Debbie Arrington

Things (like roses) are looking up for visual interest in gardens

Stephen Scanniello demonstrates how to prune and train a climbing rose over an arbor at Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery.
Stephen Scanniello demonstrates how to prune and train a climbing rose over an arbor at Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery.

Every garden needs a reason to look up.

“Stand back and look at your garden,” advised world renowned rose expert and author Stephen Scanniello during a recent visit to Sacramento. “You need vertical elements, something that draws your eyes up.”

Instead of a flat lawn surrounded by waist-high shrubs and ankle-topping borders, landscapes with more varied plant heights seem to have greater depth and visual interest, he said. It’s a trick that he’s used to great effect in dozens of gardens, both public and private.

“I don’t install a garden and walk away,” Scanniello said. “I take care of them. That allows me to see how they mature.”

President of the Heritage Rose Foundation, Scanniello visited Sacramento to lead pruning demonstrations at the Historic City Cemetery for the third consecutive winter. For most rose varieties, local gardeners should try to get their pruning done by Valentine’s Day, he said.

“Roses love to be pruned,” he said. “The biggest mistake you can make is not pruning them at all.”

Scanniello, curator of the New York Botanical Garden’s Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, often uses climbing roses to grab attention – especially overhead or as backdrops to other plantings. Roses can be trained to grow up walls or trees as well as trellises.

“I use clear cables for training,” he said. “That way, you just see the roses, not the wires.”

In his garden designs, Scanniello likes physical structure such as free-standing arches, tripods or arbors – something for those roses to climb – but he’s not only interested in roses above people’s heads.

To encourage more blooms at eye level, Scanniello crosses canes back and forth around poles or supports, prompting the canes to push out buds at lower points. He prunes canes to different lengths so they’ll flower at varied levels, too.

“You can smell them as well as see them,” he said.

Scanniello also shared some other garden design tricks of his trade. Wisteria, for example, offers both fragrant spring flowers and a place for other plants to climb.

“I use wisteria for structure,” he said. “It’s a very woody vine and becomes its own trellis as it ages.”

That wisteria “trellis” can support other vines that flower when the wisteria is not in bloom. That adds more vertical interest, too.

Climbing roses tend to bloom in waves; a lot at one time and then none for months. To help fill those gaps with more flowers, Scanniello recommends planting clematis or other blooming vines on the same trellis as a companion to the climbers.

And sometimes, climbing roses work as ground covers, too. To cover slopes, Scanniello trains climbers to grow down and out, not up.

“They need staking to stay on the ground, but they’ll flower like crazy.”

What temperature is just right? Tell us

Do you like to chill at home? Or do you prefer toasty surroundings?

For an upcoming story, we’re asking our readers about their thermostat habits.

What temperature do you usually set your thermostat in winter? How about summer? Have you made any changes in your habits to save energy and money? And does this choice of temperature cause any conflicts in your household?

We want to know! Please e-mail your answers – along with your name, hometown and daytime phone number – to h&g@sacbee.com; put “perfect temperature” in the subject line. Or mail your response to: “Prefect Temperature” care of Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento, CA 95816.

Deadline for response is Wednesday, Feb. 15.

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