The most famous race of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, is usually held on the first Saturday in May. The winning horse is draped with a blanket of beautiful red roses. The luxury of the velvet-like petals, the depth of the red, and the dream of the heady scents get us itching to have our own rose bushes in the garden.
The Kentucky Derby’s Garland of Roses is 22 inches across and 122 inches (about 10 feet) long. The approximately 462 roses are imported from South America to a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky, where the team of Kroger staff members choose each bud by hand out of about 2,000 roses. The roses are trimmed of their stems then sewn onto a green satin backing by staff members and volunteers. As the winner and jockey approach the winner’s circle, the Garland is draped over the mane of the 3-year-old horse (only young colts, geldings or fillies race in the Kentucky Derby). The Garland of Roses is such a strong tradition that the race itself is nicknamed “The Run for the Roses.”
The red roses used for the garland come from a variety of species that are grown in very warm climates like Ecuador. Hardiness Zones in the US differ from that environment, but there are many red rose species that take well to our climates.
Matching the species with the hardiness zone is the first step. When looking for a rose plant for your garden, choose from species that do well within your zone. Advanced or competitive gardeners may have the skill, greenhouse, and equipment to grow roses outside of their natural climate, but the average home gardener need not expend that much effort for the joy of having roses.
Next consider the light. Roses seem like delicate flowers but most of them actually enjoy full sun for 6+ hours a day. There are some species that can tolerate some shade, like floribundas and spray roses, but it may be hard to find a species with resplendent, deep red roses we see decorating the Kentucky Derby. Full sun is ideal for healthy rose bushes that can resist disease and bloom to their potential.
What kind of space do you have? Is it more vertical where climbing roses would shine or do you have wider, horizontal spaces that could host a couple of rose bushes? A red climbing rose like Tess of the d’Ubervilles is an excellent repeat bloomer and can be grown in zones 5-9. It’s used often for borders and to line flower beds but it can also be trained upward on a trellis or other support. Dublin Bay roses, good for zones 6b-9b, have velvety red petals and glossy green leaves. They love sun and can grow up to 8-12 feet high. Asking for suggestions at your local nursery or landscape supplier is the best way to discover the perfect plant for your garden.
Planting seasons, trimming rules, and feeding and watering schedules differ by species. Plenty of information is online. If you find a rose you like, begin your research by visiting trusted sites like The Old Farmer’s Almanac or by checking out some gardening books from the public library. Roses are beautiful, dainty and smell divine but don’t let that fool you. They are typically hardy plants that are easy to grow with a minimal amount of care. As you watch that Kentucky Derby winner trot into that cloud of red roses, dream of clipping your own right at home.