Formal rose gardens are lovely, but they are not to everyone’s taste. If you like your garden full of flowers, including roses, and even a little bit wild, using companion plants adds colour and softness.
Companion plants also benefit roses. They hide bare stems at the base of the rose, repel pests, keep the soil cool and add colour in winter. The rose, of course, is always the queen of the show.
Dos and don’ts from Ludwig Taschner
· Do give roses room to grow within a bed.
· Don’t crowd other plants around a rose or let them climb into the rose itself. If its leaves are smothered the bush will eventually die.
· Do prune roses lightly so that the new growth starts above the level of the other plants and is the first to receive the sun.
· Do supply enough water and nutrients for the rose AND the plants growing around it.
· Do keep an open space around the rose stems, especially when planting groundcovers so that water and nutrients can penetrate.
Mixed Borders with Roses
Large shrub roses, including Panarosa varieties, make a statement when planted as single specimens. Hybrid teas and floribundas, however, have more impact when three plants are grouped together within a border.
Good idea: Space large roses least 1.5 metres apart. During the first year or two don’t allow any competing growth to touch the bush until it has developed well above the perennials. When pruning in winter do not cut back to knee height but prune lightly, leaving at least 30 cm above the tips of the perennials.
Perennials that Play Well with Roses
Perennials that seem to be natural companions for roses are Inca lilies (Alstroemeria), Cape forget-me-not (Anchusa), catmint (Mentha mussinii), convolvulus, delphinium, daisies, gaura, irises, lavender and wild garlic (Tulbaghia).
Seasonal Colour - Annuals and Roses
Low growing borders of annuals are lovely for their seasonal colour, especially in winter when the rose beds are bare.
Make a border in front of the roses by filling in the gap between the edge of the lawn and the roses. If you are not sure, note the drip line of the rose (the outer extent of its growth before pruning) and only plant beyond the drip line. Dig in plenty of compost so that there is no competition for nutrients.
In summer, use annuals that never stop flowering, like scented alyssum, begonias, impatiens, salvia and verbena.
In winter, plant Namaqualand daisies, pansies, primulas, poppies, petunias and violas. Iceland poppies are the particularly suitable because they do not have a lot of leaf mass that will be in the way when the roses are sprouting after winter pruning.
Natural Mulches - Groundcovers for Roses
Groundcovers act as living mulch and their evaporation also improves humidity at the level of the rose leaves and blooms. Constantly check that groundcovers are not growing right up to and into the rose bush.
Steer clear of groundcovers with dense or spreading root systems that will compete for food and water.
Suitable groundcovers include ajuga, alyssum, calamint, echeveria, mazus, Australian violet, violets, evening primrose, snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosa), lamb’s ears (Stachys lanata) and Mondo grass.
Try this: To make the most of flowering groundcovers between the roses plant the roses about 1.5m apart.
Vegetables and Roses
The companionable mix of roses and vegetables is nothing new. Both grow best in full sun, like level beds, fertile soil and need regular, ample watering.
Good idea: Select roses that use space efficiently such standard roses, formal, upright spire roses for planting at the back of veggie beds, or climbers/ shrub roses that are trained up a pillar, onto a trellis, or over an archway.
In front of the roses grow compact veggies; beetroot, carrots, cabbage, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, and more compact varieties of chillies and sweet peppers that do not invade the roses’ space or block out the sun.
Tip: Organic insecticides like Ludwig’s Insect Spray can be used equally safely on the roses and the vegetables, and both benefit from regular fertilising with Vigorosa, especially leafy greens, brinjals and peppers. Besides adding beauty, rose blooms attract pollinators, especially bees, for fertilising the veggies.
Natural Pest-Repelling Plants for Roses
Strong smelling garlic is a favourite companion plant for roses. But, on its own it is not enough, says Ludwig Taschner, because the strong-smelling foliage is way below the flowers which are the target of the insects. To confuse the insects, he advises growing a variety of strong- smelling plants alongside roses.
Good idea: Plant herbs with strongly aromatic leaves that repel insects like ‘Margaret Roberts’ lavender, feverfew, perennial basil, Russian sage (Perovskia), cotton lavender (Santolina) and scented geraniums.