A Gardening Journal

The Best Season Ever: Darlow's Enigma Rose

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Clusters of fragrant single white flowers, even in the shade! 'Darlow's Enigma' deserves to be grown in gardens coast to coast. With exceptional tolerance of cold and heat, it's easy to welcome this rose to almost any garden from Miami to Missoula to Manhattan, San Diego to San Antonio to Salem.

 

Oh-so-sharp thorns point slightly downward, enabling the slender canes of this rose to support themselves on each other as well as surrounding plants. They snag clothing and skin just as easily.

 

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I'm growing Rosa 'Darlow's Enigma' up a tall permanent stake, so that a shrub that, on its own, is a five-foot mound can be featured as a ten-foot column of growth way back in the bed. In the picture below, the rose is just about tall enough to access the lower branches of a pollarded cut-leaved alder, into which it will then climb.

 

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When supported like this, stems can climb to twelve feet. That's high enough to bring flushes of Summer bloom into the canopy of this alder, which, on its own, wouldn't have any floral presence at all in warm weather.

 

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Here's how to grow this easy and versatile rose:

 

Latin Name

Rosa 'Darlow's Enigma'

Common Name

Darlow's Enigma musk rose

Family

Rosaceae, the Rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Rambler rose

Hardiness

Zones 4b - 10b

Habit

Many slender canes emerge from the base, and anchor themselves readily in surrounding vegetation or among one another.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Six to twelve feet high; at the taller end of the range only when supported.

Texture

Typical rose foliage on long thin canes.

Grown for

its vigor: 'Darlow's Enigma' thrives despite high heat in Summer (or even, as in the subtropics, year round), as well as intense cold in Winter. As is typical for musk roses, it tolerates part shade and yet still flowers. It is notably disease-resistant.

 

its flowers:  Clusters of small single white blooms, with five to eight petals and prominent yellow stamens. Fragrance is good, and carries well.

Flowering season

Long. Most typically, there will be two flushes, one in early Summer and another in late Summer. (In Zone 7 and warmer, near-continuous blooming can occur.) The flush of flowers emerging in early Summer is formed on the tips and new laterals of basal stems that were formed the previous year. The late-Summer flush forms at the tips of long basal stems that have emerged that same season. See both "How to handle it" boxes, below, to maximize both types of flower production.

Color Combinations

The white flowers go with everything.

Partner Plants

With so many options for how to grow this rose—see both "How to handle it" boxes, below—there are as many places to plant it—see "Where to plant it," below—and, therefore, many different scenarios for companion plants. If there's any theme, it would be to avoid companion plants that would be in the way as you maneuver under and around the shrub to do the necessary training. Most of that work is done in the cooler months, so siting perennials nearby would still be practical as long as their dormant stems are underground, not at or above the surface: Hosta or Ceratostigma, not Epimedium or Hemerocallis, then; or shade-tolerant ornamental grasses that can be used as low groundcovers, such as Hakonechloa and Carex. Both of these grasses have variegated or solid-color forms that directly engage with the white petals or prominent yellow stamens of the flowers of 'Darlow's Enigma'.

 

Neighboring plants that would not be immediately underfoot as you groom and train 'Darlow's Enigma' can be chosen with an eye focused less on tolerance of your occasional tromping and more more on color, form, and scale. This rose's unusual degree of shade tolerance makes possible combinations with shade-loving perennials that would be difficult to achieve with any other roses. (Yes, 'Zepherine Droughin' is another notably shade-tolerant rose; its flowers are deep pink.) I use 'Darlow's Enigma' to bring flowers—any flowers at all, in this case, those of a rose—into the shady canopy of a pollarded alder. When this rose is in flower, there's color from foliage in nearby plants, especially that of the gold-variegated giant grass, Miscanthus 'Gilded Tower', but no other flowers. Shade-loving flowers in June to combine with this rose include Astilboides tabularis and Aruncus dioicus. Other shade-loving perennials with striking gold foliage besides hostas include Leucosceptrum japonicum 'Golden Angel'.

Where to use it in your garden

Depending on how you handle it, 'Darlow's Enigma' might be kept small enough to grow amid perennials. Its unusual shade tolerance expands your choices beyond sun-lovers. See "Plant partners, above."

 

As a free-standing shrub of five to six feet tall and wide, it will find a ready home in mixed borders. As an espalier, this rose could grow to twelve feet high and almost twice that wide, but could be grown in narrow beds, such as those between pathways and the walls of buildings. This siting is ideal, in that the flowers are all displayed at close range, which maximizes the effect of their fragrance; the narrow bed also permits ready access to the shrub for the ongoing attention needed to sustain its growth in such a large but thin volume of space. I grow 'Darlow's Enigma' up a high permanent stake, so it can be sited far back in a shady portion of a huge bed and yet still be appreciated when in flower.

 

If possible, site 'Darlow's Enigma' where it can be accessed readily (although, because of its thorns, warily): As is typical of roses, some degree of pruning and fussing is required. Because the shrub's thorns are peculiarly adept at snagging clothing and skin, strike a balance between a location that is too close to a handy pathway or lawn, and one that is too far back in a large bed. I haven't followed my own advice, true, choosing to grow this rose where access for the necessary training is inconvenient and the rose's fragrance isn't appreciable from any nearby pathway. That said, the training is best done in the Winter, when intervening perennials and shrubs are mostly leafless and out of the way. And there are few roses as shade-tolerant as 'Darlow's Enigma' that also lend themselves to training, as I'm doing, up into the lower reaches of a nearby tree.

Culture

As is usual for roses: Regular to rich soil, regular water, average to good Winter drainage.

How to handle it: The Basics

Depending on how its stems are handled, 'Darlow's Enigma' can be a medium sized free-standing shrub, an espalier trained on a wall or fence or, as I grow mine, an informal column of growth trained up a permanent stake. Plant in Spring; in Zone 7 and warmer, Fall planting would be fine or, even, preferable, in that sufficient water for establishment might be provided naturally. Allow to grow freely for several years.

 

As a free-standing shrub: In late Winter after the shrub has become established for two or three years, prune with the goal of maximizing new growth while also removing some of the old. I find that it's very helpful to work on 'Darlow's Enigma' while the weather is still cold enough to require plenty of sturdy Winter clothing, which keeps me thoroughly covered. Then the shrub's hooked thorns grab at my clothing, not my skin.

 

1. Shorten all stems by about a third, to encourage plenty of lateral stems. Typically, a flower cluster will emerge at the tips of most of them.

 

2. Cut the laterals that have arisen from those main stems back by a third or even two thirds, to encourage production of still more laterals from the dormant buds of their remaining portions.

 

3. With the overall bulk now reduced, you'll have somewhat better access to the ground level of the shrub. Better, but not fabulous: The curved thorns of the stems still retain their peculiar ability to snag any part of you—hair, clothing, skin—and then, thanks to their flexibility, stay attached despite your attempts to back out of the entanglement. As best you can, cut several of the thickest stems through at the base. Extract yourself from the grasp of the shrub, and then pull these severed stems free; it won't be possible to remove them while you're still hunkered at the shrub's base. This thinning will encourage production of new stems directly from the base.

 

4. Cut away any other stems that are dead or might have become damaged over the Winter.

 

If your soil is exceptionally rich, and you've sited 'Darlow's Enigma' in full sun, the shrub might have sufficient vigor to thrive when grown exclusively for its late-Summer flowers. In essence, you'd be handling this unusual rose as you would a classic butterfly bush: In early Spring, as soon as you can detect emergence of new leaves, prune all stems down to their lowest leaf-buds. New stems will emerge from those buds, as well as directly from the base of the shrub. Allow these shoots to grow unimpeded through the Summer, so they can develop flower clusters at their tips in September. Grown with such an annual Spring coppicing, the overall scale of 'Darlow's Enigma' would be reduced. Plus, there would be plenty of room beneath the canopy to underplant with Spring bulbs, whose foliage will be dormant by the time new growth has lengthened enough to cast it into shade. 

 

During the growing season, you might try clipping spent flower clusters to see if that helps the production of new ones later in the season. Be careful not to damage new stems that are emerging from the base to find their own way up and out through the older growth.

How to handle it: Another option—or two? 

As an espalier:  With its slender canes, 'Darlow's Enigma' is easy to espalier as long as you are mindful of not becoming hooked by the sharp thorns. Train in a fan, with the goal of giving individual canes a straight run along their entire length. Then it will be easy to shorten stems by a third, prune their laterals back substantially, and also cut a few of the oldest stems off at the bottom.

 

Cut off more of the older stems than you would if growing this rose as a free-standing shrub, to free up "slots" into which you can tie some of the new stems that will emerge from the base that same season. Even so, there will probably be extras. Tie them informally into the espalier during the season; this keeps them from pronging outward, so they don't get damaged, or latch onto adjacent plants or pedestrians. If they produce flower clusters at their tip, you can cut those stems to use in arrangements. Later in Fall, see if any of them might be needed to fill out the espalier; cut the rest off at the base.

 

 

Trained up a high vertical support:  I grow 'Darlow's Enigma' up a permanent stake, so I can bring its canopy of stems to a greater height than would otherwise be possible. As is typical for roses, stems that are supported grow longer than they would when free-standing. Plus, support helps minimize the other source of less-than-maximum growth: Winter damage from heavy snow or ice.

 

To begin forming a tall-as-possible 'Darlow's Enigma', allow a young shrub to establish for several years. Then, any time that's convenient from Fall to early Spring, cut back the laterals of all the stems. This reduces the propensity of their thorns to interlace the stems into an intractable mass. Next, tie these "de-lateraled" stems loosely but vertically to the stake. It's easiest to do this individually, removing any other stems that are awkwardly angled or that are getting in your way by cutting them at the base.

 

In the new growing season, allow the tied-in stems to lengthen and "lateral" at will, while also allowing new stems to emerge from the base. The 'Darlow's Enigma' will have begun the season as a loose column, but will end it as an informally-upright mass of growth, much taller but also wider than before. After cold weather has enabled the shrub's leaves to fall, tie those new basal stems to the mass of those already in place around the stake. I do this informally, with a spiral of twine; along the way, I also cut off any laterals or tips of main stems that are projecting inconveniently outward. The Winter after the overall shrub has reached the desired height, prune all the branch tips back by a foot or two, to encourage production of more and more flowering stems the following year.

 

For a few years, you'll be able to continue to spiral-tie each year's basal stems in late Fall, cutting back the top of the overall growth later that Winter. Eventually, the overall width of your mass of vertical growth may increase beyond its allotted space. Plus, dead twigs and entire stems may build up in the interior of the mass, and will remain inaccessible because they are beneath layers of more recent stems that have been successively spiraled into place with twine. For the last growing season of this cycle, allow basal stems to form over the Summer, as usual. In early Winter, cut through the base of all previous stems, recent and elderly, that had been tied upright over the years; cut through the now-severed mass as needed to remove this old growth from around the permanent stake. Then, tie the new basal stems in place up the vertical stake, and begin afresh this rose's training for maximum vertical display.

Downsides

Stems of 'Darlow's Enigma' grow upward easily: The downward point of the curved thorns prevents them from snagging anything on the way up. That same downward curve ensures that they catch everything possible if the stem begins to slide down. Alas, as you work on your 'Darlow's Enigma', almost all motion of the stems will be experienced by the thorns as downward. They will catch and re-anchor themselves, with remarkable success, on other stems as well as on you. Training 'Darlow's Enigma' requires patience as well as tolerance of pain.   

Variants

The flowers of 'Pink Darlow's Enigma' are pink, indeed.

 

In general, musk roses are a welcome garden presence. They rebloom, tolerate more shade than is typical of roses, and their flowers are very fragrant. Flowers tend to be small, their colors tend to paler shades: white, pink, pale yellow. Those of 'Buff Beauty' are apricot-caramel-yellow. Those of 'Will Scarlet' are bright cherry-red and, despite the "scarlet" name, lack the small dose of orange that would enable this rose to be included in a red-friendly planting. Instead, provide pink, blue, and white partners.

 

Most musk roses are medium-sized bushes, suitable for combining with perennials. Besides 'Darlow's Enigma', 'Moonlight' and 'Will Scarlet' grow tall enough to be used as climbers or as background shrubs.

Availability

On-line. Be sure to buy only "own-root" roses, not grafted ones. This is all the more important in the case of 'Darlow's Enigma', whose annual production of new basal stems is essential to the shrub's long-term survival, as well as its aesthetic appeal and functional versatility.

 

Happily, there are many on-line sources for own-root roses.  I'm not aware of a retail nursery—even a "destination" one—that sells own-root roses. This isn't a surprise. Own-roots are so much smaller at the time of purchase than grafted roses and, usually, too small to be in bloom. So they don't have near the "curb appeal" of grafted ones, which look like an actual bush even in the pot—and, often, one that's already in bloom. Resist! Buy only own-root roses.

 

Another resource to help you locate suppliers of own-root roses is the local chapter of the American Rose Society

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

'Darlow's Enigma' was discovered by rosarian Mike Darlow in 1993, and was introduced into commerce by Heirloom Roses about 1995.

 

Musk roses originated in Germany in 1902, as self-pollinated seedlings of the rambler 'Aglaia', which is, itself, a hybrid of Rosa multiflora, native to eastern Asia, and the Noisette rose, 'Reve d'Or'. Noisette roses (see 'Alister Stella Gray') originated in South Carolina about a century earlier, and are hybrids of Rosa chinensis and Rosa moschata, both natives of Asia.

 
 
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