Thursday, August 7, 2014

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

If there were a rose that I would describe as a "mixed blessing", it would have to be  'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer', a 1897 cross by Dr. Franz Hermann Müller between seed parent 'Germanica' and a seeding from a cross of 'Gloire de Dijon' and 'Duc de Rohan'.  Classified as a Hybrid Rugosa because of the 'Germanica' parent, the popular 'CFM' is mentioned in almost every magazine article that lists Rugosas.  Still, having grown it myself for a number of years, I sometimes wonder at the sanity of those who grow it.  Perhaps the mental instability of its namesake, Swedish poet and historical novelist Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, has rubbed off on the rosarians who grow the rose.

'CFM' does have many positive attributes to separate it from other Hybrid Rugosas.  The double blooms and soft silvery pink color are more similar to a "modern" rose than other Rugosa hybrids; the latter often flattened, semi-double mauve-ish flowers in form.  The blooms are large (more than 4 inches in diameter in my garden), borne in small clusters, and repeat sporadically over the season.  'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer' is also very, very fragrant, even for a Rugosa.  The bush is cane-hardy in my garden, with only minimal tip dieback in the worst winters.  All of these, but especially the fragrance, are reasons why I grow this rose.  No one who sees this bush questions my sanity. 

But it has a number of negative attributes as well.  Blooms tend to ball up like the picture at the right, especially in cold weather.   The matte foliage is not as blackspot resistant as more "rugose"cultivars such as 'Blanc Double de Coubert' or 'Purple Pavement', and my 'CFM' will drop about 75% of its leaves in mid-summer if I don't monitor it.  In areas where rust is common in roses, 'CFM' is notoriously susceptible.  I also wouldn't call it a vigorous rose;  for years I grew it in the middle of native prairie and the nearby grass competed for enough moisture and nutrients to keep it spindly and on the constant verge of death. The thorns are sharp, flat out dangerous and guaranteed to draw blood if you are not careful (I suppose that's a positive if you plant it in front of the window of a teen-age daughter).  The bush is tall, stiff, and ungainly.  The 'CFM' in the Reinsch Rose Garden of Topeka grows over 8 feet tall and wide, magnifying the ugliness of the bush.  My specimen, even after I moved it to a more cultivated bed where it has less competition, has stayed around 5 feet tall and not as wide.   

I do have one final personal observation in favor of this rose.  We don't often see roses included in a list of "deer resistant" plants, but I'm here to testify that 'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer' can take a deer licking and keep on ticking.   You'll recall that Conrad Ferdinand Meyer seems to be the choice of deer that graze in my winter garden.  In the winters of 2012 and 2013, I lost count of the number of pictures my game camera took of deer sampling directly from the bush pictured above and at the left.  And yet they didn't seem to cause much damage on the rose that I could find.  Maybe deer are drawn to it, but the thorns ultimately fend off those velvety deer lips.  All I know is that year after year it looks and performs the same regardless of its dietary contributions to the browsing deer.  The first picture of the overall bush was from May of 2013 and the second from May, 2014, still standing tall after a really tough winter from both deer and weather.

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