The Mystery of Gertrude Jekyll's Longevity in one Canadian Zone 3 Garden

Let me start by saying this rose is not cane hardy - but that counts for nothing in this history by my standards for this type of “tender” rose and it demonstrated performance.

This Austin rose has been in my gardens since 2001 as an own root planting (in itself a defiance of traditional wisdom to go grafted in cold climates with tender roses) in 3 different micro-climates, south side exposed, south 3-sided sheltered and the north gardens (most hostile in terms of cold and wind exposure). It is my one of my oldest surviving Austin but is unique in that it has survived and thrives in three variable locations and I have tried at last count a couple of years back ~ 70 named types.

There are others as old and consist of single examples of Abraham Darby (11 years old), Heritage (9 years old) and Golden Celebration. But AD and GC only survive in the south 3 sided sheltered location - planting examples in other location ended with their demise, even with protection. Heritage exists in the exposed location beside one GJ and is also 9 years old … today it is only 12 inches tall after a winter of no protection. The GJ beside it is 3 to 5 feet tall and blooming today.

Last year was the first year no planting of GJ and th e others named were protected. I noticed absolutely no effect on the vigor and size of the rose and it’s ability to bloom - though the canes did die to the ground.

So what is the point of this information?

If this rose can come back without diminished vigor and bloom in three different locations for 9 years … used to be impressed with Eglantyne, and St. Swithun but they died last winter without protection … its performance leads me to believe my observations are not the result of a short time span fluke situation.

I am convinced GJ has something special in it’s genetic makeup for my zone 3 climate that is not obvious to me from it stated parentage. By the way it also seems “to spread” and one year in the south side sheltered location I had to “whack” back 1/2 of the areal extent as it was taking over the bed.

I have mildly alkaline soil (7.4 to 7.8) and normally warm dry summers(~75C to 80C) and hitting -30 C for a few days is not really unusual. Snow cover is not consistent through winter and subject to periodic disappearance due to winter warm “Chinook” winds.

As an aside, but not a slam against, it’s growth vigor will surpass or even rival some of the explorers and Mordens - some of these roses suffer significant die down in my garden. I lost a north garden Prairie Joy and two Winnipeg parks in last year’s early cold. The GJ’s had no problem returning.

In the area of fragrance comparison, there is none, when compared to the hardy standards in my garden.

Normally the canes will go to a maximum of 4 to 5 feet as is the case now, but when protected by peat moss mounding there is 5 to 12 inches of cane you think is dead due to dark dark brown to near black color, yet new growth begins from the “stumps” after I prune the traditional dry tan colored cracked cane off.

One aesthetic draw back is that blooming only occurs at the tips end after about 3 to 5 feet of growth. Though in one year of an long warm early fall re-bloom occurred with the blooms at least a 1/3 larger. I have never tried “suspended” tip pegging after it reaches 2 or 3 feet - should try that next year. I ignore the thorns as an issue since I growth hardy pimpinefollia.

The way HelpMefind writes it, I am led to believe the female is an unnamed seedling (Not Wife of Bath I assume ? - I planted that with 3 examples and they died). I had also planted the parent male (Comte d Chambord - sic?) as listed on HelpMeFind (pollen parent) a number of times and the examples died even with protection.

Anyways maybe one of you could cross it with a Morden or an Explorer and get fragrance … me trying hybridization would be like trying to mix oil and water - only get an emulsion after vigorous effort and it eventually separates.

Here are photos of the three plantings taken today to show I tell no tales of this awesome rose in my garden. Note the “leaves right to the ankles” and why growing roses in Calgary is a blessing when they behave … they look like roses should look in fairy tales - all leaves shiny, lush healthy and therefore retained right to the ground.

There is a 34 inch yellow “yard” ruler (2 inches in ground) beside each for scale. Note the size of the other non-hardy and hardy roses.

First photo is south side exposed with Jude the Obscure and Kordes rose beside it (that bi-color one) named after a lady that eludes me for the moment as to it’s name - popular 10 years ago.

Obviously had I known GJ would grow so well in zone 3 it would not of been in the front of the “garden”.

Second photo is south side, three sides sheltered, with a prairie joy to left and small 10 year Alex Mackenzie behind GJ - also Alpenfee behind. Again superior growth.

Last is back north garden with Winnipeg parks in front and Charles Darwin (3 years old) to left GJ.


Here is the 9 year old heritage taken also today that is beside GJ in the south exposed garden. Again deduct a couple of inches. The rose to the left is a new planting of yellow submarine and a new planting of john davis to right.

Is there any chance you have Sir Walter Raleigh instead?

The reason I ask is that I had two SWRs one wretched winter when our low temps got to -15F. Fortunately we had snow cover. Most roses had nothing left above that snow cover. But both SWRs had at least four feet of canes above the top of the snow, and those canes survived, stayed green (they were that young) and bloomed well in spring on those same frozen canes.

Both of those SWRs later declined from Rose Mosaic Virus (zig zag patterns all too abundant), but the blooms were excellent and close to GJ in color.

Between my SWRs and my four GJ’s (from two very different sources) the SWRs had far stronger growth.

Hi Ann,

I do not believe so as the blooms are very double (I would call them full) when I compare to the photo’s of SWR.

It is difficult to make out the stigma and stamens - actually I never seen the former and the latter are dispersed between petals.

Regards Riku

My GJ’s (some from Park Wayside and the others from J&P) all had petals that opened neatly- giving an almost gardenia look with neatly unfurled petals.

I’ve seen other supposed GJ’s that did not have that look at all, so I’ve also wondered if some roses were sold under that name because they were 1) medium pink and 2) fragrant enough and 3) because garden lovers know who Miss Jekyll was (and even might pronounce her name correctly)

SWR made very large blooms that stopped traffic because they looked like peonies blooming way out of peony season.

Hi Ann

I photographed today a new bloom starting to open on the south side exposed bush. I also this spring decided not to fight success and bought another one from the same nursery that I got the originals from. The second photo is from today of the new bush with a couple of days old bloom - with the original Austin tag still affixed to it.

Just an opinion, but if I assume Austin messed up in his “origins” of the rose for one of the parents - my wild guess would be it has “eglanteria” in it. No facts except the canes tend to look a lot to my eyes sometimes like apple jack which is planted 5 feet away … but gets no more than 2 to 3 feet high and is not completely cane hardy - and just a wild conjecture on my part. I have a couple of I believe just one cross away from species that are sky-rocketing this year (Flora McIvor Amy Robsart)

Because of the large height of these bushes I am toying with the idea of putting a hedge of them even though they have to re-grow - the privacy in the front yard is appealing. Right now I use Joe Pye Weed and a lost name perennial that is large to get the privacy - A 20 bush Champlain hedge is just not cutting it - maybe 18 inches high.


That rose and label look a perfect match, certainly a case of that nursery getting their labelling right, to be sure!

How ironical an experience and decision today for me relative to the comparison I made up top on Champlain vs GJ as a perennial hedge in zone 3 because of the vigorous growth with flowering height difference (but not bloom density) and how I would chose the latter. It was if a goddess of irony said “your spouting off … now choose in real life”.

I was at the Home Depot on other matters today and wandered into the nursery. They had a late season arrival of “fresh” roses at a deep discount $10.50- grafted likely on Huey considering it was Star Roses (really late arrival in my books for up here).

The ironical part was I had only a choice between two available types 1. Champlain or 2. Gertrude Jekyll.

Took all their Gertrude Jekyll stock as one GJ equals about 2.5 Champlain in width. going to do my hedge instead of muse about it. I will find out if I am right and meets my needs in the years to come.