Written and photographed by Tovah Martin

Tried and failed with roses? Ask Richard Copeland for his recommendations.

Richard Copeland is determined to have a rose garden, no matter what. When all his “New Dawn” climbers succumbed years ago, he was not dissuaded. Although umpteen David Austin roses have failed, he ordered more. And despite the fact that his rose standards have a life expectancy of two years at the most, Copeland promised himself a rose garden, and his wish will come true. Thank goodness he found “Carefree Beauty.” So far, that ultra-large, pink flowering hybrid has proved indestructible. Twenty years and counting, “Carefree Beauty” has survived all the curveballs that Roxbury can hand out. Thanks to that stoic performer, he might keep his personal pledge.

When Richard and Martine Copeland moved to Roxbury twenty years ago, there were no roses on the 7-acre property. In fact, there was no garden per se on the site. The couple was looking for a weekend getaway from the city and found the Hamptons less than thrilling. Originally, they explored Kent, “But it was too metropolitan,” Copeland recalls of their original reaction. Roxbury was just the right type of rural for them.

Sixty property visits later, the Litchfield County wannabes finally found a house they could call home. The structure itself was okay. In fact, they got a vague chalet vibe from its perch on the hill, “But it had no style,” Copeland remembers. He came up with a solution with the tall, open pergola that he designed to wrap around the sides. Only problem was that the pergola required a garden to survey. “Something had to be done,” Copeland realized. And yet, the former banker had never gardened before. He knew that he liked formal gardens; symmetry was important to him. Beyond those gut reactions, he only had his love of roses as guidance.

Actually, Copeland had another guiding force, and that was a superabundance of good taste. Instinctually, he figured that a strong basic layout was a great way to wade into the waters. He also knew that leveling some ground adjacent to the pergola was key to making it happen, and he started by creating a set of steps to serve as a focal point and create an axis. A pond seemed like a nice touch. Also, he began to plant hedges of Korean boxwood and yew. “I knew that I wanted a sense of enclosure.” The greenery gave him the cozy feeling he needed, but he also wanted a pop of color. That’s where the roses came in.

Richard Copeland has gone through all sorts of roses since the garden began. The only performers that have endured from the original planting are “Carefree Beauty” and the fire engine red “All Ablaze.” They still grace the center of parterre beds that have grown lush and filled in to create a scene reminiscent of ancestral manor estates. The boxwood hedges are a smooth, clean, uninterrupted framework throughout. Meanwhile, the “DeGroot’s Spire” arborvitae is towering overhead and has become the hallmark of the garden. Actually, the original planting featured trios of “DeGroot’s Spire” with a rose in the center of each thin, linear grouping. That is where the durable “All Ablaze” roses are stationed and remain. Other roses haven’t enjoyed equally happy endings.

The most serious adversary nipping the Copeland’s Roxbury roses in the bud, so to speak, is the cold. Even roses that are listed as hardy in Zone 5 can fall victim to a tough winter. Although this winter was dubbed, “The Winter that Wasn’t” by many meteorologists, it took its toll on the roses. Two nights at -10° F or lower and they were history. Copeland does not protect the roses beyond mulching. His roses must be tough — or else. But cold is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only do the roses face the issues of weather that we all grapple with in Litchfield County, the Copeland property rides the crest of a breakneck hill. Furthermore, voles have proved a menace to many plants in residence — including the roses. “All my roses are planted in wire baskets to thwart the voles,” Copeland explains of a brilliant solution to the vole problem. When planting, he encases the roots in 1/8 inch chicken wire formed into a protective basket and then buried. When battling the same foe, he also uses a product called PermaTill VoleBloc when planting. It’s a soil amendment that forms a sharp barrier that voles avoid.

Which roses work? Copeland has honed it down to a fairly short list. Beyond “Carefree Beauty” and “All Ablaze,” he enjoys luck with “Veilchenblau,” a small flowering purple-petaled rambler bred in Germany in 1909. Of more recent vintage, double white rambling “Sea Foam” was bred in 1964 and fares well in Roxbury. “Bonica” is a pink shrub rose that has performed valiantly for him. And the large pink-flowering rambler “Clair Matin” is thriving. He first beheld rambling “Super Dorothy” (double light pink) and “Super Excelsa” (double darker pink) at Elizabeth Park in Hartford and gave them a spin with good results. The large shrub-forming “Pink Grootendorst” (1923) is doing well. Of his David Austin inventory, “Mary Rose” and “Gertrude Jekyll” are chugging along and blossoming vigorously. And another impressive performer is “Cuthbert Grant,” a semi-double velvety red from Canada’s Parkland Series and hardy to Zone 3.

Originally, Copeland thought that the parterre garden adjacent to the pergola would satisfy his yen for gardening, but he was wrong. Not long after that garden was finished, he “discovered shade gardening.” What followed was a series of niches and pathways leading beneath a tree canopy around to the back of the house. Then he got the idea of a rose view from the kitchen window and he installed a statue of Heracles the lion slayer and surrounded it with climbers on tuteurs. Following that victory, he put in a rose tunnel with a series of hoops and ramblers underplanted with Acanthus hungaricus as well as foxgloves, Salvia “Sensation Rose,” Stachys monnieri “Hummelo” and several other perennials. The property is dotted with other projects still in the works. Further shade gardens have been incorporated. Walkways are being laid out to make getting from one area to the next a blissful experience. Not all of those venues-in-training involve roses…yet. But based on past performance, more roses are bound to happen.