Following our visit to Bunny Williams’s exquisite gardens in Connecticut, we couldn’t stop thinking about her climbing roses. Lush, hearty, and bursting with vivid green leaves and colorful blooms, Bunny’s roses are what gardening dreams are made of. So we did a little digging to find out how we might be able to get such robust roses at home.
Bunny has a profusion of climbing roses in two of her garden “rooms”—the parterre garden, where they twine along arbors, and the perennial garden, where they creep up a wall of lattice. According to Bunny’s chief gardener, Eric Ruquist, “It’s really about selection—you have to look for varieties that will do well in the terrain you’re planting in.”
If you don’t possess encyclopedic gardening knowledge like Eric (oh, how we wish!), first monitor the spot where you’ll be growing the flowers; most climbing roses prefer full sun, though some can tolerate brief shade. Check the spot several times a day over the course of a few days to determine the average amount of sunlight it gets. Then, armed with this information, and preferably a couple photos of your growing spot, head off to your favorite nursery and ask the experts for suggestions on varieties that will work best in your yard.
Eric is especially fond of “William Baffin,” a variety with semidouble flowers that was first developed in Canada and is one of the hardiest types of climbing roses. “The plant is very vigorous and the blooms are large and showy, so it makes a dramatic presentation,” he says. The plant flowers from June through early fall, so there’s always color on Bunny’s garden borders. Though her garden currently stars the hot-pink version of the rose, Eric is planning to replant a few in a softer pink, for variety.
During the growing season, Eric prunes only the dead parts of the plant and shoots that grow against the shape of the grouping. He hasn’t found it necessary to supplement with fertilizer, but to promote the lush look, you can give your roses a monthly infusion, starting in the spring and ending in August, with an organic fish-based fertilizer like Organic Gem.
Are you a climbing-rose aficionado? What are your favorite tips for taking care of these gorgeous blooms?