Drift Roses For Landscapes

Roses used to be easy. They grew on their own roots and they were tough — there are still rose rustlers in Texas who seek out roses that have survived in cemeteries and around abandoned farmhouses without any care.

Then roses got fussy. They needed spraying and coddling, and they were lined out in prissy rows.

Good news — roses are easy again. In the past few years, landscape roses have caught our fancy. Tough, long-blooming and useful in any garden style, these small shrubs are making a big impact.

One fine example is the Drift series, from Star Roses, a joint branding between Europe-based Meilland International and Conard-Pyle, a U.S. company. Drift roses are smaller than most landscape or ground-cover roses, and that makes them fit into just about anyone’s garden.

Drift roses come in four colors: pink, coral, peach and red. All of the cultivars come from crosses that included the fine polyantha rose ‘The Fairy,’ which produces an abundant amount of pink flowers, so you know the series got off to a good start.

Drift roses grow well in many situations, including pots; so, even if your sunshine is limited to the tiny patio outside your condo, you can still have roses. Place a pot of Peach Drift (‘Meiggili’), which has a rounded form, at a sunny corner of the patio, and you’ll still have room for a table and chairs. Plus, you’ll have flowers until fall.

“There are very few days without flowers,” says Jacques Mouchotte, director of research for Meilland International, of the spring-through-fall bloom time of the Drift series.

Many years of watching and waiting go into breeding these floriferous shrubs. Mouchotte explains that the seedling crosses get a good start because they aren’t moved for the first four years. Instead, after the first year the 3,000-square-meter greenhouse, which is on tracks, is rolled away; so the new plants get indoor and outdoor experiences without transplant shock.

After selecting the best of the bunch, Mouchotte presents them to breeders — he likens it to fashion week in Paris. Those roses selected are sent to trial gardens around the world.

Eventually, the results are seen in our gardens, where they can play many roles: They make good accent plants and can create a low hedge around vegetable beds or along pathways.

Anchor the corner of your front garden with three or five Red Drift (‘Meigalpio’) plants for a substantial mound of color that lasts for months. Or intersperse Peach or Coral Drift (‘Meidriflora’) in the border with perennials that bloom for just a few weeks.

They grow fast but stay small –a seemingly contradictory description but one that fits plants that top out at about 2 feet high and wide; Pink Drift (‘Meijocos’) is the lowest — it creeps along, much as its parent, ‘The Fairy,’ can do.

Not only do the colors distinguish the four cultivars, but also the flowers. Pink Drift is a single, blowsy sort of flower, while coral, peach (dark in bud, pale in flower) and red are full of petals, and their stems are full of flowers.

One reason the Drift roses continue to bloom is that during the year, they continue branching and send up ground shoots that then bloom.

What was that about “ground shoots?”

That means these roses are not grafted, but instead grow on their own roots. Own-root roses make it easy for the gardener, because after an extremely cold winter, the top growth (and the flowers you want) of a grafted rose may weaken and die, to be overtaken by the vigorous rootstock (and the flowers you don’t want).

Drift roses don’t set hips, and even though rose hips are often part of a rose’s ornament, what you give up in hips you make up for in maintenance, because no deadheading is needed to continue the flowering.

Glossy green, disease-resistant foliage adds even more attraction to the small shrubs. Although flowering tapers off in winter, don’t be too hasty to micromanage your Drift roses. Wait until the end of winter, then cut them back to about 4 inches high.

I dare say you could even use an electric weed trimmer on them. That would be particularly useful if you’ve lined your front walk with Drift roses and don’t want to crawl up and down the pavement with Felcos in hand.

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