Ask the Curator
Clair Martin, the E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon, Jr., Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens, is happy to answer your questions regarding roses. Please understand that he will try to answer all questions, but may not be able to during very busy times in the garden.
If you have a question, please email Clair at with the words "Ask The Curator" in your subject line. Below are some recent questions that Clair has received.
Q: I wonder if you have any advice on pruning the 'Autumn Damask'. I love her, but of course she does shoot to the sky and sprawl, producing loads of new canes. Is it best to prune severely in winter? My friend suggests cutting back to about a foot high. This seems drastic to me for an old rose. Also, when thinning out during the winter prune is it best to keep new growth or old, or a mix?
A: I wouldn't prune any Damask rose as hard as your friend suggests. Damask roses like the 'Autumn Damask' resent hard pruning and often canes that have received such treatment die. The best thing to do with an 'Autumn Damask' is to simply clean out the small twiggy growth and remove any dead or diseased canes. If you must cut into a large cane then take it out by pruning it back as close to the bud union or side branch as possible. I prefer not to prune Damask roses as much as simply clean them up removing any dead or diseased wood and very lightly shortening back any long canes a bit to shape up the plant. Remember to remove all the remaining foliage and rake out any dead leaves or spent petals to clean up the garden. Your 'Autumn Damask' should be back in full bloom by late April or early May.
Q: I was looking to purchase a confetti rose bush for someone for Christmas. Do you have any suggestions as to where I might be able to find one?
A: If you are asking about 'Confetti,' a Floribunda rose from 1980, then it is available from several mail order sources: Chamblee's Rose Nursery, 10926 US Hwy. 69 North, Tyler, TX 75706, phone 903.882.3597, email ; also Regan Nursery, 4268 Decoto Road, Fremont, CA 94555, phone 510.797.3222, website www.regannursery.com
These are mail order nurseries and would be shipping bareroot roses during season. Here in California that would be late December into February. I would think that, if you ask, either one could provide you with a gift card for your Christmas gift.
If you are interested in finding sources for a large number of roses, you might wish to obtain a copy of The Combined Rose List. This valuable book is published annually by Beverly Dobson and Peter Schneider. It contains information on which roses are available commercially worldwide and where to find them. Ordering information for this book is available on their website: https://www.combinedroselist.com
Q: There is a notion going around that Eugène de Beauharnais and Le Grande Capitain are one in the same. Never having seen or heard of Le Grande before, it was suggested that we ask you. Are they one in the same? ARS says Le Grande is a Bourbon. Thank you for any insight you might have on this.
A: The plant we have as 'Eugène de Beauharnais' was imported many years ago by Sigfried Han from Albuquerque. It is the plant in commerce as Beauharnais. Greg Lowery and Phillip Robinson from Vintage Gardens have felt it is wrongly named and I just checked their most current catalog and they list 'Le Grand Capitain' on page 42 which they say "Sold and portrayed elsewhere as a lost China, 'Eugène de Beauharnais', which it is not." Modern Roses XII only list a 'Grand Capitain' and says it is a Bourbon. Jager in Rosenlexikon, who list more old roses than nearly anybody else, lists a 'Grand Capitaine' as dark red and a Hybrid Bourbon. My inclination is to keep the name 'Eugène de Beauharnais' for this rose until I see better proof. Greg may be correct but the judges and nurseries know it as the old name.
Q: Between the tea roses 'Peace' and 'First Prize' which rose do you prefer for an overall good rose?
A: Choosing between 'Peace' and 'First Prize' is like asking me to decide between apples and oranges. 'Peace' was and is a wonderful rose, full flowered and a fantastic blend of yellow, cream, and rose pink. 'First Prize' is sometimes said to be a better climber than bush rose.
The only problem I find with 'Peace' is its lack of vigor. Some growers have attempted to rejuvenate it by treating it to remove any rose mosaic virus in their plants. My understanding is that Jackson & Perkins have what they believe to be clean stock. If I were going to select a pink Hybrid Tea rose for my personal garden I would seriously consider 'Pink Peace', 'Jadis' now called 'Fragrant Memory', 'Tiffany', or 'Touch of Class'. All are outstanding older Hybrid Teas.
Q: What's the oldest rose in The Huntington Botanical Gardens?
A: The rose in our garden that can be found the furthest back in history is the Autumn Damask, also known as The Rose of Castile or Rosa damascena bifera. This rose was written about by the poet Virgil in the 1st century before Christ. You can find a lovely Autumn Damask in the Shakespeare Garden, just east of the north end of the bridge.
Q: When should I prune my roses?
A: Here in Southern California, the ideal time to prune roses is between January 15th and February 15th. If you have a large garden and need more time, as we do here at The Huntington, pruning can start as early as January 1st and extend as late as February 28th. I would not recommend pruning any earlier than January 1st because pruning starts the plant's biological clock and it will bloom six to eight weeks after pruning. If you prune too early, the plant may be hit by frost just as it is starting to bud, or it may be more susceptible to insects and disease because you will encourage early succulent growth.
If you're located in another part of the country, follow the local timeline for the best time to prune. Check with your local rose society to see when they prune or watch public gardens.
Q: How do you prune climbing roses?
A: With climbing roses, you don't prune the length, but you do tidy them up, removing any dead canes and twiggy growth. You can also remove old canes if there are strong new ones to take their places. If you shorten a climber, it probably won't bloom again until it regains its length.
Q: What is the meaning of the word "sport" when it comes to roses?
A: A sport is a genetic mutation. Here at The Huntington, we have a lovely soft apricot shrub rose called 'Huntington's Hero.' This rose is a sport of the beautiful pink David Austin rose, 'Hero.' Sports are reproduced by cuttings or grafts and often will sport (or mutate) back to the original rose. When you look at our bed of 'Huntington's Hero,' you will notice an occasional deep pink rose which is a sport back to 'Hero.'