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Gardeners love the charming, dramatic spill of banksia rose blossoms in the spring. Southern gardeners are especially eager to embrace the Lady Banks rose, as it is commonly known, given that it shrugs off black spots, mildew, and other diseases that can haunt bush, tea, and hybrid roses in the hot and humid South. Originally from China, the banksia rose is an easy-to-please climbing shrub that can rapidly scramble 30 feet in height; some Lady Banks roses have reportedly scaled as high as 50 feet.
Lady Banks is truly a lady indeed. This rose asks for little except a trellis, arbor, fence, or other support for its breathtaking abundance of yellow blooms. It is happiest in sunlight but can handle a bit more shade than many other types of roses. It grows at an almost alarming speed; pruning is the only way to control it. Pruning should be done after the two-week show of thousands of blooms in early spring.
The banksia rose, like all roses, appreciates a little nutritional nibble from time to time but is forgiving of the gardener who forgets. While an unfertilized Lady Banks still offers plenty of blossoms, one that’s been fertilized after the last frost and before the rose sets flower will bring forth so many blooms that the foliage disappears. This yellow or white beauty is not a repeat bloomer, but it’s a show stopper for two to three early springtime weeks.
While the banksia rose wants a support of some kind to scramble over, it is shrub-like in its growth. Hundreds of stems sprout, each heavily laden with flowers during the bloom season. Even when out of bloom, Lady Banks is a pretty girl, with gracefully arching, bobbing stems. The rose requires a minimum of six feet of clearance as it will easily grow that wide under good conditions. Left to its own devices, the banksia can spread even wider.
As easy as it is to grow in the South, northern gardeners can find themselves with a lady who is more difficult to please. Banksia resents becoming overly cold. In climates where the temperature drops much below freezing for extended periods, the only hope is to cut it back hard before winter and mulch it deeply.
As charming as the banksia rose is, it is even more lovely with the right companions. Foxglove, delphinium, and hosta grown beneath the arching branches offer more old-fashioned blooms and their leaves and plant forms provide visual counterpoints. Pansies clustered at the base complete the cottage garden effect.