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Borders may be defined as collections of mostly flowering plants that are grouped to give a long season of interest. Roses should make a major contribution to the plant collection because of their lengthy and profuse flowering season and the excellent range of the flower colours. However, roses are not generally grown for the beauty of their foliage and can look awkward, blobby and misshapen, as though they have turned up for a party wearing the wrong clothes.

The trick, perhaps, is to choose plants that will go with the roses, rather than selecting a rose simply on account of its flower colour. You can go a long way by simply ‘thinking floppy’ and choosing plants that flop, arch or droop. The classic choice is wonderful catnip with its dreamy purple to mauve grey shades, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’for example. This is planted in a drift in front of roses that stand above a metre in height, especially perhaps those with deep red double blooms such as Rosa Falstaff = ‘Ausverse’. The other classic ‘flopper’ often grown with roses is Alchemilla mollis, grown as a small colony and having frothy, acidic yellow flowers. This is often combined with snowy Rosa Iceberg = ‘Korbin’ or for a showy effect, try it with gold or purple roses.

Another possibility is to combine roses with the spires of foxgloves, cool and white is the classic choice. The adventurous might try an exotic twist with Digitalis Illumination Pink = ‘Tmdgfp001′, a curious tangy pink to be tried as a contrast to the creamy pink chalices of Rosa ‘Madame Pierre Oger’, or perhaps a curious, even uneasy pairing, with the smoky orange of Rosa Hot Chocolate = ‘Wekpaltez’.
rc2Roses are also good behind lavender, try silvered Lavandula x chaytoriae ‘Sawyers’. They are good with the mounded foliage of autumn anemones (Anemone and Anemone x hybrida and hupehensis forms) such as Anemone hupehensis ‘Bowles Pink’, or for a more controlled effect, the rounded santolina such as Santolina rosmarinifolia subsp. rosmarinifolia ‘Primrose Gem’.
rc3There is one rose that is highly valued for its foliage effect, this is the inestimable Rosa glauca. The shrub is rangy in appearance with small single pink flowers and grey-purple, rather metallic leaves. It can readily be combined with many plants, but also looks amazing grown with grasses. Try wavy Stipa tenuissima, or the large and glittering gold seedheads of Stipa giganteana. For late season interest, the red foliage of Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ combined with the red berries of the rose would be something different.

rc4Finally, many roses have hips, and in autumn, the lush rich colours of single dahlias and banks of purple and pink asters can look particularly beautiful when, behind them, stands one of the old substantial roses such as Rosa ‘Geranium’ with its scarlet flagon shaped hips.


Susan A. Tindall.

Further details and care instructions for all the plants mentioned in this article are available in  our Garden for pleasure plant finder.  Many of the plants mentioned are available to buy from



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