Roses in the shade

Rose expert Michael Marriott explores the art of growing roses in the shade.

Rose Mundi
Rosa 'Mundi'. Image: David Austin Roses
Published on Tagged with ,

Just about all books about roses advise that roses need a full day’s sun or, at least a of minimum 6 or 7 hours. But in fact many roses will still grow and flower well planted against or near a north-facing wall with only 4 or 5 hours of sun, as long as it is a good open position without extra shade from trees or buildings.

Growing roses in shady positions has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side the soil is more likely to stay damp which roses really appreciate, encouraging quicker repeat flowering and better growth. In the UK the blazing hot sun is not usually too much of a problem (it’s pretty rare really), but in warmer climates it can burn up the flowers and then they only last a day or two. In this situation, shade from midday onwards can be very beneficial. On the downside, as the leaves are more likely to stay wet for longer in the shade, it is important to choose varieties that are particularly good at resisting diseases. This is not as important with climbers and ramblers as, being up in the air, there will be more air movement and so quicker drying of the leaves. Similarly when grown in large pots there is more air movement and so less disease and, as an added bonus, they will need less water which means fewer waterings.  

What nearly all roses don’t like is growing under the canopy of trees or large shrubs where the combination of dryness at the roots and the one-sided light will draw them and make them grow poorly.

I recommend the following English Roses (they generally have very beautiful full petalled, fragrant flowers with a bushy habit and repeat flower well) for shady spots.

Desdemona
Rose ‘Desdemona’. Image: David Austin Roses
  • Rose ‘Desdemona’ – An exquisitely beautiful English shrub rose with white, chalice shaped blooms with a hint of pink. The flowers have an intense myrrh fragrance and the plant has an exceptionally long flowering season.
  • Rose ‘Kew Gardens’ is an award winning rose which flowers almost continuously with beautiful, small, single white flowers with golden stamens, held in large heads. The plants are bushy and exceptionally healthy and completely thornless. RHS AGM
  • Rose ‘Lady of Shalott’ is a striking rose, as well as one of the hardiest and most reliable. Striking apricot-yellow, chalice-shaped blooms on plants with healthy with vigorous, bushy growth. RHS AGM
  • Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ is an excellent plant all round with fragrant rosette blooms of shallowly cupped, soft pink rosettes. It has a strong, pleasing, fruity fragrance. The plants are vigorous, exceptionally healthy and have a second, later flush of flowers.
  • Rose ‘Princess Anne’ has large clusters of stunning, fragrant deep pink flowers with a wavy, frilly effect. It’s a very healthy plant with good disease resistance. RHS AGM

The following Old Roses (most of these have very full petalled, fragrant flowers too although all, except the last two, will only flower once) should also be good:

Rosa 'Queen of Denmark'
Rosa ‘Queen of Denmark’. Image: David Austin Roses
  • Rosa ‘Celsiana’ has small clusters of large, open semi double soft pink flowers with a delicious damask fragrance. It forms a beautiful, graceful shrub. RHS AGM
  • Rose ‘Ispahan’ is one of the first old roses to bloom and flowers freely with exquisite clear pink flowers and a glorious fragrance. RHS AGM
  • Rose ‘Queen of Denmark’ is a fine old rose with large, beautifully formed, quartered flowers of soft pink with a very strong old rose scent. It’s a tough, healthy and reliable rose to grow. RHS AGM
  • Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’ has large, semi double, light crimson flowers with open centres and golden stamens. The flowers are strongly scented and the plants are extremely healthy, tough and reliable. Or why not opt for the stripy version of this old rose, Rosa mundi also known as Rosa Gallica ‘Versicolor’. RHS AGM
  • Rose ‘Jacques Cartier’ has beautiful, large rosette shapes, rich pink flowers with a very strong fragrance.

Some of the modern shrub roses should cope well too. Most modern shrubs lack much in the way of fragrance but the first three below are very much the exceptions to the rule:

Rosy Cushion
Rose ‘Rosy Cushion’. Image: David Austin Roses
  • Rosa rugosa and Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ are wild roses that repeat flower. The purple rose coloured rugosa rose has large, open flowers and pale stamens followed by plump round red hips. The white variety is a fabulous alternative. Both are highly fragrant and repeat flowering.
  • Rose ‘Hansa’ has fabulous double, silky magenta blooms, which are very fragrant and followed by red/orange hips.
  • Rose ‘Bonica’ has dainty clusters of attractive, small, rose pink flowers. RHS AGM
  • Rose ‘Rosy Cushion’ is an excellent, well-rounded shrub rose with almost single, soft pink flowers. It repeat flowers over a long season and is a dense and bushy plant.

Do reconsider those shady spots that you thought wouldn’t be any good for roses – you will hopefully be very pleasantly surprised by the result.

Michael Marriott

About Michael Marriott

Michael Marriott has gardening in his blood. He grew up surrounded by gardens and studied Agricultural Botany at University. Today he is technical manager and rosarian at David Austin Roses and the main source of knowledge on all matters relating to roses, having worked with them for over 30 years.
@DAustinRoses
View all posts by Michael.