To accentuate the beauty of a shrub rose, allow it to mingle with other plants, while indulging its desire to be the star of the show. Companion planting has a practical purpose as well as a creative one. Foliage of other plants can help to cover the bare soil and gnarled branches often found at the base of roses, and any mixed planting always attracts a broader range of beneficial insects, helping to keep the rose healthy.
There is an art to getting the balance right: Wollerton Old Hall, with its sensational mixed borders interspersed with shrub roses, is a great place to visit if you’re interested in mastering it. That’s where I took this picture of the English rose above, before dashing for cover, much too soon, from a sudden, ferocious downpour.
Though I’ve seen hundreds of different plants grown successfully with roses, often it’s a case of trial and error to find out which combinations work best in the long term. I might not have thought of this textural combination of the huge leaves of Bergenia and the soft feathery foliage with Rosa ‘Ballerina’, but the extra greenery helps to offset the clusters of blooms.
The choice of companion plants can change the way we interpret the character of the rose – here’s another shot that brings out the cottage garden prettiness of ‘Ballerina’:
One tip often quoted is to avoid companion plants that will be aggressive in their demands for space and nutrients – though ‘Ballerina’ seems capable of holding its own, in this company, at least. Another is to treat roses just as you would perennials and plant them in small groups to help balance the weight of the planting.
These roses certainly seemed to be happy, healthy-looking specimens if the amount of flowers and buds is a sure guide, which it usually is. I’ll be looking out for more combinations on my travels so I can share them. Please let me know if you have a favourite place to see roses in mixed plantings and I’ll add it to my to-visit list.