Elegant English Roses

by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian

English roses? Do roses really have nationalities? Certainly there are species roses that originate from a particular area or region of the world, like Rosa chinensis from China. But hybridized roses? Not really. So where does the term “English Rose” come from and what does it include?

There is no formal designation by the American Rose Society, World Federation of Roses or even the Royal National Rose Society in Great Britain that includes a classification of English roses per se. The term first came into use more than thirty years ago to describe roses hybridized by David Austin in England. The roses that he developed were shrub roses that had the look of classic old roses – albas, bourbons, centifolias and even some gallicas, but were repeat bloomers. Many of his roses are heavily petalled, and have a full, rounded shape. Others are surprisingly simple, with the appearance of a lovely single bloom. Overall, Austin created a group of roses that blended the opulent, romantic beauty and fragrance of old-fashioned roses with the disease resistance and repeat flowering of modern roses.

Clair Martin, renowned curator of the Huntington Rose Garden in Southern California, says in his book, 100 English Roses for the American Garden, “But perhaps Austin’s greatest contribution to the world of roses is that he changed the public’s conception of roses from bouquet factories to integral shrubs in the garden landscape. Tired of the one-note roses being produced, he created his new class by combining the best traits of the old and new.”

Though interest in this new type of rose was a little slow to start, it eventually took the rose loving world by storm due both to rosarians’ increased interest in old garden roses, and an interest in roses other than the limited offerings of hybrid teas and floribundas available to American gardeners. Other hybridizers were following suit; Medilland in France produced many roses with the old-fashioned look, and fairly recently introduced the “Romantica” roses. Poulsen in Denmark introduced a group called “Renaissance” roses, and even in the U.S., Jackson and Perkins and Weeks began producing more and more of these voluptuous blooming machines. Heirloom Roses says of Medilland’s “Romantica” roses, “they awaken the senses with their regal voluptuous shapes and sensuous fragrances. The name “Romantica” reflects the French period of intense, emotional artistic creation in opera, art, music, and sculpture – hence the names of famous romantic authors, painters, and characters form operas.” These roses, bred in Provence, differ from the David Austin roses being generally smaller in stature and more upright, though retain the lovely old-fashioned look and fragrance, while blooming throughout the growing season.

The David Austin English roses generally fall into the classification shrub roses, while the “Romantica” and “Renaissance” roses are likely to be hybrid teas and floribundas. They require the same care you provide for all your other roses. One cautionary note, however; in our warm, sunny climate, these roses generally grow much larger than their English grown counterparts, a consideration when you are perusing catalogs. Many of the David Austin roses are fairly well known to rosarians; Graham Thomas, Gertrude Jekyll, Mary Rose, and Perdita, to name a few. Most think of English roses as all having a fully double form when in fact there are varieties that are singles and semi-doubles as well. Included here are some “Elegant English” rose varieties that you may want to consider for your garden:

Abbaye deCluny, 1998, Medilland, (no ARS rating); apricot blend HT, mild, spicy fragrance; large, cupped bloom form.

Blythe Spirit, 2000, Austin, (no ARS rating); medium sized shrub that is one of the new ‘Spray-Flowered’ group. The flowers are soft yellow and the shape of small cups, well spaced over the whole plant and produced almost without cease throughout the season. Highly resistant to disease. 

Cardinal Hume, 1984, Harkness, (ARS rating 7.7); mauve colored cupped blooms in large sprays on a disease resistant shrub. Though not “officially” an English rose, it is often included in this group because of its similarities; fruity fragrance.

Clair Renaissance, 1997, Poulsen, (ARS rating 7.7); light pink blooms with hints of apricot on a healthy shrub. Strong, old rose fragrance with double, old-fashioned bloom form.

Dapple Dawn, 1983, Austin, (ARS rating 8.5), light pink rose with single form on a medium sized shrub. Flowers change color as they open; very prominent golden stamens.

Eden, 1992, Medilland, (ARS rating 8.1); pink blend prolific climber with double, globular blooms and mild fragrance.

Huntington’s Hero, 1995, Martin, (no ARS rating); light pink shrub; a sport of Hero found by Clair Martin of the Huntington Rose Garden in Southern California, this lovely rose has an apricot shading to it and a strong myrrh fragrance.

Johann Strauss, 1994, Medilland, (ARS rating 7.8); pink blend floribunda with large, full, very double bloom form; mild, apple fragrance.

L. D. Braithwaite, Austin, (ARS rating 7.9); dark red blooms on a prolific shrub; this rose has the brightest crimson color of all the English Roses. The flowers open wide and are slightly cupped. They are produced freely and with remarkable continuity.

Molineux, 1994, Austin, (no ARS rating); deep yellow flowers with more than 100 petals on a tall shrub. It has a characteristic Tea Rose fragrance with a musky background.

Tamora, 1992, Austin, (no ARS rating); apricot blend shrub; closely related to the old Gloire de ijon and it has inherited both its lovely glistening apricot color and its delicious fragrance. It has a remarkable and unusual fragrance with aspects of lilac and mimosa.

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