great shrub: rosa glauca, my must-have rose

ROSES HERE AT A WAY TO GARDEN are notably scarce, but there is one kind I actually have in multiple—and think that you should, too. It’s Rosa glauca, the blue-leaved rose, and that’s why I grow it—for its beautiful foliage.

I first came to know Rosa glauca as its former name of Rosa rubrifolia, meaning red-leaved, because they’re tinged with red, as are the stems. Whatever the name, it has arching canes that may get to about 6 or 8 feet tall in time, forming a roughly vase-shaped shrub, and is hardy to a brutal Zone 2 (where I never wish to test it, thank you).

The foliage color will be best if the plant is grown in light shade, emphasis on light, but don’t ask this (or any rose) to do in the dark or fungal problems will prevail. In early June here, small (perhaps inch and a half) single vivid pink flowers are produced, followed by good-sized orangey hips.

I have my older R. glauca planted with the big-root geranium, Geranium macrorrhizum, at its feet, whose hot-pink flowers coincide with those of the similarly colored rose’s, and with lots of Nectaroscordum siculum (an Allium cousin whose mauvey-blue-green blooms, below, complete the picture) poking up out of that.

nectaroscordumIt is a strong addition to a mixed shrub border, where the glaucous foliage is an especially vivid contrast to purple-leaved things like smokebush or Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo.’ Blue-leaved grasses such as Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass) would be great nearby; if the shrubbery this rose is part of casts enough shade, even blue hostas would be wonderful in the mix below. You get the idea.

I just cut back my oldest plant right near the ground, and being the tough thing it is, it immediately pushed up many strong canes (above) in the spirit of the intended rejuvenation. Look at the color of the fresh stems. Delicious.

Because R. glauca is a species (non-hybrid) rose, it will self-sow around after setting hips, and the babies will come true to form—looking like the parent. Not a bad thing if you happen to want more, and have the required patience.

I have to confess, some of the newish nonstop-blooming rose series are looking pretty appealing lately, even to my non-rose-lover’s eye. The ‘Drift’ series, for instance, and also the ‘Knockout’ ones keep calling to me at the garden center, though for now here it’s still just me and my Rosa glauca and a rugosa (love those hips, as does the wildlife) and one super-hardy climber, ‘William Baffin’ from the Canadian Explorer series.

So let me ask you this: What’s the rose you can’t live without?

June 13, 2010


  1. Mary says

    Oddly, the one rose I can’t live without is the one I am living without: rosa rugosa “Blanc Double de Coubert.” It is the nearest thing to a gardenia scent this southern transplant to the northwest can get (me, not the rugosa rose!) without a greenhouse. It is a pure white, which is a sweet pleasure against the fresh apple green foliage rugosas are known for. I have another white rugosa at present (sorry but I can’t recall the name), and it has the palest pink buds which open into stunning single bright white flowers, and a lovely ethereal (read mild) scent– close, but no cigar once you’ve smelled the Blanc DdC. Have to agree the rosa glauca is a fabulous rose, too, never fails to please.

    • says

      Welcome, Mary. I wish I had the white rugosa, too, but somehow I seem to have a profusion of things here that are Pepto-Bismol pink. Poor planning! :) Glad to “meet” you and hope to hear from you again soon. (And at least you landed in good gardening territory in the PNW — nice!).

      @Dee: Good name for a rose, that ‘Carefree Beauty,’ huh? Truth in marketing! :)

      @Maureen: It may be totally happy in the sun for you. My observation is that here it just appears more vividly blue and happier in a tiny bit of shade — versus out in the beating midsummer midday sun. But it’s a rose and will happily live through a sunny locale. Frankly, I think many blue-leaved plants look better out of the toughest sun, where you can really enjoy their color.

  2. says

    I do not have Rosa glauca, but our climates are different . . . . My personal favorite out of all I grow is R. ‘Carefree Beauty’. It is an astounding workhorse of a rose with no blackspot. A wonderful introduction by Dr. Griffith Buck.~~Dee

  3. brenda says

    I got rosa glauca in a trade last year and have been wondering what to do with it. Thanks for letting me know how large it gets, it’s just a small baby plant now, but even in its small stage the foliage is attention getting. I guess I will let it get bigger before I move it on out to a shrub border.

    But the same question as Maureen – why shouldn’t it be grown in full sun like other roses? Do the leaves crisp up and burn?

  4. Jean says

    ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ a climber . It has single pink flowers that have that very old fashioned true rose scent. Also no thorns! I have it on the front porch, so I can smell her everytime I come in the front door.

  5. Benjamin says

    I’ve got a rangy double pink number that’s a cutting of a rose my great-great-great-great aunt Rhoda brought with her when she married and moved from southern New Hampshire to central Vt in the 19th C. It’s pretty but here more for its history than its merits as a shrub. The rose I really love, however, is Madame Plantier, an awesomely scented, white rambler that appreciates the morning sun/afternoon shade that is the most light I can offer anything here. It has an unfortunate habit of flopping over in the rain and the buds sometimes wither if it’s very wet, but boy am I a sucker for that old-fashioned rose look and sweet scent. I’ve also take a hint from your book, Margaret, and I planted a clematis “General Sikorski” to climb through it.

  6. Leslie says

    My most favorite rose is Therese Bugunet (spelled something like that) the toughness of a rugusa background with old rose scent and pink full flowers. It blooms for about 3 weeks now and then again in the fall when it cools off.

  7. Kali says

    I admit to loving the ‘Rainbow Knockout’ rose. Okay, up close they are a bit pedestrian, but at a distance they provide a spectacular non-stop bit of coral-y pink color that gets way too much attention for being so easy. Glad I gave in to them!

  8. Olga says

    I like the explorer series roses (on their own root) because they are reliable, hardy and generally maintenance free, but they can get HUGE. My favorites are the Austin roses Heritage and Mary Rose that are casually elegant with heavenly scent and repeat blooms until freeze up.

  9. Deirdre says

    Rosa glauca is the one and only rose I can’t live without. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, and searched until I had one of my own. I plant it wherever I move. I give seedlings to friends and family. You forgot to mention the how nice cinnabar hips and violet stems are in winter. I cut out a few of the oldest stems every year, so it maintains good stem color and a fountain shape.

    I’ve a preference for single or semi-double roses in general. I love the grace and simplicity of them. ‘Carefree Delight’ is a charming rose, too.

  10. says

    For Colorado gardeners Rosa glauca is a Plant Select for 2010. I wish I had room for it, but it is too big for my yard. I love Sally Holmes and 4th of July, both climbers.

  11. Leslie says

    I’m partial to yellow roses, so Carefree Sunshine was going to be the only rose in my garden. But a friend talked me into buying Westerland, bloom unseen, so now I also have what is to my eye a garishly colored hot orangy-peach colored climber. Fortunately (or unfortunately) my husband loves it.

  12. Rachel says

    My can’t live without is Golden Wings. Gorgeous big pale yellow singles that fade to cream. I have glauca too and that’s no slouch. If you like glauca, check out Louis Riel, a flawless relative with delicate white flowers and the blue foliage.

  13. says

    I just got 2 Nahema Delbard pink climbers grafted onto Fortuniana root stock to make it Florida friendly. The roses are the most beautiful little blush pink beauties. I have high hopes for many years of enjoyment as it grows up our new shed.

  14. barbara says

    Hi Margaret! Saw this wonderful rose from afar at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va. It was spectacularly beautiful and several in my group were drawn to it with comments like “What is it, a lorapetalum?” and so on. The foliage was so unusual for a rose. Two of us were impressed enough to put it on our must have list and so I thank you for the tutorial on how to care for one. It will be an addition to my garden in the fall.

  15. Alejandro says

    I love rosa glauca too. The challenge it poses is that if you want to have your hips you should let it flower (the flowers are pretty but nothing to brag about) and if you let it flower the foliage doesn’t get to look at it’s best. So, as you mentioned, wait until you have babies sprouting around it and then you can grow two bushes: one for the perfect foliage (probably the one in semi shade: get rid of the flowers) and another one for the hips (full sun).

    Regarding rugosas, I made the mistake of chosing a double one: it doesn’t set hips.

    Rosa geranium moyesii is also a beautiful shrub that works well even without its very pretty single red flowers.

    The fairy and bonica would be my other choices: tough, carefree, hardy, beautiful.

  16. Brian G. says

    I just planted mine before I left to come back to the city this afternoon. You are a bad influence ;-)

    What happened to your Monday podcast?

  17. Carol C. says

    I love ‘The Fairy’ as well. Love the non-stop blooming – I sometimes have them in December – and I love the babies that come from layering. Now I have to get a glauca. Thanks for the education – it sounds like a great addition to a new mixed shrubby border I want to plant after we rip out a long hedge of wing bark euonymous.

  18. Deirdre says

    Rachel, Where did you get Louis Riel? I looked online and only found one source that wants $45 for a custom propagation. I also learned a little bit about Canadian history.

  19. DeborahB says

    I love rosa glauca best, and I also have a very happy Therese Bugnet. Another fav is an old gallica rose that a friend gave me that is tough as nails and blooms in a stunning pinkish purple.

  20. Anne says

    I have Henry Hudson below a bedroom window and just added George Vancouver, both explorer roses on their own roots. I am envious of the fragrance mentioned in other postings, but Henry and George do well in zone 4B.

  21. says

    Honeysweet by Griffith Buck is my all time favorite rose…Margaret, can you possibly share a resource for Honeysweet? I have had no luck finding this rose locally and did not have the heart to take it from my old garden when we sold our house. If anyone can help…I know you can!

    • says

      @Donna: I can see that one of the country’s biggest wholesalers is still listing it (and therefore presumably producing it) so I’d start there, at Bailey Nurseries (their fields are in Minnesota and Oregon and elsewhere, but they sell to various regions).

      Bailey’s has a zipcode-based search function for retailer locations, and if you can find a retail nursery near you that deals with Bailey’s already, they can get it for you on their next order from them.

      That’s how I get lots of things, sort of special order, by tracking down who has accounts with the wholesaler that produces something. Good topic for a post, actually…thanks. :)

      A PS to this comment: I found it listed subsequently at Roses Unlimited by mail.

  22. says

    I also love Rosa Glauca and have given friends babies from my garden. My other favorite is Lillian Gibson… a gorgeous pink climber that blooms with a flourish with thousands of blossoms.

    • says

      Welcome, Dj Vail. Nice to hear your passalong glauca story, and off I go to look for photos of that climber you recommend. Uh-oh. :) See you soon.

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