Driving along our street in a little hamlet on Long Island you would be hard pressed to spot a single rose bush, let alone a rose garden. Instead you will see many well-groomed lawns and the occasional flower beds with the usual offenders of hostas and annuals neatly arranged like Whac-A-Moles, ready to be pulled out, discarded, and replaced every year. In the yards you'll see the old trees of great character still towering stately over their territories, although they are diminishing in number. The only newly planted trees you'll see are arborvitae.
This house sits on a little more than an acre of land that used to be covered by woods. There were birches, pines, hemlocks, and oaks, to name a few. During the last decade, our neighbors cut down their trees to put in playgrounds, swimming pools, and new fences, creating a line of dominos of the remaining trees for Hurricane Sandy to play with.
Our region is known for its humid summers -- with high temps and muggy days giving way to dewey, cooler nights -- which are conducive to black spot. Black spot, a fungal pathogen, is the bane of many roses on Long Island.
The lowest temperatures in winter are usually between 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow cover has become inconsistent as a result of climate change. Marginally hardy roses, such as the Teas and Chinas, usually die or die back to the ground here.
A part of my decision not to use pesticides is based on the same reason that we don't grow plants outside the normal range of their hardiness zones. It's important to grow plants that are suited to your local climate. Even among experienced rosarians, the concept that not all roses should perform equally well in every part of the country is still not widely accepted, primarily because of the persistence of outmoded views that roses are high maintenance plants that require chemical support. We passively accept as fact what can easily be challenged with a little effort.
Many antique roses (also known as heritage or old garden roses) are naturally disease-resistant. The Albas and Gallicas do particularly well here. And with modern hybridizers focused on breeding new roses that are resistant to disease, an expanding array of disease-resistant roses is becoming available every year, so there's little need to use pesticides in the garden.
I am a firm believer that industrial pesticides have no place in residential gardens and that the cumulative toxicity and damage to the environment and our health cannot be justified for ornamental use.
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A Long Island Rose Garden