But there were, and are, alternatives to roses that need to be doused in deadly liquids. At a recent gathering of rosarians at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Wilhelm Kordes III, a fourth-generation rose breeder from Sparrieshoop, Germany, showed images of his latest disease-resistant beauties, grown with no pesticides, distinguished by sumptuous shapes and velvety petals.
Kordes roses (www.kordesroses.com) have been workhorses for decades: I have Dortmund, a cherry red climber, introduced in the 1950s, growing in my own garden. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black spot on its tough, shiny green leaves. My father grew Crimson Glory, a hybrid tea introduced by Mr. Kordes’s grandfather, Wilhelm II, in 1935. But in Maryland, its satiny deep red petals needed plenty of postwar chemicals to keep the blooms perfect. Kordes dropped it in 2005, in favor of newer, more disease-resistant varieties.
Now, Earth Kind Roses, (earthkindroses.tamu.edu), selected by a kind of tough love research program started by Steven W. George at Texas A&M University, has a list of 13 roses that can withstand drought and heat and almost any kind of soil. And more roses are being tested in trial gardens around the country.
Marilyn Wellan, a past president of the American Rose Society, described the Texas A&M test site in Dallas, where 117 rose cultivars were planted “in the worst conditions,” she said. “They just put them in a hole, drip-irrigated the first year, and mulched with wood chips.”
“Those bushes were never sprayed, pruned or deadheaded,” Mrs. Wellan said. “By the end of the second year, all but 11 cultivars died.”
The survivors include 19th-century favorites like Mutabilis, a China rose, whose single petals open yellow, then deepen to orange and red; Perle d’Or, a peachy polyantha with a powerful scent; and Duchesse de Brabant, a pink cabbage-style rose with a tea fragrance, as well as modern shrub roses like Knock Out and Carefree Beauty."