Monday, September 6, 2010

An American Pillar

For this Labor Day of the year of our Lord 2010, I'd like to highlight a now infrequently seen but delightful rambler, the rose 'American Pillar'.  'American Pillar' has been variously described as being a cross between  R. wichuraiana and the native prairie rose, or R. wichuraiana and an unknown hybrid perpetual, but regardless of its parentage, the result was a once-blooming cold-hardy and disease resistant rambler.  In bloom, it's covered with hundreds of small (1 inch) five-petaled carmine pink flowers with white center eyes and golden stamens. Although it's once-blooming and lacks discernible fragrance, it blooms for a long (3 week) period towards the end of blooming of the other roses, and then leaves behind a number of small orange-red hips for winter interest.  It was introduced by famous rose-breeder Dr. Walter Van Fleet in 1902, so this rose has its centennial well behind it. 

Here in the Flint Hills, 'American Pillar' is unfailingly healthy and makes a monster of a rose.  I've read stories of it rambling around to 30 feet and smothering everything in its path, but here in Kansas new canes reach about 12-16 feet by the end of a season and I seldom grow a cane into year two. In my garden, I train the rose by spiraling it on a ten-foot tall four-by-four post and it regularly threatens to pull the post over under its bulk.  Many new canes arise annually from the base, and since those canes are said to provide the best bloom, I trim out the two-year old canes in favor of the new canes in late winter.  This annual cleaning improves air flow to the otherwise clogged center and gives me an occasion to collect and tie up the new canes which have sprawled over several 'Rugelda' roses, a "White Profusion" buddleia, two rustled cemetery roses and a number of daylilies in the near vicinity.  It makes, as you can see at the right, a stunning display in my garden to highlight the end of the first summer bloom cycle of the roses.  

'American Pillar' is a long-lived rose as well.  Plants set in the ground almost a century ago at the Pierre du Pont estate (now Longwood Gardens) are still climbing over metal arches in a courtyard.  I've grown 'American Pillar' for 9 years now in its present position and it shows no signs of weakness and never needs spraying for fungal disease. 

In the interests of full disclosure, I might not mind it if the rose would weaken, at least a little.  Those vigorous 1/2 inch thick canes are armed with exceedingly vicious thorns and I try to do the annual pruning and lashing up of 'American Pillar' on a particularly cold day so my skin doesn't feel the pricks so much and so that all the blood stops flowing and freezes quickly.  I've had bouts with this rose that leave me looking like I'm one of the victims in a slasher movie, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  Those incredibly thick blooms are simply too gorgeous to turn away from.

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