The Squire Iris

I love to have roses in the garden, but I find that the old style of rose bed where nothing else is grown lacks appeal when compared with the cottage or country style garden where other plants are grown as companions amongst the roses. As far as the old belief that you should not plant anything under your roses because they do not like root competition, this is only partly true. Roses do not like the severe root competition from the likes of trees and large shrubs, and these plants will certainly diminish rose vigour and performance. As with any plant, once stressed for either water or nutrients, they are more likely to be affected by plant pests and diseases. If however, you avoid planting roses near large trees, combine them with appropriate perennials and groundcovers, and keep your roses healthy by feeding them regularly, root competition is not a problem. Remember that any additional under plantings will demand more from your soil, so ensure you have a regular fertilising program, especially for repeat flowering rose varieties.

From a design point of view, under planting or planting borders around the edge of garden beds containing roses, helps to tie the garden together. This is particularly important where you are growing a mixed collection of roses, perhaps one of each of your favourite colours. What tends to happen in a rose garden of this sort is the overall impression is too busy – the eye doesn’t know where to look. There are too many colours mixed together. In this case using the same plant repeated as a border will tie the bed together to create a more visually appealing effect.

The list of plants that look great when planted between and under your roses is endless, however my favourite plant to combine with roses is a catmint called Nepeta ‘Walkers Blue’. Its lavender flowers form a great show against its grey-green foliage, and match any colour scheme of roses. It grows to 45cm high and flowers from mid spring to late autumn.

Other favourites include:

Grey and silver foliage plants as they work with all rose colours: Lamb’s ears – Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ and thirkei; Wormwood varieties – such as Artemesia ‘Valerie Finnis’

Ground covers including Chamomile cultivars – Anthemis ‘E.C.Buxton’ & ‘Suzannah Mitchell’; Asteriscus maritimum ‘Gold Coin’; Veldt daisy – Arctotis x hybrida; Seaside daisy including sterile cultivar Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Spindrift’; Cranesbill – Geranium species

Perennials including Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’; Hummingbird mint – Agastache cultivars; Ornamental oregano cultivars; Alstroemeria dwarf cultivars eg ‘Princess Lilies’

Strappy leaf plants including miniature Agapanthus; daylilies – Hemerocallis cultivars; Bearded iris

Winter blooming plants as they flower when roses don’t: Lavender – French and ‘Avonview’; Wallflowers – Cheiranthus; Miniature daisy cultivars; Silver bush – Convolvulus cneorum; Spurges – Euphorbia species eg E. rigida

The other wonderful benefit of planting amongst your roses is that you will bring in the beneficial insects, resulting in less pest problems. The healthiest style of garden is one with diversity rather than just one sort of plants – a cottage or country style garden rather than a monotonous monoculture.

Aphids on your roses can still strike fear into the heart of rose growers. When aphids attack your roses the best thing to do is nothing, simply leave the natural predators to do their thing – unless you need perfect roses for the show bench!? There are a number of fabulous ‘good guys’ that will do all the hard work for you. There are ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, rose aphid parasitic wasps, dragon flies, damsel flies, insectivorous birds, spiders and micro bats. Understand that when you don’t interfere, it will take 10-14 days for the aphids to disappear and it is in this time that most gardeners panic and ‘nuke’ these pests. Don’t be tempted to squash the aphids with your fingers as this squashes lady bird eggs and the developing parasitic wasp within the ‘mummy’ aphid cocoon.  The problem with using insecticides, even natural ones like pyrethrum, garlic and chilli is that these sprays do not distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.

The best cure is to keep your roses as happy and healthy as you can. As the old saying goes, ‘Happy healthy plants don’t get sick’, and they are much less likely to suffer from pest and disease problems. Make sure your roses are growing in full sun, they are fed regularly with an organic based rose fertiliser that is boosted with potash to help strengthen the cell walls, and that they are not competing with severe root competition from large shrubs or trees. If you cannot bear to do nothing, simply squirt the aphids off. To be honest this does not really work as there will be a new crop back in several days, however if you do this every few days and keep it up for two weeks, we can keep you occupied while we let nature clean up the problem.

The following are a number of planting combinations that I have found to work well.

Underplanting companions for mixed rose beds:

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Dwarf lavenders eg ‘Avonview’

Miniature agapanthus eg ‘Snowstorm’ & ‘Streamline’

Stachys byzantina & cultivars – lamb’s ears

Miniature daisy cultivars eg Federation Daisies

Tulbaghia – society garlic

Verbena ‘Taipen’

Salvia species & cultivars

Ageratum houstonianum – perennial ageratum

Suitable combinations for pink roses:

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Alstroemeria ‘Sophia’ – Princess Lily

Agapanthus ‘Streamline’

Dianthus – pinks

Miniature daisy cultivars eg Federation Daisies ‘Summer Star’

Ornamental oreganos

Underplanting companions for yellow roses:

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Asteriscus maritimum ‘Gold Coin’

Alstroemeria ‘Dianna’ & ‘Sarah’ – Princess Lilies

Miniature daisy cultivars eg Federation Daisy ‘Sultan’s Pride’

Hemerocallis ‘Stella Bella’

Bidens ferulifolia – burr marigold

Underplanting companions for white roses:

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Stachys byzantina & cultivars – lamb’s ears

Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Spindrift’ – seaside daisy (sterile form)

Dianthus – Pinks

Miniature daisy cultivars eg Federation Daisy ‘Summer Star’ & ‘Sultan’s Pride’

Convolvulus cneorum – silver bush

Bidens ferulifolia – burr marigold

Anthemis cultivars eg ‘E.C.Buxton’ & ‘Suzannah Mitchell’ – chamomile

Underplanting companions for apricot to orange roses

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ – catmint

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Geranium species & cultivars – cranesbill

Dwarf lavenders eg ‘Avonview’

Miniature agapanthus eg ‘Snowstorm’ & ‘Streamline’

Convolvulus cneorum – silver bush

There are many other varieties suitable for companion planting with your roses, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find your own winning combinations.

Happy gardening! Sophie Thomson