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 ‘Diabolo.’ 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, 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, alongside an old Rosa rugosa that still suckers and blooms and sets big hips like mad, decade after decade.

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

  1. Jackie says:

    Hi again, Margaret.
    I took your suggestion and cut out the old large canes with some tweaking and tidying. Now I have a much more manageable R. glauca with some of the original shape intact. And it also looks like it has overcome the dreaded powdery mildew! Very happy with the result. Thanks for your guidance, Margaret!

  2. Miryelin says:

    Hi, I got my first Rosa Glauca this summer even though I hadn’t found the perfect spot for it yet. As soon as I saw it at the nursery, I had to have it. The other roses I absolutely love are Knockout, Topsy Turvy and Carefree Wonder. I guess I tend to prefer single petal or simpler roses. Like you, it took me a while to start growing roses, but now I truly enjoy them and get lots of compliments on them too.

  3. ellen says:

    I love the rosa rugosa that grows in profusion on Cape Cod. The scent is intoxicating and it’s super tough. Some stands I see are mowed to the ground every spring without apparent damage. It’s a toughie to have in the yard though, unless you have a large area you can spare, because it spreads like crazy and is spiny as all get out.

    1. margaret says:

      I can’t say with certainty, Heidi. They stick to other plants here at my place (ostrich ferns, raspberry bushes…) and never seem to bother my very few roses, all of which are species types (this one and rugosa).

          1. margaret says:

            I have a fence, Joey, so I cannot say first-hand, but generally they do love roses, so I see no reason why they would not dine on this one, too.

          2. Jane says:

            Joey, I have three young starts – about 3 ft each – of Rosa glauca in my yard (zone 6a, western NY). One is in full sun in a garden out by the driveway lamppost. One is up by the south wall of the house and is the best to bloom and set hips. The last is in the back border under a tree which has been “directionally pruned” by the power company. So, it gets mostly shade but the sun does encourage it from the pruned side. This is the bluest of the three.
            The deer are frequent visitors to our yard and enjoy browsing on many things: the hosta, of course; the yews peeking through from our neighbor’s border; the new shoots of our young Franklin tree! Everything and anything while they decide if they like it. However, I am happy to report that they have not once, to my knowledge, been tempted to try the glaucas! Go ahead and give it a try!

  4. shannon says:

    I see a lot of knock-out roses around the place. I don’t like them: they have no scent, and their shape is ungainly. They look like a cartoon drawing of a rose bush to me.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Shannon, for your perspective on those landscape roses. There are a couple of colors I like but I don’t have any!

  5. Karen Richard says:

    I planted one of these in my garden in a sun dappled corner about fifteen years ago. It has flourished and is glorious. The colour of the foliage is wonderful and the hips are a bonus in autumn. The shady corner is also graced with a Ferdinand Pichard and Chapeau de Napoleon with Alchemilla and Pulmonaria covering the ground. It is all a bit scruffy (shabby chic is a bit grand for a description) but at this time of year, it is heaven. I love the architecture of the rosa glauca giving structure to the border.

    Thank you for a great article.

  6. Angie says:

    Eastern Washington gardener here, zone 7a, on the edge of the shrub steppe. I don’t have a lot of experience, but last summer we put in hybrid teas: Peace, Miss All American Beauty, and Chrysler Imperial in the front yard. Totally awesome scents, great for cutting.

    1. Penny says:

      I have a blue leaf rose with a couple of canes that shot up to about 10 feet tall out if the original bush. How would i root it and should i cut them back to the ground? I would like to train them to a trellis but afraid to ruin the bush. I also have two Rosa Rugosa rose bushes and planted a couple if years ago do i cut them back to the ground?

      1. margaret says:

        Typically that rose is grown on its own roots, not grafted; are the new canes the same leaf color and thorn color and so on?

  7. sheryl allen says:

    Thank you for reminding us of this wonderful rose – truly a standout. Perhaps my #1 is Madame Alfred Carriere – pretty much thornless and disease free – repeat bloomer – delicious fragrance…..next Compassion – multi pink/coral/yellow…fragrant, repeater – but some black spot and thorns.
    Also Ghislaine de Feligonde, Heritage…..I’ll stop here.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I have several of the rugosas – my favorite is Rosearaie d’la Hay. It does get big – and spiny – wonderful fragrance; my little granddaughter said “It stays in my nose,” with a big smile. Some of the rugosas have only moderate scent. These are disease resistant and will actually drop their leaves if sprayed. Do try to get an own-root plant. Even if winter-killed, which would be pretty unusual, it will come back from roots. Nearly all of them are toughies.

    2. Shan says:

      Blanc Double de Coubert will fill your yard with fragrance, and isasuper tough rugosa. It’s only bad feature is how the spent white blooms look. Love my R. glauca!

  8. Cindy Donahey says:

    Dr Huey’s root stock rose. It has dark crimson roses that exude color. A lot of budded roses die and this Rose grows up. It,blossom a lot,in the spring and a little in the fall. This was a Cemetery Rose, that symbolized the split blood of The Christ and in Victorian times, it was called the syrup rose. You boil the petals to make crimson rose water, and then add the petals,to sugar. This Rose can get huge. It is not especially prized today.

  9. Cene says:

    I cant live without roses. Faves are New Dawn, Cecile Brunner, any David Austin antique, and of course- knock out series. Fabulous in the landscape.

    Cannot possibly deprive myself of the heady scent of the first full on flush of spring, perfectly positioned to intoxicate. Ahhhhhhh

  10. Rose says:

    I’m not a big rose fan either, but I too love Rosa glauca ever since I saw its blue leaves in the National Arboretum knot garden. It was espaliered tightly against a low brick wall. But I have never found a specimen to buy where I live. I have a grey lattice pergola that I am now covering with Climbing Pinkie as a nearly thornless replacement for the very thorny and aggressive New Dawn. ND covered the lattice pergola well but also reached out everywhere else and I got tired of doing battle with the thorns. I also have a couple of small shrubs of “The Fairy” – thorny but not a pest.

  11. Jan Vallar-Gillette says:

    Oh how I love my Grootendoorst Red and Pink roses.(Small, carnation size, not much scent) They bloom so freely all summer. The red bush is at least 10 feet by 6 feet and is a showstopper at the back corner of the yard. Another favorite is Hansa which smells delicious and is also a vigorous plant. I have had these for at least 30 years. Never a problem.

  12. Dolores Boule says:

    I HAD a lovely William Baffin rose bush with long, flying-in-the-wind branches.I was told to tie them loosely horizontally. I purchased black iron gates to espellier
    Them as told. It proceeded to spend two years dying and I was very upset to lose this lovely rose. Is it best NOT TO plant another rose in that same spot?

    I would love to try your rosa glauca, but I don’t know how much longer I will be in this house.

    How old is your Wm. Baffin?

  13. Gail Pell says:

    I love my Fairy rose – here in Zone 5 Ontario it is still blooming with snow on the ground in October and no issues with bugs, mildew or black spot!

  14. Cathleen Maloney says:

    Having a small yard, I have to be picky and careful about the roses I plant, but I had to have some. I chose knockouts and they are spectacular. I ruthlessly trim them back severely every year in early spring and shape them however I desire. They come back like gangbusters and reward us with steady blooms even after frost. Their soft scent is wonderful. Two of them are by the garden gate and as friends enter they always stop to smell the blooms and I always hear, “mmmm”. I have a white knockout in my back garden and it is a showstopper also. It buds out yellow and turns white as it blooms. The knockouts are resistant to disease and pests. I would love to try the Rosa Glauca, if I can just find a spot! Thank you for sharing your garden, Margaret.

  15. Chris says:

    If your zone allows, I’ve had good luck with the Hybrid Musk varieties. They have good rebloom in flushes all summer, some offer a nice light scent, and in my garden (borderline zones 5 and 6) they thrive with no spraying and little fertilizer.

    Rosa glauca is lovely and tough as nails, but do remember, it gets big! And as Margaret points out, pruning back just invites more growth.

  16. Matthew Cairns says:

    Yesterday, I listened to your organic roses podcast with Adam Glas from May 22. I had almost given up roses, after struggling with my zone 5b/6a climate and japanese beetles and aphids and blackspot and deer and… Thank you both; I’m now reinvigorated! I need replacement Rosa glauca, one of my all-time favorites, as well. That said, I cannot live without Zepherine Drouhin, New Dawn, Variegata di Bologna, and David Austin’s Bow Bells & Graham Thomas. LOVE

    1. Carolyn says:

      I paid $25 for my R. Glauca in 2011 at a nursery in Rapid City, SD. You might check with your own local nurseries, or catalogs of more northerly nurseries for a source. At six years old and in almost half shade, it’s gotten at least 7 feet tall – I’m wondering if I ought to treat it more like a climber. May have to trim back the neighboring lilac to allow it to fill in a bit more thickly, though.

  17. Barbara says:

    I still call my favorite rose “rubrifolia” even after it was named “glauca”. I have given many babies to friends for wedding gifts, new house gifts. It’s such a beautiful specimen rose!
    My other favorite “thug”, and I say thug because it wants to devour my house, is the Shakesperean “eglantine” rose. I got it years ago from “Roses of Yesterday and Today”, a catalog long out of print. A lovely single blush pink rose with an apple scent and very wild looking fuzzy balls that grow on the stems. I first thought the rose had gall but later learned that they are just a normal growth on that climber.

  18. ljfq says:

    I am looking for a sturdy, mostly thornless rose. I don’t go to my garden for pain! There are already a couple of suggestions in these comments. Looking for more. Thanks!

  19. Dale Small says:

    I too love Rosa glauca (and I just discovered a seedling from a plant that passed thru here several years ago.) One of the reasons I like Rosa glauca is that it gets the decorative galls caused by Diplolepis rosae, a not too damaging parasite.

    Another weird rose I like is the Wingthorn rose, grown for its beautiful, translucent thorns. the thorns are bright red/pink and are very effective when backlit.

    My personal favorite individual plant is a specimen of the hybrid tea ‘Prominent’ that I have ironically named Lucky because of the dreadful life story it could tell. (I would not fare well in the tale.)

    1. margaret says:

      It doesn’t sound like it has a disease as much as it got old, maybe? If no disease, fine to replant. My oldest one regrew a few times from being cut back to the base — so FYI you might see a resurrection!

  20. Selena says:

    I just received a 2yr old transplant from one that was 10 feet tall. I’m extremely excited to see if I can get this one going. I plan on putting chicken wire around it for protection from my cat and dog. Fingers crossed It will grow for me.

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