Everyone should have at least one passion. If you are lucky, you will have many more, and if you are unlucky you will have more than time, energy and finances allow. I have a passion for yellow roses, and I consider myself very lucky.
This is not to say that I have no other roses in my garden. Life would not be complete without a few good reds, a generous handful of peach-tinted varieties and a sprinkling of whites. This year we may acquire one or two striped roses, and I have a feeling that they may prove addictive. However, for the moment, the yellow roses hold sway in my heart.
The first yellow rose that really impressed me was an anonymous climber or rambler that I saw a long time ago, when I was driving through farm country in rural western New York State. This extremely vigorous plant was scaling a trellis that was leaning against an old barn. It was covered with small, medium yellow blooms that were so beautiful that I stopped the car and went to the door of the farmhouse to ask the owner the name of the variety. There was no one home at the time, and I never had an opportunity to go back.
The yellow barn rose whetted my appetite, which was further honed when I saw a picture of a yellow ‘Lady Banks’ rose (Rosa banksiae lutea). This free-flowering rambler had been trained up a tree somewhere in the southern United States, and had succeeded so well that the blossom-laden canes hung down from the branches like a yellow silk curtain. I wanted yellow roses, and I especially wanted a yellow Lady Banks rose.
As with many things the object of my desire was not right for me. Lady Banks roses are on the list of potentially invasive plants in this state. While I would have no objections to a rose taking over my property, invasive plants are bad for the ecosystem in general. Good gardeners are good citizens, so my Lady Banks rose will have to remain in my imagination.
Though my passion for Lady Banks remains unrequited, my passion for yellow roses is easily satisfied. The first one that I installed in the garden at my former home was ‘Graham Thomas’, a well-known David Austin hybrid that is named after the great and venerable English rosarian. ‘Graham’ is an amazing color that reminds me more of topaz than of anything else. It is a lanky shrub that can also be used as a short climber if you have a trellis. I think that the Austin catalog describes the fragrance as “myrrh”. I have never smelled myrrh, but I will take their word for it. The blossoms are huge, and the scent is memorable. ‘Graham’ is an inspiration.
I have two other Austin yellows, ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Golden Celebration’. The latter is lighter than ‘Graham Thomas and somewhat less vigorous. The blossoms, which are buttery yellow make up for everything else. ‘Golden Celebration’ is just about perfect, and flowers freely in my garden, though it does not receive quite as much sun as many of my other shrubs.
For shear toughness there is nothing like a rugosa rose, and I was determined to have one of the relatively few yellow rugosas. Last year, while I was on a quest for an unusual cranesbill I found my rugosa. ‘Agnes’, a Canadian-bred hybrid, was the first rose to bloom in my garden this spring, covering itself in soft yellow loosely cupped blooms. I would have picked one for the house had the canes not been insurmountably thorny and my gloves in a location that I could not immediately remember. I took comfort in the fact that while the plant is small, the thorns will keep away my voracious resident groundhog. When the rose reaches maturity, those thorns will deter just about anything else.
Of course, a passion would not be a passion unless there was something left unfulfilled. For years I have lusted after ‘Mermaid’, a large-flowered climber. It is a single, with only one row of petals, and it looks at once delicate and extremely robust. The flowers are gold shading to butter yellow and the prominent stamens are golden-amber. This year, one way or another, I will stretch my budget to accommodate ‘Mermaid’.
My favorite rose supplier had run out of Griffith Buck’s ‘Golden Unicorn’, an extremely hardy specimen that has the large flowers and high pointed buds of a hybrid tea, combined with the cold-hardiness of its more rugged ancestors. The late Dr. Buck, who was a professor at Iowa State University, was all but unknown as a rose breeder during his lifetime, which ended sixteen years ago. His roses live on, however, because of their beauty and durability. They are even beginning to enjoy a vogue among rose lovers. Vogue or no vogue, I am determined to have ‘Golden Unicorn’. The name alone is a strong selling point, and the color—gold that is almost ready to cross the line to apricot—is wonderful.
Like many beautiful things, yellow roses can be fragile and temperamental. As a group they seem to be much more prone to diseases, especially blackspot. In cold climates, it is harder sometimes hard to find yellow roses that will survive through the winter, and that is why Dr. Buck’s roses fill such a yawning void. Still, even the tenderest yellow roses are so evocative, symbolizing both the love and longing expressed in the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, and the steadfast hope embodied by the nearly-yellow hybrid tea rose, ‘Peace’. If those large themes don’t send you straight to the nursery, then think of all the lush qualities associated with that buxom sex symbol of the 1960’s, Gina Lollabrigida. The rose that bears her name is chromium yellow. From the cerebral to the carnal, the yellow rose speaks volumns.