able to survive with little additional fertilizer roses produce better when materials such as cotton seed or alfalfa meal, slow release commercial fertilizer or rotted manures are applied. Roses are relatively water efficient plants but bloom and perform better with occasional deep watering during extended dry spells.

4 thoughts on “Under a Blanket of Roses: A Cautionary Tale

  1. OK Now that you have a chapter for your book (this blog) what are you going to do for the next chapter? We are all waiting since this story has whetted our need for more wonderful stories about flowers and how they influence our lives. You have such a way of speaking your heart.


  2. Sydne, I too grew up with Cecile Brunners in the family garden, and like you, my mother taught us the names of all the flowers. Well, I don’t know if “taught” is the right word, but because these names were part of our everyday vernacular, we grew up knowing them all.


  3. A fabulous blog about one of my favorite roses. My “second” mother, Marian Leidig, now 101, gave my Mother a cutting of her Cecil Brunner in the 1940’s. It still flourishes and I’ve taken cuttings to plant in every house where we’ve lived. Definitely a rose with a long history of love,


    Liked by 1 person

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