The William Baffin Roses


Two years ago I splurged and bought myself two William Baffin roses. I’d had painful oral surgery, my mouth was stuffed with bloody wads of cotton, and I felt I deserved a reward. On the long drive home from Vermont, I stopped and bought the two rose plants.

William Baffins are part of the “Explorer” series of roses developed in Canada to survive their long winters. (All the roses are named for explorers: William Baffin was an English seaman who, while searching for the mythical Northwest Passage, discovered Baffin Bay in 1616.) The William Baffin rose is known as “exceptionally hardy and vigorous,” and is the only climbing rose available to those of us who garden in frozen Zone 3. It is said to grow to nine or ten feet tall, covered with bright pink flowers.

Last summer my eighteen-inch baby rose bushes bloomed nicely. I weeded them and admired them and left them alone.

To my distress, this May both plants appeared to be stone dead. All the canes on both bushes were dry leafless sticks. Coming on the heels of the horrible wave of deaths I’d faced in March and April, this was a blow. I knew I should dig them up and look into buying new plants, but I had no energy. I didn’t know what had killed them — our winter had been cold, but not unusually cold for Zone 3 — and I didn’t think I could find any William Baffin closer than Vermont, anyway. So I wrote “buy new roses” on my summer list and moved on.

In July, while mowing, I discovered that each dry skeleton bush had sent up a single, very, very thin, live runner. Over the next weeks these thin baby branches put out leaves. And yesterday I had a solitary bloom.

Obviously these roses are tough. Their regeneration inspires me. I hope on those days that I’m feeling like a dried-up stick I will remember and prove to be as resilient.


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