Companion Plants for Old Roses

Annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses make beautiful partners for antique roses.
Antique roses with companion plants

Antique roses with companion plants

Photo by: Courtesy of Antique Rose Emporium

Courtesy of Antique Rose Emporium

Old roses like those at the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio, Texas, mix beautifully with annuals, perennials, and feathery grasses.

Easy-to-grow old roses, also called antique roses, pair beautifully with many other plants in the garden. 

Antique roses are plants that have been around a long time; most rosarians consider a rose an heirloom or antique if it was introduced before 1867, prior to the debut of modern tea roses. They’re valued for the natural resistance they’ve developed over time to many pests and diseases and their ability to tolerate many different kinds of growing conditions. Of course, they’re also beloved for their beautiful colors and forms. 

But many antique roses are a bit stingy with their blooms. While many newer roses start blooming in the spring and flower repeatedly into fall, most antiques flower just once or twice a year. The twice-yearly bloomers usually put on their best show in spring, and produce fewer flowers for a repeat performance in autumn.

That means antique roses aren’t always terribly attractive. Once the flowers are finished, there’s not much to look at besides leafy stems or thorny canes. 

Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix. Simply grow them in mixed beds with companion plants—annuals and perennials—that like the same amounts of sun and water your antique roses require. As the annuals and perennials come in and out of bloom, they’ll help camouflage bushes that look rather bare between bloom cycles. 

Rose 'Ballerina'

Rose 'Ballerina'

Photo by: Courtesy of Antique Rose Emporium

Courtesy of Antique Rose Emporium

The single blooms of 'Ballerina,' an antique rose, contrast with fringed yellow coreopsis blooms.

Just be careful when you add the companions to your beds, and leave 12 to 18 inches between the plants and your roses. You don’t want to accidentally cut into any roots. Proper spacing also helps avoid competition for water and nutrients. Your roses will also stay healthier, and resist pests and diseases more easily, if they have enough room for good air circulation. 

Also keep a few design tips in mind when you select flowering companions, and think about how their bloom colors will contrast with or complement your roses. Consider heights, textures, and flower forms, too. 

If you’re an organic gardener, you may want to grow plants that naturally repel certain garden insects. Feverfew, for example, is said to draw aphids away from roses, while Four O’Clock and geraniums may help deter Japanese beetles. 

Since many old roses have vigorous spreading or climbing habits, you’ll probably want to choose plants with a clumping growth habit, so your garden won't start to look overgrown or disheveled as time goes by.

Companion Plants for Antique Roses

Add texture with ornamental grasses, ferns, or plants with spiky foliage, such as:

  • Switchgrass
  • Fountain grass (Miscanthus)
  • Iris
  • Day lilies
  • Mexican feather grass

Add contrast with plants that have clusters of small flowers or broad leaves, such as: 

  • Baby’s breath
  • Coral bells (Heuchera)
  • Scented geranium
  • Hosta

Add interesting forms with tall flower stems or spikes, such as: 

  • Foxgloves
  • Angelonia
  • Gayfeather
  • Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
  • Yarrow
  • Butterfly bush
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Lavender

Give your roses “skirts” of non-aggressive groundcovers or low-growing annuals, such as: 

  • Alyssum
  • Dianthus
  • Woolly thyme
  • Lantana
  • Petunias
  • Verbena 
  • Calibrachoa

Create structure and shape in your antique rose garden with evergreen shrubs, such as: 

  • Boxwoods
  • Camellias
  • Hollies
  • Yew
  • Nandina 

Soften lines with vining plants grown under or over your roses, such as:

  • Clematis
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Moonflower vine
  • Sweet peas
  • Mandevilla 
  • Morning glory

Dress up your rose bed with blue or lavender, colors that are rare among roses. Try: 

  • Clematis
  • Russian sage
  • Delphinium
  • Salvia ‘May Night’ or 'Blue Spires'
  • Aster
  • Heliotrope
  • Pansies
  • Angelonia

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