What I’ve realized since is that our neighbour was trying to grow hybrid tea roses, such as Chicago Peace, Mr. Lincoln, and Chrysler Imperial – ones that he had grown up with in southern Ontario. Pity he hadn’t discovered the vast array of hardy Canadian roses that can handle the harshest of northern winters with little more than snow cover for protection.
We have the Canadian government to thank for two varieties of hardy roses – the Explorer and Parkland series. Between 1939 and 1945 Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC), at its Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario, was hybridizing roses under the leadership of Isabella Preston. Some 21 varieties were developed during this time. Beginning in 1968, Dr. Felicitas Svejda began work on hybridizing roses that would withstand –30 C. winters. She named the first 13 cultivars after Canadian Explorers, presumably because they reflected the hardiness of people like John Franklin, Henry Baffin, and Martin Frobisher whose travels were in Canada’s harshest regions. The Explorer series of roses now includes some 25 hybrids in a variety of colours and sizes.
The AAFC had also been operating, since 1915, an agricultural research station at Morden, Manitoba in the Canadian prairies. Although the Morden Research Station was primarily involved in food crop research and development, it also began a program of hybridizing roses. They were considered hardier than the Explorer series developed in Ottawa – many were hardy to zone 2 – and were the beginnings of the Parkland series of roses. Over time Morden also continued the work of the Ottawa farm hybridizing the Explorer roses, which explains why some of the Explorer roses are said to originate at the Morden Research Station rather than the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.
OK, enough with the background and history of these roses. If you’re interested in reading more about them, here are some helpful web sites:
Hortico's Hardy Canadian Explorer Roses – Hortico is a major retail distributor of roses, especially the hardy Canadian roses.
Canadian Hybrid Roses – This ‘Help Me Find’ link provides a comprehensive history of the Canadian roses.
Explorer Rose Garden – This is a wonderful web site created by the ‘Friends of the Central Experimental Farm’ in Ottawa and features the garden specifically dedicated to the Explorer series of roses.
Canadian Hardy Roses – The Canadian Rose Society provides a great inventory and description of hardy Canadian roses.
Here are a few photos of these roses from our garden:
Despite the growing zone rating of these roses, there is still a trick to overwintering them in Yukon gardens. Here’s what we do:
- Put them in raised beds – an absolute must – to raise ambient soil temperatures during the growing season; and where you can control the drainage and soil composition. And don’t plant them too close to the edges where severe frost can come in from the sides.
- Feed them well in the spring and early summer, but stop feeding in mid-summer or after their bloom to allow them to go dormant when cold temperatures arrive.
- Prune them back to 12” to 14” before covering them for the winter.
- Cover them with a generous mound of light potting soil. This year we used a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and coco peat.
- Don’t remove the covering in the spring until the native trees leaf out. This is to prevent the roses being affected by the freeze-thaw cycles after the snow cover melts.
Addendum - Jan 19: I appreciate all the comments on this post. And it seems the J.P. Connell rose comes up as the most popular. Here's another photo of it: