Q: What kinds of perennials do you recommend with roses — low creepers or tall spires? — Suzanne Larkins, Houston, Texas
A: It depends as much on the amount of care your roses need as on the visual effects you want. Fussy modern hybrids must have enough space around them to provide access for pruning, deadheading, and spraying. And though these roses produce gorgeous blossoms, they also have a stiff, unappealing growth habit. Soften the look with low-growing, gently cascading perennials; many have colors that consort well with roses. Verbena canadensis hybrids come in shades of pink, white, and purple. Lantana montevidensis is a cool lavender that’s pretty with yellow or white roses. Purple tradescantia makes a sumptuous edging for deep-crimson roses.
If you grow species and old garden roses, options for perennial companions increase greatly. These large, rugged shrubs usually have graceful shapes as well as exquisite flowers. They need little care and take in stride the competition from large perennials. Select tall, vertical plants to contrast nicely with the rounded forms of the roses. Stiffly upright yet fine-textured, both purple Verbena bonariensis and airy white Gaura lindheimeri make long-blooming bedfellows. Spectacular summer bulbs to plant are the magenta-hued Gladiolus byzantinus and the fragrant white summer hyacinth, Galtonia candicans. For months of color, there are several sages that blend wonderfully with roses. Both Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentina Skies’ (cerulean blue) and the hybrid Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ (rich navy) gratefully accept the support of adjacent roses. Shrublike Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ is a superb Texas native that’s well adapted to hot, dry summers. And equally heat-tolerant Mexican bush sage, S. leucantha, sends up soft purple spikes that will grace your garden long after the old roses have finished blooming.