RBG’s coming up (sustainable) roses

The 50-year-old Rose Garden in the Royal Botanical Gardens’ Hendrie Park has had a 21st-century makeover. Gone are the hybrid tea roses – which are always intensive-care patients, but particularly so after Ontario’s cosmetic pesticides ban.

Instead, the 2-acre garden has been completely reinvented, from the soil chemistry upward. Designed in consultation with sustainable rose garden expert Peter Kukielski, who promotes growing roses without chemicals, the just-opened garden is hardy, sustainable, eco-friendly, beautiful and long-blooming – not just in June.

Sarah and I walked all through the gardens on opening day, and I must say we found it a fabulous start, even in its first year. Naturally, our noses were seeking fragrance. It seems to be the one thing that’s hardest to achieve in a tough garden rose. Amongst the best was ‘Earth Angel’ (the shell pink one above).

It was also great to finally see abundant flowers on the Canadian-developed rose ‘Canadian Shield’ that has been a quiet presence at Canada Blooms for the past couple of years. It’s hard to force roses in March.

Swathes of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) amongst the roses.

One of the revolutionary choices for the garden was to integrate plants that are not roses – some of which will attract predatory bugs to fight pests, and some which actually help prevent problems at the root level.

Most rose gardens are monocultures – like lawns, they’re home to only one kind of plant – and monocultures are often like buffets for the pests and disease-causing pathogens for that plant. Having a diversity of plants attracts a diversity of insects and makes the buffet less attractive, which is a better way to fight the bad guys.

The interpretive signage throughout is a nice addition. This one tells the story of the garden.

I hope you’ll take the time to visit. Admission to the Rose Garden is included in general admission.


  1. It would be nice to know all the names (common and species) of the roses they are growing now. Could you provide a list of these hardy roses so that we, in Ontario, might benefit from this knowledge? The small print-out is really hard to read, and I doubt it is including all rose varieties, including the companion planting.

    1. I agree, it would be nice to know, Alda. The best I can suggest is that you contact the Royal Botanical Gardens directly – the link to the Rose Garden in the post will take you to their website.

      I suspect that the opening of the renovated garden is more timed to the peak bloom period for roses than the final completion of the gardens. You can see the wooden stakes in the photos which are, at the moment, the only (handwritten) signage for the rose species. I heard that official labels for the roses and companion plants will be forthcoming, but they had their work cut out to be ready for opening day.

      The garden and resources can only get better with time.

  2. Thank you, Helen, for your information! I did visit their website but, alas, their secret roses are not listed…. Perhaps at some future date? 🙂

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