Everything You Need to Know About Roses

Learn more about the flower that has inspired poets, painters, gardeners and crafters alike.
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'Marmalade Skies' was a 2001 All-America Rose Selections winner.

'Marmalade Skies' was a 2001 All-America Rose Selections winner.

By: Holly Christian
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Who knows what Gertrude Stein really meant when she wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." All we know is that the rose is a symbol of beauty, of peace and of nature's bounty. And we love them whether they're in a lush bouquet, tucked into someone's hair, stamped onto greeting cards or running rampant over a garden trellis.

The History of Roses

Species Roses

  • Thought to be 35 million years old, "species" roses are called "nature's roses" because they're the source of all other rose varieties. Their simple flowers often have only a simple row of petals.
  • The Apothecary's Rose was identified in literature as early as the 14th century but could be older. This rose gets its name because it was used heavily in medieval medicine.
  • The Romans' favorite rose was 'Autumn Damask.'

Old Garden Roses

  • The result of nature's own matchmaking and man's early efforts to cross one rose with another, old garden roses offer a glorious diversity of delicate blooms, colors and fragrance.
  • The York and Lancaster Rose is a 16th-century rose linked by legend to England's War of the Roses.
  • In 1800, roses from China arrived and were bred with European roses. From this union came the first true red rose. China tea roses introduced an all-new rose shape.
  • The famous pioneer rose called 'Harrison's Yellow' is the rose that grows along the old pioneer trails from east to west across America.

Modern Roses

  • These are invented or hybridized roses bred by professionals seeking to create brand-new rose varieties. They are a mix of classes including shrubs, miniatures, floribundas, grandifloras and hybrid teas.
  • The first modern rose was introduced in 1867 and is called 'La France.'
  • The favorite rose of London before World War I was the Madam Abel Chatenay.
  • The Peace Rose is a modern rose named to commemorate the end of World War II.

English Roses

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'Golden Celebration'

'Golden Celebration' (Ausgold) features giant, full-petaled flowers.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Graham Thomas'

'Graham Thomas' (Ausmas) is a very hardy rose with a deep, rich color named for influential gardener Graham Thomas.

Photo By: Courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Claire Austin'

'Claire Austin' (Ausprior) has a strong myrrh fragrance with touches of meadowsweet, vanilla and heliotrope. David Austin Roses calls it their "finest white rose to date." It is named for David Austin’s daughter Claire.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Lichfield Angel'

'Lichfield Angel' (Ausrelate) is an almost pure white rose that does well in borders and has a light clove fragrance.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Lady Emma Hamilton'

'Lady Emma Hamilton' (Ausbrother), pictured here with lavender, has a distinctive and unusual tangerine color when fully open.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Munstead Wood'

'Munstead Wood' (Ausbernard) features deep crimson roses and an Old Rose fragrance. The hardy, medium-sized shrubs are named after famed gardener and author Gertrude Jekyll’s garden in Survey.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Lady of Shalott'

'Lady of Shalott' (Ausnyson) is called one of the most robust and hardy roses in the David Austin collection.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'James Galway'

'James Galway' (Auscrystal) is an almost thornless rose with a warm pink color shading to a pale pink.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Queen of Sweden'

'Queen of Sweden' (Austiger) is a soft pink rose with hints of apricot with a formal form to its blossom.

'Darcey Bussell'

'Darcey Bussell' (Ausdecorum) is named for a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet and is one of Austin's favorite red roses.

Rosa 'Brother Cadfael'

The large, clear pink flowers of ‘Brother Cadfael’ may remind you of peonies and have a rich Old Rose perfume. This rose is named for the hero of the Ellis Peters detective stories, set in Shropshire, home of the David Austin Roses nursery.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Crown Princess Margareta'

'Crown Princess Margareta' features a strong, fruity fragrance and is named for Crown Princess Margareta of Sweden, granddaughter of Queen Victoria and an accomplished gardener.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Charlotte'

'Charlotte' (Auspoly) has a Tea Rose fragrance and is dedicated to one of David Austin's granddaughters.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Rosa 'Lady of Megginch'

Pretty, rounded buds open to large, full, deep rose pink flowers on these medium-sized plants. It’s a vigorous bloomer that can be pruned or allowed to grow into a tall, bushy shrub. The fragrance is fruity and Old Rose, with a hint of raspberry. It’s named for the late Baroness Strange, a rose gardener who made her home in Scotland’s Megginch Castle.

'Tranquillity'

'Tranquillity' (Ausnoble) is a creamy white rose and boasts a light apple fragrance.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Christopher Marlowe'

This short to medium-sized shrub rose opens intense, orange-red blooms that pale to salmon pink on the edges as the flowers mature. Named for an Elizabethan playwright and poet, the roses have a tea fragrance with a hint of lemon.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Princess Alexandra of Kent'

'Princess Alexandra of Kent' (Ausmerchant) is named for Princess Alexandra, cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, and an avid gardener.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Lady Emma Hamilton'

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ produces dark red buds backed with splashes of orange. When the flowers fully open, they become tangerine orange inside. Their perfume is a strong, fruity mix of pear, grape, and citrus. The rose, named for Horatio Nelson’s lover, celebrates the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Wollerton Old Hall'

'Wollerton Old Hall' (Ausblanket) features a distinctive myrrh scent and a rounded chalice shape.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Teasing Georgia'

Available as a climber or a medium-sized shrub, ‘Teasing Georgia’ produces deep yellow flowers that fade to pale yellow with a beautiful two-tone effect. The disease resistant bushes are named for two well-known media personalities in Germany, Ulrich and Georgia Meyer. The pleasant Tea Rose scent is medium-strong.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Benjamin Britten'

'Benjamin Britten' (Ausencart) has a strong salmon-pink color and is named for the famous English composer, conductor and performer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Boscobel'

'Boscobel' (Auscousin) is very hardy and has a myrrh fragrance with notes of elderflower, pear and almond.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Gertrude Jekyll'

Winner of the 2002 James Mason Award from the Royal National Rose Society, this rose is described as having the quintessential Old Rose fragrance and is named for a famous garden designer.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Royal Jubilee'

Like other roses in the English Alba group, ‘Royal Jubilee’ has a light, airy, vigorous growth habit that works well in borders. The big, semi-doubled flowers are a deep, velvety pink held against glossy, grey-green foliage. These repeat-flowering shrubs grow to 5’ tall by 3’ wide and have very few thorns. There’s a note of blackcurrants in the flowers’ fruity fragrance.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'The Lark Ascending'

This rose’s light perfume changes as the flowers age, opening with Tea Rose and ending as myrrh. The shrubs grow up to 5’ tall and 3’ wide, making them a good addition to mixed perennial borders. The loosely cupped petals are a soft apricot color and have darker, golden-apricot stamens.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

'Heathcliff'

'Heathcliff' produces scarlet, fully doubled flowers that open to a rosette shape.The plants grow approximately 3 ½’ tall by 3’ wide, with shiny, deep green foliage. This variety has an unusual perfume that combines a Tea Rose scent with the fragrance of Old Roses; there’s an undertone of earthy, dry cedar.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Renowned Rose Grower David Austin

Renowned Shropshire, England rose breeder David Austin pictured at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show. David Austin Roses, which was founded in the 1960s emphasizes fragrant, lush Old English roses.

Tricks to Extend the Life of Your Roses

  • Roses can last a week or more if you take care of them right says florist Greg Ansley.
  • Always cut your stems under water at an angle with a sharp nonserrated knife. This gives the rose more absorption area to pull in water.
  • Place the stems in warm water, abut 94 degrees F.
  • Never have leaves or thorns underwater because that will cause bacteria to grow.
  • Change the water every day.
  • Recut the roses every other day.

Tips for Designing Rose Beds

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Rosarian Michael Marriott

Michael Marriott has been growing roses for over 25 years. Click through the gallery for his top tips on designing your very own rose garden.

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Be One With Your Roses

"Do not be afraid to plant roses close to paths or seats where they may spill over. Their proximity makes it all the better for appreciating their beautiful flowers and delicious fragrances."

Three's Company

"If planted closely together (approximately 18" apart), a group of three roses can look exactly like one large shrub. Massing color is more dramatic than featuring three separate plants with space in between."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Play With Texture

"A trimmed bush and trimmed lawn complement the full bushy shape of English roses."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Use Roses on Arches and Pergolas

"English Rose climbers are perfect for small arches. They are not overly rambunctious, thus are easy to keep under control. A major benefit with English Roses is their wonderful ability to flower from the ground up. Flowers head to toe!" 

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Flower Friends

"Pair roses with blue or purple-hued companion plants, like this David Austin 'Golden Celebration' with blue campanula."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Plant Them in Pots

"Roses look superb in pots and are an excellent way of bringing flowers onto patios or deck areas."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Try a Mixed Bed

"English roses mix perfectly with other plants. Their large flowers contrast with the small flowers of the perennials and the rounded habit of their bushes contrasts nicely with the spiky forms."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Use Them As Hedges

"Roses make excellent hedges and are more interesting than most non-flowering hedges."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Color Block

"Combine roses with perennials in garden beds for a lush effect. Plant clusters of each to create blocks of color."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Contrast With Blue

"It’s incredibly effective to contrast any color rose with plants that have blue or purple flowers. 'Lady of Shalott' is magnificent against the vivid blue of salvia."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Blend Big and Small Blooms

"Mixing small flowered roses with large flowered varieties helps to highlight their individual beauty."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Go With the Flow

"Many English roses have a beautifully rounded habit from top to bottom. Many people think roses should be stiff and upright, but who can deny that this is a very beautiful sight? When petals drift onto the garden path, it's an added treat."

Photo By: Image courtesy of David Austin Roses

Growing Roses

Here are the basics for successful rose gardening:

  • Sun — 6-8 hours of sun each day
  • Water — give a daily drink of water but don't drown them
  • Fertilizer — good well-balanced fertilizer twice a year
  • Selection — The most important thing is to select a rose that will thrive in your climate. Albas, for instance, are likely to survive coolest winters and are very tough when it comes to drought and shade.

Hybridizing

You can make new roses by crossing one rose variety with another. Here's how:

1. Designate a pollen parent and a seed parent.

2. Take pollen from the pollen parent and apply it to the stigmas of the female seed parent with a paintbrush.

3. If it takes, in about three months the rose hip swells and ripens.

4. Take the hip off, open it up, get the seeds out and plant them in little peat pots. Then you've got new baby roses. In about a year, you'll get your first bloom.

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