Through the advocacy of David Snow of the English Arbor Company and the amiability of the people at the Jackson and Perkins Bear Creek Facility, members of Santa Barbara and Ventura county rose societies were invited to visit the showing of the newest bedding perennials this past spring—the Suntory Pack Trials. In fact, about a dozen members of the Ventura County Rose Society made their way from their home gardens to the display gardens in a greenhouse on the Somis premises. From the point of view of average rosarians, companion or bedding plants would be character actors in a vehicle starring roses. From the point of view of diehard exhibiting rosarians, companion plants are nothing more than weeds in the old fashioned definition of a weed as ‘a plant that grows where you don’t want it.’ In the pack trials settings, however, the luxurious displays of verbenas, nierembergias, petunias and calibrachoas were studded with roses for next year including a 2004 AARS selection-- Honey Perfume-- as well as the Disneyland Rose and Flirtatious, all floribundas.
Honey Perfume is an apricot-yellow rose with a scent to knock you out at twenty paces; the fragrance is reminiscent of anise, spices, and the overweening power of comfort food. Reportedly, it performs well in both hot dry climates as well as those of the sodden Pacific Northwest; the color is reported to be at its best in cooler climates. The Disneyland Rose has colors that range from copper to pink with many shades in between; it somewhat resembles Kaleidoscope on steroids; it has been chosen as the official rose of Disneyland. Flirtatious is another parti-colored rose blooms that have accents of pink and peach with a yellow base fading to a nectarine white; an arrangements minded friend sighed over its possibilities in that genre.
Among the many fascinating bedding plants was a torenia hybrid, ‘Large Violet;’ in which the flowers resemble nothing so much as snap-dragons with unique wishbone patterned stamens. It will grow from a cutting to maturity in three months in a perfect mound or in a hanging basket where hummingbirds provide added visuals. The blues and amethysts would be perfect complements for the pastels of Old Garden Roses; however, the hybrids, unlike the regular torenia fournieri, prefer dry soil rather than the gross amounts of water recommended for the more common plant. Nevertheless, these would be powerful statements in a patio container or descending from a hanging basket. The cultural requirements of the calibrachoas—Million Bells—or trailing petunias-- in vibrant shades of magenta, orchid, terra cotta, apricot and red with yellow centers—also make them less than sterling associates for roses; although they are heat tolerant, they also prefer dry soil.
Among verbena hybrids the ‘Temari’ varieties included a red with a white eye reminiscent of ‘White Pearl in Red Dragon’s Mouth’ except that the tiny white/cream center was almost box-like in formation. Equally attractive was a burgundy hued variety with an even smaller white oblate eye. The demonstrations included the information that plants three feet by three feet and four by three were all derived from one cutting. These flowers tend to be bigger and more upright than common verbenas and are reportedly more mildew-resistant. They tolerate heat and prefer moist soil. The same cultural characteristics are attributed to the Surfinia petunias. The color range here includes reds, whites, blues, violets, pinks and limes. There are also rose veined, blue veined, and purple veined. The blooms are promised from March through November.
My arrangement-minded friend suggested a combination of Burgundy verbena with a lime colored petunia juxtaposition would have a startling impact. I tried to think of an appropriate rose for that union and believe that a chlorotic ‘Lemon Spice’ would suffice.
It is clear that some of the wonderful plants offered in the April Pack Trials would be great companions in a separate environment—that is, containers or baskets. And others might be planted between and among garden roses, but the very vigor that is counted as a horticultural plus might arouse fear and trembling among the more suspicious gardeners like myself.
In a short article in a recent Descanso (Gardens) News, Wen P. Wang, the resident Rosarium Horticulturist, cites three concerns in adopting companion plants for roses: avoiding invasive perennials, avoiding space conquering rhizomes, and avoiding plants that start small and grow to be gross. I have violated every one of those rules—sometimes through innocence, sometimes through misinformation, and sometimes through sheer stupidity. But that is a tale for another occasion…
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