Monday, May 16, 2011

Baffin Baffled

'William Baffin'
 In many ways, I have been both surprised and baffled by the popularity of the Canadian climbing rose 'William Baffin'.  'William Baffin' was an early (1983) introduction in the Explorer series from Ag Canada.  He is a monster of a hot-pink rose, growing from 7-9 feet tall in Canada and a little bit taller here.  Although Ag Canada describes the clusters of blooms as medium red, he is more hot pink to my eyes (byuck!), with random white streaks occasionally marring the base of the petals. I'm a "double" rose guy, and I'm not very excited by the semi-double average of 20 petals for William. There is nothing particularly unique about it to recommend the bloom, and the rose has no fragrance to speak of.  Left to its own devices, 'William Baffin' will make an impenetrable thicket of long thorny canes and it will punish any rosarian who tries to tie it up, not a surprising habit for a rose derived from the viscous R. kordesii on one side and a pollen parent derived from 'Red Dawn' X 'Suzanne'.     Oh yeah, and it suckers like there is no tomorrow.

'William Baffin' at KSU Rose Garden
But, on the other hand, hardy climbers are difficult to find for Midwestern and Northern locations and I also have to admit that 'William Baffin' blooms like a fiend.  Many "modern" roses sold locally as climbers are prone to dying back to the ground every winter in the Flint Hills, and there is frankly little reason to have a climber that doesn't cover its trellis until the end of the season.  Salmon-pink 'America' and dark red 'Don Juan' are much recommended here, are prone to winter dieback almost every year, and I never see them blooming as more than about  three-foot shrubs.  Popular 'Fourth of July' occasionally makes 5 feet at the KSU Rose Garden and blooms well, but it's also prone to blackspot there.  So, there is one reliable winter-hardy red climber in common use, 'Improved Blaze', and I have high hopes for the newer 'Crimson Sky', but as you can see in the picture at the left, taken last weekend, 'William Baffin' is a sure bet as a spectacular climber with absolutely no winter dieback at the KSU Garden.  I grow William at home as a shrub rose in the center of a group of other Old Garden and Hardy roses, and you can barely put a finger between the blooms of my specimen, as shown below:

'William Baffin' grown as a shrub rose
Disease resistance is good, and I never spray 'William Baffin', either at the KSU Rose Garden, or at home.

So, if you're wanting a display to be seen across a football field, I'm all for recommending 'William Baffin', but please don't expect much up close and personal with this rose.  He'll take a couple of years to get going, but when he comes out of that awkward adolescent phase, nothing will stand in his way towards providing a great spring show.


  1. I've been thinking about climbers. Are there any other color choices? for Kansas..I saw a climber or a rambler in the david austin catalog that said it could handle tree root competition. I think it was a white.

  2. I think what you described is a perfect landscape rose - it takes care of itself and looks great from a distance.

  3. From reports, I think Crimson Sky will be a good red. We planted Blaze of Glory (kind of an apricot) last year at the KSU Gardens and it did well this winter, but many roses didn't die back around here like they usually do. For a pink, shorter climber (6-8 feet), I don't think you can beat John Davis and for "white" New Dawn does well in Kansas. And for a rambler, I'm really fond of American Pillar.

  4. Darlows Enigma is an excellent white climbing rose-but is not real 'rosy' in appearance foRming manY small open roses in a large bouquet at the end of eah cane that very closely resembles flowers from a blackberry bush-but they smell sweet and the rose is easy as pie to train. They say semi shade, but I am moving both of mine to the sun only -my sun plant same age as my shady one,is 7 ft at 6 months old (own root roses, not grafts) the shade one maybe 3 ft.But I do adore both my William Baffin as the color and hardiness is wonderful. I like to have quite a few rose varieties and for singles these are very nice to have.They are sweet happy and healthy roses.


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