Vigorous Old Roses and Fabulous Herbs For Colorado Gardens and Beyond

Darlow's Enigma reaching for the sky

Darlow’s Enigma reaching for the sky

This morning, I was remembering my first rambling rose experience.  I had  encountered Darlow’s Enigma at the Botanic Gardens growing on a large arch, meeting Honeysuckle and Wisteria in the middle.  It was a breathtaking sight, and I decided to replicate it in my garden.

[Note to self:  Wisteria has to grow and twine for 4-5 years before it blooms.  Sorry to say I will never get to see the amazing pergola my husband built laden with fragrant wisteria blossoms.  Sigh.]

I called ahead to Harlequin’s Gardens in Boulder.  They had Darlow’s Enigma.  I went that same day to buy one.  What a bucket of twigs!!  I couldn’t believe that spindly rose start would turn into anything resembling the rambler at the Botanic Gardens.  But it did, and then some. Oh, snap!  It’s a huge rose that blooms all summer, into fall.  Superbly fragrant, especially in the morning hours.  Even though I had seen it at the Botanic Gardens, I wasn’t prepared for how big it got.  I was all enthralled with it’s beauty and fragrance and just wanted to have something like that in my garden.  And I didn’t think it would get that large in MY garden.  It’s all good, and quite impressive, but the new owners will need to do some serious pruning to keep it manageable.


Oh My!!! DARLOW’s ENIGMA reaching the top of a 12′ pergola.

So it’s a good idea to pay close attention to the dimensions of any rose you are installing.  Heirloom is a fabulous resource for own-root roses, including pretty much all the info needed to determine the perfect location for each rose.   Their articles and youtube videos are also super helpful and informative.

Gardening blogs. Did you know that Darlow’s Enigma can grow to 2nd story height in less than 5 years?  Some rambling roses can cover the front of an entire house in a short amount of time.  That’s the kind of practical info you can find on a gardening blog.  Garden Web and Dave’s Garden are two good ones.  Free to join, great info.  Seeking info about roses, in particular, from those who have grown them can save you a lot of time and effort.  If a rose is known to be invasive or gigantic, then be sure you have the space and plant it where it can spread out joyfully.  Or find another rose – there are thousands of them!

High Country is another source for own-root roses and good info.  Located in Denver, all of their roses are shipped as smaller, quart sized plants (smaller than the 1 gallon size from Heirloom), on their own roots.  Good pricing on a great selection of old roses, species roses and modern hybrids.  Patience is required, but well rewarded.

Harlequin’s Gardens in Boulder has a lot of amazing roses to offer.  All on their own roots, and the folks who work there are super knowledgeable organic gardeners.

RosaRugosaRubraFlwsBudsCUI put two rugosas in our front yard, Rosa rugosa rubra (left) and Rose rugosa alba (white).  These roses are so old, they are labeled as “ancient.”   Originating in Japan, each one gets at least 6’ tall and 4-6’ wide.  I gave them plenty of room to reach their full potential and to spread out, which they evidently really like to do.  I planted them about 8’ apart in a large garden with other substantial, medicinal herbs, namely Elecampane, True Comfrey(purple flowering), Thyme, Penstemon, Yerba Mansa and Mallow.  Why such big roses?  Why not, if you have the space?  These are species roses that produce large, almost crabapple size hips.  Super delicious, extremely nutritious.  They bloom all summer with large, stunning, exceptionally fragrant flowers and are very hardy and vigorous roses who dislike chemical fertilizers of any kind.   Perfectly suited for my organic medicinal herb garden.  Did I mention they are Zone 3?  Adaptable, too.  Best results are seen with generous amounts of compost, manure and the addition of glacial rock dust and mycorrhizal inoculant.  If you are willing to do an initial soil amendment, and then generously add some compost and/or manure once a year, and if your garden offers 6-8 hours of sunlight, you will probably be able to grow these roses very successfully.  Go on, you know you want to!

LaRosaApothecaryRoseCULABELEI’m also growing two Apothecary roses, one I brought from our old location, and one I added this year.  This is another very old rose, dating back to the 12th century.    It blooms once, with great fragrance and vitality, for several weeks in early to mid summer, and then produces large hips in the Fall.  The dried petals of the Apothecary rose are know to retain their fragrance for years.  Perfect for dream pillows, kitty cushions, or used fresh for making infused honey, elixirs, or distilling into a fragrant hydrosol.  Rose hip jam is one of the most delightful foods on earth.  LOVE!

RosedeReschtBudsOct2014_edited-1Rose de Rescht is another very old rose originating in Persia.  The roses are small, with many petals, perfectly formed, and exceptionally, intoxicatingly fragrant.   The bush usually  measures 3-4′ x 3-4′, although can get larger.  Zone 4, so quite hardy here in Colorado.  Blooms and reblooms all summer, and the two I brought with me are loaded with buds and have sent out some runners already (which rarely happened at the old location).  Looks like I will have a small hedge of these delightful little roses very soon.  This rose seems to enjoy a moist, compost-rich soil.

In all the years I’ve been growing these roses, I’ve never seen black spot or any kind of insect infestation on any of them.  If I happen to see an aphid or two, I simply rinse the bush with a vigorous blast of water from the hose a couple days in a row.  Rinsing them off interrupts the aphids’  reproductive cycle.  Adios, aphids!

None of these roses respond well to chemical fertilizers, and in fact may actually turn brown and shrivel up if exposed.  Stick with compost, Mile Hi Rose Food and Age Old Grow organic fertilizer to keep them happy.  Add a sprinkle of glacial rock dust, and water in with mycorrhizal inoculant.

All this to say that old roses have withstood the test of time.  They’ve been growing and thriving for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in many locations and environments all over our beautiful planet.  Roses grown on their own roots are much more durable, reliable and vibrant than grafted hybrid roses.  When you plant old roses, you are planting a piece of botanical history and connecting with ancestral gardeners who also loved them dearly.

Medicinal Herbs that Love to Grow in Colorado

So many herbs love to grow here in Colorado.  And they certainly grow well in many other areas, as well.  The ones I like to grow and will be discussing here are beautiful and medicinal – really good herbs to have on hand – and pretty easy, too.  I suggest growing them with the intention of harvesting and consuming them, just as you would any food crop.  While they are growing, you can enjoy their vigor and beauty.

Elecampane, Inula helenium

Elecampane, Inula helenium

Elecampane, or Inula helenium, is an herb that offers both respiratory and digestive support.  The roots contain more inulin – the food that feeds friendly bacteria in our digestive systems – than any other herb.  Parts used: flowers, roots.  These beautiful and vigorous plants grow 4-6′ tall and 3-4′ wide, and have vibrant and lovely flowers in mid to late summer.  Harvest the flowers for medicine and an extended bloom period.  They enjoy a sunny spot with mulched and composted soil.  They enjoy growing along a river bank, so I planted mine next to the mulch basin we installed early this Spring as part of our permaculture adventure.  Water from the roof is channeled into the basin whenever it rains.  I will continue adding Yerba Mansa (described below) around the edges of the basin, as that plant purifies the soil and also likes to grow near water sources.  We have also added plentiful amounts of mycorrhizal inoculant to all of the gardens in the front yard, which also helps purify the soil.


After one, or maybe a couple seasons, Elecampane will grow and spread.  You can then dig up part of the plant, dry the roots, and powder, tincture or make an infused honey for relief and resolution of respiratory infections, flu, etc.  One of my favorite plants!  A beautiful and valuable addition to any herb garden.

I add Elecampane powder to my dog’s green formula to support digestive and respiratory health.  Elecampane is a good herb to take preventatively if you are prone to respiratory infections or need digestive support.


Yerba mansa is an antibiotic herb that is sometimes substituted for the endangered Goldenseal.  It’s a very interesting plant that likes moist soil and a sunny exposure.  I grew mine in our old location next to a rose, where it traveled all along the edges of the raised garden bed, and under and around rocks.  Yerba mansa may end up in places you didn’t plant it originally.  Surprise!

Here in our new gardens, one Yerba mansa plant is growing in partial shade near one of our grey-water outlets, and one is in full sun on the edge of the mulch basin that captures rain water from the roof of our house.  Plant this moisture loving herb near a downspout, or other moist area of your garden.

YerbaMansaWhen this plant is happy, it sends beautiful, long runners out to root and form new plants.  When it blooms, it sends up odd, yet pretty white flowers.  Harvest the whole plant when in bloom, and use leaf, flower and root to make a powerful tincture or infused honey.  This is a great remedy for coughs and colds, and can also be used topically as a compress  to relieve painful joints.  Grow it in your vegetable garden and treat it like a perennial green.  Just leave some of the plants for next year.  If it gets too big, or ends up in remote corners of your garden, pot it up and give some to a friend!

Chamomile and Calendula are herbs that are super easy to grow and have many, many uses from skin care to digestive support.  Both are quite lovely and will readily reseed.  Once they start blooming, it’s a good idea to harvest every other day or so.  They will keep going all summer into fall.  Personally, I love collecting both Chamomile and Calendula flowers.  When the plants become too large, or get rangy, I cut them back and let them re-grow and begin the bloom cycle again.

Chamomilecupe2014Chamomile is a wonderful sedative herb. Also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and muscle relaxing.  Helpful for treating digestive complaints and discomfort, skin conditions such as eczema and diaper rash, insomnia and headaches.  Freshly gathered and dried Chamomile is so much nicer than any chamomile tea or loose herb you can buy.  Chamomile-infused honey is delicious and excellent as a 20-minute facial, fabulous to add to an evening tea, and is also useful for dogs who need to relax.   Grows in any sunny location, even in very dry spots. Easy to grow from seed in a large pot.

Calendula2014MyFavFlowersCalendula flowers make some of the best infused oil of all time.  Somehow their beautiful medicine turns ordinary organic olive oil into an amazing healing and beautifying substance.  Really wonderful.  Flowers can be dried, powdered and added to green formulas for people and pets to aid in healing the digestive tract.  Grow Calendula from seed in a sunny location.  Easy peasy!  Best in a garden, not in a pot.

Many medicinal herbs are very generous and vigorous –  almost unstoppable once they get started.  Easy to grow are: Motherwort for cardiovascular support,  Nettle for the amazing nutrition it supplies, Echinacea of all kinds for immune support and beauty, Poppies for their sedating properties and delightful flowers, Skullcap for nervous system support, Lemon Verbena for the most wonderful fragrance on earth, Oregano and Thyme for their delicious and anti-microbial properties.  Cannabis really likes growing here in Colorado, too.  Juicing the leaves, or including some fresh leaves in a smoothie gives relief from inflammation and joint pain.  Infusing freshly dried Cannabis buds in coconut oil creates a superb beauty and healing cream or salve with a multitude of beneficial properties.  It does smell like Cannabis for a few minutes after you apply it.  Add an earthy essential oil, like Vetiver, to balance out the fragrance if you like.

Gardening is my favorite Never-Ending Story!

One of my all time favorite herb gardening books is Growing 101 Herbs that Heal by Tami Hartung.  Get a copy!

Blessings to you and your gardens,




About Sarah Wadleigh

I am a Clinical Herbalist, Organic Gardener and Nutritional Consultant for people and companion animals. I live in Madrid, New Mexico with my wonderful husband, two little dogs and a big cat. My practice revolves around helping people create health through whole-food nutrition, nutritive herbs, lifestyle and self-awareness. With more than 20 years of experience as an animal nutritional counselor, I offer consultations to improve the health and well-being of our four-legged friends, as well as their humans. We can work together via Skype, in person,or over the phone. Let's create health for ourselves and our animal companions! Contact:
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