Q: My 91-year-old mother is looking for the Florida Cracker Rose. I would like to get this rose for her as she says that it is red, can grow from a cutting, and has a pleasant aroma. Any suggestions or advice on finding An Old Garden Rose For mom would be greatly appreciated.
A: What a wonderful daughter to search out a memory as a gift for mom. The hardest part of this search is putting a name on the plant. The term Florida Cracker rose has been applied to many varieties. However, the most common rose with this moniker is also known as Rosa’ Louis Philippe’. It has many other names, including ‘King of France,’ ‘Florida Rose,’ and ‘Louis Philippe dangers.
This old garden rose was developed in 1834 by a French rose breeder. It was most likely a gift to a Texas politician who introduced it to his home in Texas. It has become ubiquitous in the southern landscape and is dependable even in difficult hot-weather conditions.
Louis Philippe shrubs are disease resistant and heat tolerant. They grow well in sandy soil and can easily exceed 6 feet in height. It produces long branches and can form a big mounding shrub. The flowers are double, deep crimson with a touch of blush pink at the center with an occasional white streak through the petals. The blooms are 2-3 inches across and have a lovely scent. Granny Cloud did call it a cracker rose, and it was always in flower in her garden.
Planting roses in the right place is essential. For best flowering and growth, roses must be planted in full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours per day, preferably starting early in the morning. Provide plenty of room for the roots to grow without competition in well-drained soil. I like to add a low-volume irrigation system such as drip or micro-jet systems for roses; this helps keep the leaves dry and reduces disease incidence.
As to buying an Old Garden Rose for mom, such as Louis Philippe or others, seek out a locally owned nursery or garden center, preferably one that is a member of a local industry association such as the Florida Nursery, Growers, and Landscape Association. Often such nurseries have trained personnel, are knowledgeable about local conditions, and if they do not have what you are looking for, most are willing to order for you.
Most roses for Florida and other locations with sandy soils and nematode populations must be grafted on Rosa fortuniana rootstock. This tough plant helps old and new varieties resist nematodes that feed on the roots. Additionally, the rootstock provides some resistance to diseases such as gall, stem dieback, and black spot. However, Louis Philippe grows well on its own roots.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who all deserve roses.
This column first appeared in the Treasure Coast Newspapers.