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The Ontario Rose Garden

The rose, adored for its beauty and grace, is perhaps the most romantic flower in the garden. This is why it’s called the queen of flowers. It has been at the heart of numerous songs, poems and stories for centuries. A healthy and thriving rose bush is the pride of any gardener. Michel Giroux isn’t just any gardener, and his Ontario rose garden isn’t just any rose garden either. He has amassed over 200 roses in his collection, which is now the largest collection in northern Ontario.

“Everyone in my family is an avid gardener, but I am the only one that developed a predilection for roses. There is something about the mystery of them that I just love,” he says.

A penchant for roses

One needs only to look at Michel’s garden to see proof of his love and commitment. Michel started collecting roses in 2005, and to get an idea of how passionate he is about them; he has moved his collection with him twice. “Moving the plants is damaging to them, and most require a few years to bounce back after being disturbed,” he shares. His current property was a find. Located in downtown Sudbury, the lot is almost an acre, providing plenty of room for his considerable collection.

A private person, Michel prefers to garden in his backyard. Here, he has created a stunning and secluded Ontario rose garden in the middle of the city. Working the property entirely on his own, the recently retired rose connoisseur spends six to seven hours a day tending to it. “When you love something, it is not work. I use cedar mulch throughout the garden. I believe it is the seventh wonder of the world for gardeners. In the spring, I add sheep manure, but the worms are the real gardeners. They are responsible for making all of my plants so verdant and healthy,” says Michel.

Growing and maintaining a garden of this size is a feat, but Michel also gardens organically. “I don’t use pesticides or herbicides, the only thing I add is BTK for about a week and a half just as the buds emerge.” BTK or Bacillus thuringinesis kurstakii is a naturally occurring organism that kills specific varieties of insects in the larval stage but does not harm bees, birds, animals or people.

A rose garden retreat

Michel has planted trees around the perimeter of the property, creating a privacy wall and a micro-climate for the roses that protects them through the winter months. This Ontario rose garden is reminiscent of an Old English rose garden complete with fountain and statue accents. An arbour draped in ivy fits the theme and paths meander here and there filled with the flowers’ intoxicating aroma. The slope of the property is complemented with the addition of stairs, something Michel feels benefits any garden. He has combined a selection of perennials that increase the texture and interest of the garden, including peonies, asters, monkshood, foxgloves, cardinal flowers, milkweed and more. Given the number of roses and other plantings, it is no surprise that there is not much lawn to care for.

“I have carefully chosen plants that are cold hardy for our climate. My roses are all suited for zone 3b to 4a, with a few exceptions, which is great as I don’t need to cover them for the winter. I am particularly enchanted by the old garden roses – Gallicas, Damasks, Portlands, Albas, Moss, Centifolias, etc. But I do have a favorite – Souvenir de Philémon Cochet – which is a rugosa. It’s a stunning pure white rose developed in France around the 19th century and has all the characteristics that I prize in a rose – fragrance, double blooms, and it’s tough,” says Michel. His collection also includes the Canadian roses (Explorer, Artist and Morden series), several David Austin’s, the 49th parallel roses and of course the Canada 150 rose.

Michel has ordered roses online, but mainly through a local nursery. There are a few liberated specimens in addition to all the roses he has purchased. He’s a bit of a rose rustler, collecting roses from friends, abandoned farm houses and roadsides. Unidentified roses make up 25 per cent of his collection – to Michel these roses are priceless. They intrigue him as they may be varieties no longer on the market. He is always on the lookout for new roses but with space getting sparse, he now only purchases roses that tickle his fancy.

The majority of photos provided were taken by Lisa Robinson from the Sudbury Horticultural Society during the 2017 Open Garden Weekend.

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