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Climbing Roses


Climbing roses give height, floral interest and elegance to a garden. They can tumble over fences, cascade from pergolas or screen water tanks and dunnies.

Yet roses are not natural climbers like grape vines or clematis; they need to be supported and loosely tied in place. I prefer green nylon ribbon over twist ties, which can injure expanding canes. Here are some of my favourite ways with climbing roses.

Wall or fence

‘Crepuscule’ has been trained on wires to cover the front wall of a cottage. Use fencing wire, stretched taught between tensioned screws fixed into the wall or fence and spaced 200mm apart. Use roses that flower on short spurs; vigorous varieties will be impossible to control. As the rose grows the main canes should be bent horizontal (while stems are soft and pliable) and fixed to the wires. Once the structure is established, side shoots will produce masses of buds. Pruning is easy; just clip the side shoots back to the main stem after flowering.



Wall of Crepescule trained over the guest quarters at The Heritage. Photo - Sandra Ross


Arbours and arches

Ensure an arch or arbour is big enough to walk through comfortably, at least 2m wide. Plant one rose on each side, preferably the same variety. Choose roses that are not too vigorous and twine the stems around the uprights in a spiral. Prune wayward stems at any time. Main pruning is after flowering. Every few years prune out the oldest cane at the base and allow a new water-shoot to replace it. The rose shown here is ‘Shropshire Lad’, a versatile David Auston climber, almost thornless and well-suited to growing on a small arch.


Pierre de Ronsard archway at Al-Ru Farm. . Photo - Sandra Ross


Used to enhance a walkway, a colonnaded pergola can dominate a garden when dressed in roses. For the best floral display twine stems in a spiral fashion around the pillars and allow growth to proliferate over the ‘roof’ of the pergola. Use clothes pegs as weights to prevent canes growing vertically out the top and to encourage more flower. Here ‘Mme Gregoire Staechelin’ (syn ‘Spanish Beauty’), shows that even though she has just one flowering in spring, it is massive – and well worth waiting for!


Rose arches at The Heritage, Clare Valley. Photo - Sandra Ross


Pillars and posts

Pillars of roses punctuate the garden providing a strong vertical accent. Train canes around pillars and posts in a spiral and tie them into position. Train the canes horizontally to encourage lots of side shoots for best flowering. Stems that are fixed flower better than those that blow in the wind. Small climbers are best for tripods, posts and pillars. A lamp post, stanchion of a bird house or bird feeder post, even a fluted veranda column can support a pretty climbing rose. Shown here is the hybrid musk rose ‘Cornelia’.


A rose pillar. Photo - Sandra Ross

Chain/ or rope swag

The idea here is to train the stems horizontally along the rope or chain swag to encourage floriferous side shoots. Because flexibility is most important, the stems must be young and pliable: rambling roses, such as ‘Veilchenblau’, shown here, are ideal. Bend and train the young soft canes horizontally and tie them in with soft twine. All stems which have flowered should be cut to ground level in winter leaving the new ones to be wound around the ropes as they grow in spring. 

The secret to success

Train and prune to encourage side shoots. Train the main canes of the rose horizontally, across rather than straight up. This may mean a ladder effect, 'across and back'. It is best to tie or clip the canes to the support, rather than weave; this makes it easier to prune back dead canes.


Plant notes: Sandra’s 5 favourite climbers

1. Mme Isaac Periere

Description: Huge, deep rose pink blooms, sometimes cupped, sometimes quartered, always fabulous.

Size: Vigorous shrub or small climber with canes 2m long

Special Comments: Best trained around a pillar. If grown as a shrub, peg the canes down to the ground. It’s said that this old Bourbon is the most fragrant of all roses: a brave claim with so many choices. In warm areas give her some cool shade. Prone to black spot in warm humid climates.


Photo - Sandra Ross


2. New Dawn

Description: Great for an arbour, arch, pillar or pergola with the palest cameo-pink blooms. A huge spring flowering is followed by a smattering of blooms in autumn. The lovely deep green foliage, provides a good foil for the blooms.

Size: The stems will grow to 6m, pliable enough to be used in any garden design; arbour, arch, pergola or pillar.

Special comments: Tough, disease-resistant and fragrant, New Dawn deserves its spot in the World Rose Hall of Fame!


Photo - Sandra Ross


3. Crepuscule

Description: This popular old Noisette has masses of small muddled ‘soft-gold’ coloured blooms, in repeat fragrant flushes through spring, summer and autumn. It can be grown on wires along a fence, or over a pergola.

Size: Moderate growth makes suitable as a tall weeping standard (grafted at 3m).

Special comments: Well-suited to warm areas, this rose is virtually thornless, very floriferous and flowers quite well in shade. Don’t prune for the first years until growth is well established and then only if necessary and after main spring flush. Very tough and disease-resistant.


Photo - Sandra Ross


4. Graham Thomas

Description: A clear buttercup yellow rose with full multi-petalled cupped blooms and lovely fragrance. One of David Austin’s finest!

Size: Moderate vigour makes this rose suitable for a pillar, fence or pegged down as a shrub.

Special comments: Train the canes horizontally for better flowering. Susceptible to black spot disease in warm climates. 


Photo - Sandra Ross

5. Pierre de Ronsard

Description: Pale green buds open to form ivory petals with a pale pink blush. The blooms repeat flower through early summer and late autumn. Prune ruthlessly in winter to extend flowering from spring right through to June.

Size: Moderate growth with canes to 2-3m long

Special comments: Suitable for a wall or fence where the strong branching shoots can spread out, or it can be trained up a tall pillar, or grown with support as a shrub. It is almost thornless and has large, bright green glossy leaves.


Photo - Sandra Ross


Text: Sandra Ross

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Author: Sandra Ross