Serious rose lovers won't let freezing temperatures, snow, or ice keep them from growing some of the most fabulous flowers for the garden. But gardeners in the western section of the United States and Canada can find it difficult to think of roses as romantic additions to the garden, because the plants just keep dying.
But there's no need to resist the sight of a rose or pass up the intoxicating fragrance -- there are great roses for cold climates, many bred specifically for the harsh realities of winter.
If ever there were a call for roses growing on their own roots, it's here. The norm for decades has been to grow roses grafted onto hardy rootstock; the rose we want goes on top and a hardy, aggressive rootstock goes underground. But cold weather, along with other factors, can weaken and kill the top part of the rose -- the one you really want -- leaving you with flowers on stems that grow from the rootstock.
Own-root roses grow on their own roots, so you need never be concerned when you see a stem growing up from the ground -- it's the same rose you chose. Some gardeners find own-root roses slower to establish, but the payoff is big.
Now how will you choose from the many kinds of roses suited to cold climates? Here are some to consider, all hardy to Zones 3 or 4.
Rugosa roses are known for their tough constitution, but some can have a bit of a wild look. Good thing there are hybrids that look just as refined as any other shrub in your garden. 'Hansa' blooms all summer with fragrant double magenta-color flowers. It grows up to 6 feet in a vase shape, so put it in the middle of an island bed for effect. The flowers of 'Therese Bugnet' are a softer pink but still wonderfully fragrant; this rose has reddish stems that look lovely in winter against the snow.
Not all rugosas are pink. Robusta ('Korgosa') blooms continually with eye-catching single scarlet flowers, and the highly fragrant double white flowers of 'Blanc Double de Colbert' light up a garden bed.
The Explorer series from Canada offers possibilities for beautiful, tough roses -- and several could be considered short climbers. 'Alexander Mackenzie', with double raspberry-red flowers, and 'John Cabot', with double bright pink flowers, bloom repeatedly throughout the season and can be grown against a wall or on a trellis (both are fragrant -- another bonus).
'Henry Hudson', with semidouble white flowers from pink buds, grows only about 2 -1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It makes a great fragrant hedge.
'William Baffin' can be a tall shrub or a short climber. Its semidouble raspberry-pink flowers with ruffly petals keep coming all season long. It, too, could be a hedge -- but at 7 feet high, a tall one.
'Morden Centennial' is another Canadian-bred rose. Its double rich-pink flowers appear singly or in small clusters. It has a light fragrance and flowers continually. The flowers are followed by red hips for extra decoration.
'Prairie Joy', with fully double pretty-pink flowers that are packed with petals, is fragrant and keeps repeating. At 5 feet high and wide, it will be the showcase of a bed.
Roses bred by Dr. Griffith Buck of Iowa State University were meant for harsh winter conditions. Try 'Winter Sunset', with its double creamy-apricot flowers that have a fruity fragrance. At a mere 3 feet by 3 feet, it's a rose you can tuck into the border or place at the corner of the house.
'Distant Drum' supplies color like you've never seen before. The double flowers have a center that is almost tan surrounded by rings of lavender petals. The whole flower ages to a mauve. It's very fragrant and continues to bloom all season. At just 4 feet by 3 feet, you can fit in this one almost anywhere, too.
There may be snow and ice in the winter, but dreams of those fabulous roses will keep any gardener going.