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. Mackenzie says:

    I have rosa glauca in my smallish city garden, and love it, but my general rule about roses is that they must have scent, otherwise what’s the point? I have “Colette” which is an incredibly profuse bloomer in our hot humid Pittsburgh summers… a gorgeous peachy pink apricot, fragrant… Therese Bugnet is another rugosa-esque shrub rose with fabulous fragrance, and Rose de Rescht, while small, does well in less than full sun. While David Austin roses are somewhat out of fashion these days, I am still loyal to Abraham Darby, Graham Thomas and Shakespeare 2000. I also have a “mystery rose” which I think is French Lace… white buds, blushed with pink… intensely sweet fragrance… first giving me a hybrid tea look then opening to full old-fashioned many-petaled bloom… and disease resistant too. New Dawn is popular here, but it can overwhelm; White Dawn is better behaved. Mme. Hardy is lovely, but a scraggly looking plant best hidden behind others.

  2. Judith says:

    Rosa glauca is my very favourite rose, it’s perfect, no black spot, no mildew, and the cardinals adore eating the hips. My close to No 1 is ‘The Fairy”, delicate little flowers, no blackspot or mildew also which is a huge bonus. The only drawbacks are lack of fragrance but then you can’t have everything!

  3. Stephanie Spinner says:

    Love striped roses, esp. Variegata di Bologna, Miller’s Striped Rugosa, and Scentimental. Also have a weak spot for very dark ones, like Night Owl, which seems to be disease resistant (always a big plus). Oh, and the ever-productive, easy, easy care, Alba Mediland.

  4. clarissa says:

    Cant’s find any sources for Rosa Glauca. Loomis Creek is sold out. Where can it be purchased? Have admired it for a long time.

  5. Marion Kukula says:

    My climbing Cecile Brunner blooms in June with just a few blossoms later, but the scent is heavenly! Rosa Glauca was the one rose I HAD to have and I loved it. But it got that terrible rose rosette disease-RRD and died. However there was a seeding nearby and I am keeping a very close eye on it, hoping to avoid the disease.

  6. Tammy says:

    I love my Peggy Martin Rose. A climber in pink, thornless with repeat blooms later in the summer. The rose that survived Hurricane Katrina.

  7. ayo says:

    I’ve left my old rose garden behind. Now I’m in the Berkshires with lots of shade to deal with, and as a weekend gardner, roses haven’t been on my radar. With two notable exceptions: Zephrine Drouhin, as Jean mentioned, is also great for part shade—a vigorous climber in bright pink against a fence with what seems like way to little sun. Opposite is Darlow’s Enigma, a hybrid musk climber–fragrant, repeat-blooming, and disease free in part shade. ( I think I picked it for the name.) I think if I only had one rose, it would be Darlow’s-because I’m partial to white flowers.
    But after reading this, I have to try to find a spot for rosa glauca–I love blue foliage! “Never stop wanting more plants,” right Margaret?

  8. Nina says:

    I have had the pleasure of growing rosa glauca for 24 years now. It is my favorite.
    The glauca in FULL SUN really does the very best. It is very healthy and does not need rejuvenation pruning. Years ago I read it was a rose that could grow in part shade, not that they prefer part shade. From experience I learned ones planted in part shade do not hold a candle to ones grown in full sun.
    After seeing the contrast years ago, I moved them all into full sun. Although it is once blooming, the leaf colour is beautiful. Many fellow gardeners have asked me for the “babies” that show up around my garden and I have grown many plants from seedlings and passed them onto friends. After two years the seedlings take off. They are worth the wait.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Nina. So good to hear about your experience with the rose after so many years, and also how you pass them along to others. Sweet. Yes, they are definitely worth the wait. I do like the way the color looks here in the light shade more than in the blazing sun, but everyone’s conditions are different, of course — each exposure, each soil, etc. Of course, I like many things in a little less than full sun since I like to take photos and full sun is the worst condition for that. :) I am crazy about dappled light. Hope to see you soon again, and thanks for sharing your wisdom.

      Welcome, Clarissa. Did you call Windy Hill in Gt. Barrington? Not a rare thing by any means so I’m certain you will bump into it at one of the local hangouts…the listing of garden advertisers on the WKZE radio station site, for instance, has a lot of possibilities you might try calling…just a thought.

  9. Carol says:

    I love the rose Pinky, or is it Pinkie? A smallish climber, it grows to 12′ and has fewer thorns than many. I have it supported on an umbrella tuteur and I smile each May when it peaks. It came from the Antique Rose Emporium.

  10. Susan DiCriscio says:

    Okay, so I am a little behind in my reading! I first bought Rosa Glauca when it’s surname was rubrifolia. The original is gone, having gotten to look a bit tired, but as I was weeding the other day, I discovered numerous offspring; I left 10 healthy looking kids. Wish I had the “light” shade you mentioned but I am sure they will be quite happy and adjust nicely. Several will find hmes elsewhere. One question – you mentioned cutting back your oldest. Is this something one should do from time to time? Perhaps I should have done that with the original but that is now a moot point. I have the children.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Susan. My oldest plant got so leggy and sparse, but down at the base I could see that there was the potential for some new life, so I rejuvenated it. I don’t think it’s essential, but if any shrub (rose or otherwise) gets out of control or sparse or stretched-out looking, I always think of this (in earliest spring) as a possible remedy, and cheaper than replacement from scratch. :)

  11. Harriet Williams says:

    How does the rosa glauca do as a cutting. I am currently trying, my second attempt. Or should i give up and order it from somewhere?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Harriet: I have always had it come easily from seed, and have read that you can do softwood cuttings in spring or hardwood in fall or layering of branches. Shouldn’t be different from other roses that way.

  12. Dianna L Kerr says:

    I have a few that are not my favorites!!
    I have a David Austen ‘Abraham Darby’ that I am very disappointed in. I have a small town lot and it has always got something wrong with it.
    *There’s a question for ya….What do you do when you have something that doesn’t live up to it’s name??? I can’t throw it out being i paid a lot of money for it but I sure would give it away!!
    What do you or your posters do???

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Dianna. The Austin rose series isn’t very happy here in my zone, either. There are many beautiful roses included, but they just hate it here generally speaking. Other very experienced local garden friends nearby have failed, too. I hand things down all the time — but the tricky part is if it’s a zone thing it won’t do better for a neighbor. I have tossed many plants onto the compost as a result, or waited for a visitor from slightly south of me!

  13. Delores says:

    I too have the climber Zephrine Drouhin which graces the front of the cottage with its beautiful pale pink blooms; also Marchioness of Londonderry is another gorgeous climber, pale pale pink, not frequent blooms but worth the wait, and the most fragrant, Baronne Prevost , a deep pink cabbage style rose on a full shrub that blooms throughout the season. I’ve gotten these roses from the Antique Rose Emporium – great antique roses rescued from old cemetaries and homesteads and given a new life in modern gardens. It’s definitely a place where one can get carried away. These are just my 10s, I have several 9 1/2s also! I’ve fallen head over heels for roses.

  14. Lila says:

    To name a favorite rose out of our couple hundred or so is like picking a favorite child! Here in NC, the teas bred as the first remontant superstars, sent from SC to France and back, are the tough old broads in our garden. love that they can live on the hot, miserable border of our yard that is full of tree roots and dry as a bone in mid-summer. I love that even before this springlike week, there was purpley new leaf growth on all of them, even the smallest plants. My favorite is our big Safrano tea rose – more apricot than saffron-colored, rumored to have been the result of hand-pollination in 19th century France. The blooms are luminous and silky. It pumps them out all season, and is still going strong by Thanksgiving. I realize that teas are not cut out for the northern garden, but the rugosas like Therese Bugnet and the huge selection of roses hybridized by Dr. Buck are good ones to try.
    The fragrance of Therese’s blooms is intoxicating!

  15. Anne says:

    We carried R. glauca at our garden center for a couple of seasons. One of the lessons I’ve learned in that business is some great plants greatly resent trying to be sold in pots and glauca is one of them. The other thing is that Iowa is so darned humid that powdery mildew spoiled the foliage thoroughly. So it may be worth a try but probably not the best choice in the Midwest and if you find one, get it in the ground and don’t let it suffer any more ignominy than necessary!:) (PS–the Knockout series roses have been used very successfully in this region in streetscape plantings, tougher than nails and bloom all season so there is a place for them)

  16. Donna says:

    In my garden, which is tiny, is the climbing angel face rose. Edged in pruple, ruffled lavender, citrus fragrant, reach 7′ last year. She’s the queen of my garden. I envy anyone who can create such lovely gardens as you have done Margaret. My hands long to get into the dirt. Winter please leave soon.

  17. shirley.dennis7@gmail.com says:

    I have in my small garden the lovely Rosa Chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ It is amazing to watch the petals change from yellow to orange to deep pink and finally crimson! It blooms all year except during the coldest months (Usually Dec. through Feb.) A friend gave me my first plant so it means so much to me. I do love your “Blue Rose”.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Shirley. ‘Mutabilis’ is a beauty; lucky you. And it sounds extra-special because of its history, of how it came to you. Thanks for visiting; hope you won’t be a stranger.

  18. I am with you on this one, Margaret. Rosa Glauca is incomparable. I especially enjoy the show at dusk, when those twinkling little pink blossoms appear iridescent against the foliage. They are magic. Kudos to their tenacity as well, for they are foolproof even here, in my harsh zone 4 killing fields (OK, I’m fed up with winter!)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Christine. Isn’t it the most amazing show of color? Wow. And yes, I am fed up, too. Just tackled some more ice this week and have had enough. See you soon, perhaps in fairer days? :)

  19. Rosemary Butt says:

    my mother was a gardener from age 5, my sis and I got the bug, and now 2 of my daughters have caught the bug. I love the winter, look foreward to the spring, but the winters here in Indiana are also glorious. I have a bird area outside my window along with my garden, I can spend hours just watching winter nature…………………………….. I now want the rosa glauca for my yard.I love the blue leaves.
    I have planted my cherry tomato seeds and a few larger tomato seeds. My daughter is an herb person and has planted a lot of new things for her to experience., I hope to live long enough to try herbs also.
    I saw you on Martha and want your book for my daughter Autumn, also plan to send her your blog address, I know she will enjoy it.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rosemary. How nice of you to spread the word to your daughter (with the beautiful name!). This is a great rose; enjoy it.

  20. Beth R. says:

    Although I’ve raised roses at every house I’ve lived in, my current home is in deer country. The two I’ve had success with, despite the four-legged critters, have been a thorny Japanese rose and a Glacier Magic rose close to the house. The last rose sits in semi-shade and blooms like crazy with a white blossom that fades to pink. I admire it from the kitchen window. Until I can fence in my property, your rosa glauca will have to stay on my wish list. I would cry if I planted it and the deer enjoyed a snack one night after it greened up in spring. :(

  21. Lori says:

    Wonderful shrub rose. Had it when we lived in Calgary, Alberta and it grew to an immense size. Gardening there is a challenge with chinook winds in the winter causing thawing and cold summers. Now, I will buy and plant it here in Ottawa, Ontario and hope it does well. Hot hot summers here and cold winters!!!!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lori. Yes, it’s a goodie. It gets quite cold here in winter (minus temps) and very hot in summer (90s at least) and it has done well for me, so I have my fingers crossed for your success.

  22. I love trees and evergreens, if anyone wants a wonderfully beautiful tree plant the Rain Tree. Of course living in Indiana I have the tulip tree which is also awsome, the huge yellow tulip flowers in late spring are stupendous.

  23. Brandon says:

    Well, as someone who has never been a big fan of roses, I would normally say, “I can live without any roses at all.” But, you are really selling me on this blue beauty. I absolutely love the foliage. The pink flowers are secondary, but they do combine wonderfully with the blue leaves and purple stems.

    In doing some research online, most rosa glaucas I see tend to be more red toned than yours. Also nice, but I much prefer the blue. I imagine light levels have something to do with that. Red in more sun, blue in more shade?

    Maybe rosa glauca is the one rose I can’t live without. Thanks for sharing it!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Brandon. For me it is that kind of plant — cannot imagine not having that unearthly blue foliage. The red coloration is most prominent here when the leaves are emerging (when they are more red than blue) and around the edges after that.

  24. Penny says:

    A friend just gave me an offspring of this. As I was giving it a drink this morning I kept thinking I read about this rose somewhere in time. Well, of course, on your beautiful blog way back when. My friend, Rosalie, is an extraordinary gardener and whenever she offers up a cutting or division or seeds, I don’t hesitate to say yes. I can’t wait to see this rose grow.

    My favorite are the rugosa roses, especially Hansa. Once established, it needs little care, but, is susceptible to black spot.

  25. Jackie says:

    Hi, Margaret.

    Have been enjoying your blog these past couple of years!

    I’m just getting ready to cut my beloved Rosa glauca to the ground in an attempt to “start over.” After 10+ years, It’s gotten too big and also succumbed to a nasty powdery mildew last year, which looks to have overwintered, alas. My question for you is how far down do you cut off the canes? As of now, it is too early to detect new growth / buds.

    Thanks so much!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jackie. You could “rejuvenate it” with a hard cutback (like way down, to a foot and a half) but it will lose that tree-like stature, of course. Some rose pruningdetails with photos are here that might help. Do your pruning just as the first buds seem to come alive on the canes. The alternative with the blue-leaf rose is to just cut out the oldest stems near the base, then tweak here and there higher up to tidy a bit, and not wholesale decapitate it.

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