by Dick Handscombe, holistic gardener and author in Spain for 27 years.

Roses can do well in Spanish gardens as they have for two millenniums and May and June are times of the most amazing displays in both private and public gardens. The flowers and perfume can make a useful feature of a wall, a corner of a garden patio or courtyard, or even be the centre piece of a garden.

For success, the six most important factors are the choice of bushes, their planting in well prepared rich soil, regular watering, the frequent removal of dead flowers, the prevention of diseases and a heavy winter pruning.

Before you decide to invest in rose plants recognise that:

  • Although roses can flower for nine months of the year, they will not be as continuously flowering, or as profusely covered with flowers as say bougainvilleas or lantanas.
  • Climbers can be planted as an isolated feature, or fitted in with other climbers on a wall or pergola, but bush roses look best in a dedicated rose bed or garden, planted closely to give a mass of colour. This requires regular deadheading as flowers die, as well as a heavy winter pruning.
  • In hot weather, roses often last longer if cut and put in a vase than if left on the bush. If one cuts roses for the house, this reduces the colour in the rose garden, unless the planting of rose bushes is extensive. This is why many Spaniards and ourselves, grow their roses alongside their vegetable plots.
  • In general there is less choice of varieties of roses in Spanish nurseries than in northern Europe. Some of the varieties you will not recognise and the best varieties sell out fast. Unless you have a local nursery with a good selection, obtain a few mail-order catalogues from UK specialists and order early to avoid disappointments. Our experience is that exporters choose very strong rooted plants to avoid any complaints. Don’t buy Spanish roses until you can see them in bloom and can smell the perfume.
  • One good thing about Spain is that it is easy to propagate roses from cuttings at any time of the year, so beg a cutting of every rose that impresses you in your neighbour’s and friend’s gardens, or beg the stems of cut roses when they empty a vase to throw them away.

We use the following approach learned from a Spanish neighbour.

  1. Cut off the flowering or leafy top. Slit the base of the cutting for a centimetre and a half and squeeze in a dried sweetcorn seed.
  2. Plant the cutting so that two thirds of the cutting is buried making sure that the sweetcorn is not dislodged. Keep damp. We prefer to plant cuttings in the open ground rather than in pots, largely because we might forget to water them!
  3. When the cutting shows growth, grow it on in the same place, or dig up and transplant when a year old during the late autumn, winter or early spring.

The heat and humidity of Spain can cause as many disease problems as in northern Europe. However, the following actions should avoid most disasters:

  • Only use healthy cuttings and purchase healthy plants.
  • Never allow rose plants to dry out.
  • Feed by working well rotted manure into planting holes and surround the base of planted stems with a ring of horse manure each spring.
  • A twice monthly feed with a proprietary rose fertilizer or comfrey solution is also beneficial during the months of flowering.
  • Plant garlic corms alongside each plant, or if growing alongside the vegetable plant, grow a line of garlic through the rose bed to protect against fungal diseases.
  • Spray plants against rust with an infusion made from horsetail and tomato leaves.
  • Prune off any diseased leaves and stems as soon as they occur and dispose of well away from rose bed.

Yes roses do require some work but the results are very rewarding.

© Dick Handscombe