The John Davis Roses

climbing roses (11)One of the many benefits of planting summer containers for a client that has had a landscape and garden designed and installed by us is the chance to see how that landscape is growing on. This client is 45 minutes away, so my visits are not all that often. I will drive out whenever there is a problem that needs some attention. But this yearly visit is never about trouble. It is about adding some seasonal plants to a garden that is the apple of its owner’s eye. She not only looks after it, she truly enjoys every bit of it. Planting her containers in June is a pleasure. The soil is warm, and the plants that have spent the early weeks of the summer protected from unpredictable weather in a greenhouse look great, and will handle the transplanting without issue. Though we planted 21 containers today, the big news of the day were the John Davis roses.

June 13, 2016 055John Davis is one of the Canadian Explorer Series of extremely hardy and disease resistant roses developed by Agriculture Canada in the 1960’s.  The goal was to hybridize garden roses that would not only withstand cold northern winters, but would perform beautifully in spite of it. John Davis is hardy in zone 3-think of that. There are quite a few roses in the series, all of which are good garden plants in my zone, meaning they are tough plants that shrug off the fungal diseases roses are famous for. They bloom as if there were no tomorrow. John Davis is a great choice for a not too tall climber that has the look of an old fashioned rose more often seen in England or California.

climbing roses (6)This is the 4th June for the John Davis climbing roses planted on each post of a pair of long pergolas that frame the view from the back of the house to the lake. Each was planted with a companion clematis, which range in color from white to dark purple. The clematis do not seem to mind the competition from these vigorous roses. Though John Davis usually tops out at about 7 feet, these roses are up 9.5 feet off the ground, and have started to grow over the roof of the pergola. I will be interested to see if they keep adding more height. I have planted John Davis in a number of gardens, almost all with great success.  This group has seemed happy from the moment they were planted.  The soil is heavy clay, and does not give its moisture up easily.  There is a constant breeze from the lake, which I suspect has something to do with the fact that I never see mildew or black spot on the plants. They get a yearly dose of rose tone, and extra water when they need it. All that remains is to stand back in June, and take in the bloom.

June 13, 2016 065The lax canes have had some support to attach them to the pergola poles, but that is not visible. The flowers are not particularly large, but there are thousands of them on each one of these plants. I am surprised that this series of roses is not more readily available in my area.   The roses we have available at Detroit Garden Works, including John Davis, had to be custom grown. I made arrangements for that almost a year ago.

June 13, 2016 047I understand the reluctance to grow roses.  They are ungainly plants that no one would have, but for the bloom and perfume.  They routinely fail.  I mitigate that tendency by planting the graft 2 to 3 inches below ground. No gardener wants diseased plants in their garden. Choosing roses with a clear track record of resistance to disease and hardiness is educated buying. The Canadian Explorer roses might be worth a look. I find that they are reliable in every regard.

June 13, 2016 110Roses in bloom like this is a garden experience like no other for a gardener who greatly values romance. Roses invoke romance like no other garden plant. I would go on to say that the big idea here is that any garden plant in the right place and endowed with the proper care will thrive. So much about the success of a garden depends on a thorough understanding of the horticultural requirements. I am rarely perfect in this regard. I have been known to short some greatly needed sun to sun loving perennials. I have placed my share of part sun perennials in shade that is too deep. I have exposed shade plants to blistering sun, in the hopes they will adjust.  I have planted perennials that require perfect drainage in soggy soil, in hopes I could skate by.  Suffice it to say that everything I have leaned about planting perennials has come from the plants.  Any plant that is unhappy will speak back to me, if I am inclined to observe, and listen.

June 13, 2016 080These John Davis roses in bloom are extraordinary. I can only claim that I somehow managed to put the right plant in the right place, in the beginning. What had happened over the past 4 years is a constellation of events attended by nature, and looked after by an extraordinary client. This does not happen so often. Thanks, Harriet.

June 13, 2016 053The day planting containers here was a moment I shall not soon forget.

climbing roses (10)June garden

climbing roses (8)Venus dogwoods in bloom

climbing roses (1)John Davis

climbing roses (7)The greater garden is just as beautiful.

climbing roses (5)oxeye daisies and amsonia “Blue Ice”

climbing roses (4)looking towards the lake

climbing roses (9)A June garden-what could be better?




  1. Paul Michaud says

    Words cannot express how beautiful those roses are. Well done!!

  2. Linda Gallinatti says

    Thank you for a delightful vision of one of your landscape projects along with the details of the gorgeous Canadian Explorer roses and other plantings. Such a treat for your followers! Keep it up.
    Linda Gallinatti, Tacoma, WA.

  3. Linda Hagler says


  4. debra @ 5th and state says

    my oh my deborah!!!
    when i saw the title of the post i deleted it as my disgust with roses and japanese beetles has reached saturation. then i thought, give it a look, after all this is deborah speaking. am i glad i came back. thoroughly spectacular, very romantic english, does not even look real!
    kudos to you, your pergola and your overall design is mesmerizing, harriet’s care is spot on

  5. Absolutely stunning pictures. I think I need to build a pergola just to put these roses on it. What kind of pruning is done on these roses and does the clematis get the same treatment?

  6. Roger Boeve says

    Always enjoy your emails.

  7. Marty Avery says

    This is a stunning property highlighted by magnificent landscaping. The roses definitely steal the show..
    I love the oxeye daisies and Amsonia.

    I love your creativity and wish to thank you for your postings.

  8. Jeannine Eitel says

    Absolutely stunning!! Jaw dropping gorgeous roses! The gardens surrounding this beautiful house are amazing as well! I live in Ontario Canada and want to seek out these roses that I have never heard about until now. Hope I can find them. Thank you!

  9. Fantastically beautiful! The whole landscape is extraordinarily beautiful but the roses are outstanding! Must be heavenly to experience on a daily basis!

  10. Exceptionally romantic garden. Thank you for sharing it with your internet garden followers who would be totally oblivious to its existence and beauty if not for your post.
    This information just might encourage me to try roses again. Love them but hate the mildew and black spots.
    Sharon in Kansas City, Missouri

  11. Dear Deborah,

    the roses and treillage are spectacular. Indeed, they manage to make the shingle-style home and the lake view the background; not an easy task with a home of this caliber. All that is missing is Spencer Tracy, Kate Hepburn and their boxers. Because you have to have something vulgar in the most elegant rooms. And nothing is more wonderful than boxers to mediate all of this elegance!



  12. Do these roses have a thorn? Fragrance? I have a= rose that goes back 2 generations- pink, almost thornless and no fragrance. I Never knew the species/name.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Carol, they are not very thorny. Nor do they have much fragrance. John Davis does not date back that far. best, Deborah

      • Carol Watkins says

        I may have said too far back- I think I had taken cuttings to root in my yard in the mid to late 60’s. One of these posts says quite fragrant? I actually did not think that mine appeared for full- some were sort of almost flat blooms about 2 1/2″ across. I never knew the name and when I had read this post- I wondered if. And these were the 1st I had seen almost thornless- and they only bloomed a very short time, not all summer.

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Carol, maybe a member of a local rose society could help you with identifying your rose. I would be curious too, if I were you. best, Deborah

          • Carol Watkins says

            Thanks for giving this so much attention. I have severe mobility issues and cannot get out and about to do this research. I do not need to have them identified, it is just when you had the pictures and writing about these davis roses, I wondered if. That in part is why I did reask about the fragrance, you had given the impression not much, but one writer says very fragrant. Then too I had asked if like mine they only bloom in June, not all summer. But thanks anyway- your pictures thereof are truly gorgeous. I believe I will call mine Davis. And move on.

          • Deborah Silver says

            Dear Carol, a beautiful rose does not need a name. It only needs a good gardener to look after it. Your rose-it is obviously important to you. That you would call Davis-bravo. all the best, Deborah

  13. wow I wonder how those roses would do down here in semi-tropic south east……probably too hot and humid?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ceci, I would not be afraid to try it. This rose is robust and healthy growing. We have very humid summer weather in Michigan too. best, Deborah

  14. Ruth Wolery says

    I love these pictures and would like to try the oxeye daisies and amsonia – blue ice too. These pictures are breath taking.

  15. Wow! What a joy it must have been for you, Deborah, to go back to this garden you planted and see how beautiful — and thriving — it is! Just gorgeous. I have Zephirine Drouhin roses climbing on an arbor and they’ve been great for most of the past 10 years. They bloom prolifically in early June here in northern New Jersey. Their scent is magnificent, they tolerate a bit of shade very well and I love the fact that they are practically thornless. (How perfect is THAT for an arbor that people walk under — not to mention how much easier pruning is!) In the past few years, however, after they have their big flush of bloom, they develop the dreaded blackspot and it has gotten worse and worse the last couple of years. Last summer, they lost almost all of their leaves. I am spraying them every week to try to ward off the blackspot, but if that doesn’t work I may just give the John Davis roses a try. Thanks for the gorgeous pictures and inspiration!

  16. Beautiful! I wouldn’t be able to get anything done there, I’d just wander about enjoying the garden. Nice to see how well it’s grown in and developed over the years

  17. Hi Deborah, I came across your post as I was researching John Davis roses which I just purchased. These are beyond stunning in this space! Just dreamy!

    I bought 3 John Davis, one for a backyard trellis (full sun) and 2 for the side of the garage (which gains sun in the early morning but then is mostly shaded).I haven’t planted them yet, but do you think they would even grow in the shade climbing up the side of a garage window? Or should I find a new place to plant them? I was really hoping they could take off on the side of the house as it is very visible when you enter our neighborhood…


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Shaynah, some roses are a little shade tolerant-as in New Dawn. But most roses like good sun. What about some espaliered pear trees? best, Deborah

  18. Ellen Devine says

    Had the opportunity to see this garden today, as it was on a local garden tour. The pictures are lovely, but it way way more beautiful in person. I think it stole the show!!! there was a clear yellow zinnia in the plantings which stole my heart.

  19. Gita Smith says

    Calgary friend sent me your column because she has John Davis roses in her yard that I admired. I live in Alabama in zone eight. My question is will these roses that were bred for hostile winters be able to take the long hot summers in my yard? Down here the most popular disease resistant Rose is the Knockout Rose, bred so that you never have to spray them. In your opinion, would the Canadian explorer roses thrive in Alabama?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Gita, I am not a good person to ask what roses would thrive in your zone. Have you looked them up on line? Like on “Dave’s Garden”? He rates plants in all different parts of the country. Or try a local arboretum or nursery. They would know more than I about your situation. best, Deborah

  20. Do you have any John Davis roses for sale this year? I’d love to come down and purchase a few. Thank you so much!

  21. Bonnie Wagg says

    I have a question. I’ve had a John Davis rose for about 20 years. In its heyday it was so beautiful. For the past three years however, it grows and grows but doesn’t produce blooms. I’m wondering is I should cut it back severely or should I remove it. I s is just too old to bloom anymore?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Bonnie, not knowing where you garden, or the siting of the rose, I have no idea. I do have clients with John Davis that old that are fine. Is it in a spot that is shadier than it was 20 years ago? If it isn’t blooming, what can it hurt to cut it back-but I would consult someone local to you before doing anything. best, Deborah

  22. Jose Mathew says

    Where can I buy John Davis ?

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