- The blazing summer over, fall in Bermuda is the time to think about growing and for many a gardener that means thinking about roses.
Though roses are not indigenous to our island, they were here at least by 1639 when a shipwrecked Spanish sailor described European varieties growing in our gardens. It is likely the apothecary and damask rose were the first here. Later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, China roses, brought to Europe and America on the clipper ships, arrived in Bermuda. China roses proved to be far more suited to our climate than European ones since they don’t like frost. And many of those varieties here today are thriving, having survived decades of gales and hurricanes. Today, we have a whole variety of old garden roses including climbers and ramblers, China, noisette and tea roses. We also have hybrids.
Perhaps the most common rose growing in Bermuda today is the dark red Agrippina or cramoisi supérieur. It’s so easy to grow it has almost naturalised. Other favourites include the Slater’s Crimson China, the Archduke Charles, the Mutabilis, its blooms changing from pale yellow, to pink to dark red, and the delicate pink Duchesse de Brabant.
Particularly valued in Bermuda are roses deemed to be “mysteries” because found in local gardens they have lost their provenance. They were subsequently named after the person in whose garden they grew or after the place where they were found. Thus we have Dan’s rose named after Morris Cooper whose grandchildren dubbed him “Dan.” He propagated this pink rose from one he found at Holy Trinity Church in Bailey’s Bay. During the 1960s, Jessica Cox found a beautiful pale apricot rose in her friend Grace Atwood’s garden in Pembroke which subsequently became known as the Miss Atwood. Other mysteries include the Bermuda windchimes, the Smith’s Parish rose and the Vincent Godsiff.
Propagating from Cuttings
- Secateurs or pruning shears
- Powdered rooting compound
- Small pot filled with six inches of potting mix for roses
- Using sharp secateurs, cut a 3- to 12-inch stem which has recently flowered and has at least four sets of fresh green leaves and four leaf nodes. If taking several cuttings, place in a container of water until you’re ready to propagate them. (Note: If you’re lucky, the stems might even root in water, but it doesn’t often happen.)
Remove all the prickles and leaves but the top two sets. Cut the portion of the stem above the top leaf sets.
Make a new cut on the bottom of a stem below a stem node. Slice into the bottom of the stem, splitting it into ¼-inch quarters.
Moisten the end of each split stem with water and dip it into rooting compound. Shake off excess powder.
Use a pencil to poke a hole into the filled pot. Insert into the hole deep enough to cover the bottom leaf node. Gently pack soil around the stem and water.
Place plastic bag loosely over cutting to create a greenhouse effect. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch leaves by putting a stake into the pot to support it. Cut small holes into the plastic to ventilate and prevent rot. Place cutting outside in shade but with some sunlight. A porch is ideal.
Roots may form after two weeks. After six weeks, remove plastic cover and after another two or three weeks, plant into a pot filled with rose potting mix.
- Planting Roses in the Ground
- Choose a spot receiving six hours of sunlight every day.
- Dig a deep hole in the ground—two feet wide and one foot deep.
- Retain the soil in a bucket or wheelbarrow, and mixing with water, add:
- a spadeful of peat or rotted compost
- a handful of hydrated horse manure
- 3 cupfuls of alfalfa pellets
- 2 tbsp Epsom salts
- a handful each of bonemeal and fertiliser.
- Loosen soil in hole to a further 12 inches deep if possible and mix in same ingredients as above. Add plenty of water. Pile up soil in hole.
- Water potted rose thoroughly. Invert pot to tip out plant, holding its stem. Place plant roots down onto the pile.
- Add soil mixture and water to hole and around plant.
- Water daily for a week and then once or twice a week.
*Source: Roses in Bermuda published by The Bermuda Rose Society
- Prune roses in October after the first blooms of the season.
- Plant in the cooler months: October to May.
- When planting, remember new roots are delicate. Do not stamp on the soil or press too firmly around the new plant.
- Fertilise every six to eight weeks. Always water before applying dry fertilisers. Do not over fertilise.
- Companion planting roses with other plants, such as chives, garlic, marigolds, begonias, onions and mint, helps deter pests.
- Did you know?
- Roses were valued for practical reasons. All parts of the plant were used for making conserves, syrups, ointments and healing remedies. The apothecary rose, one of the first to come to Bermuda, was supposed to wash “molligrubs out of a moody brain,” cure barrenness or heal the bite of a mad dog. The damask rose was used (and still is) to make rosewater.
The Bermuda Rose Society was founded in 1954 to preserve Bermuda’s roses in “a living museum” and to encourage people to grow them. Before COVID, the Society had an annual sale of Bermuda rose plants. Check its Facebook page for a possible sale this fall.
Rose gardens can be found in the garden of the Bermuda National Trust’s Headquarters, Waterville, in Paget; in the Botanical Gardens, near Camden; and in the Heydon Trust, opposite the Heydon chapel, in Somerset.
With its single five crimson petals and yellow stamens, the Emmie Gray mystery rose was named after a Bermuda High School teacher who taught there for 30 years and from whose garden it came.
- Calico Flower (Aristolochia littoralis)
- Otherwise known as Dutchman’s pipe because of its pipe-shaped flowers, this ornamental vine is an intriguing addition to a garden. The unusual flowers are beautifully marbled in purple and white. Plant in well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. Provide a trellis so it can climb. It will grow from seed or cuttings and flowers in the summer.
Note: Do not place near a seating area since it has a rotting meat odour to attract flies which pollinate it.
- In Bermuda, fall is the best time to plant herbs so that you have them on hand for the festive seasons of Christmas and Easter. Plant, of course, the four of the famous song: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. But tarragon, dill and oregano, lemon balm, basil and peppermint are good to have on hand as well.