by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian
These beautiful and interesting roses are a kind of rosarian’s secret. Polyantha roses are probably not as well known as other classes of roses, mostly because there are not that many that are classified as polyanthas. While it may be a rather small class of roses, it includes some highly rated varieties that have survived over a hundred years.
The French breeder Jean-Baptiste Guillot introduced the first polyantha, Paquerette, in 1875 which has R. multiflora ‘Polyantha’ in its heritage. One of the best known of all the polyanthas is The Fairy introduced in 1932 by Ann Bentall, who was also producing some terrific hybrid musk roses around that time. The polyantha class shares many of the R. multiflora traits including its distinctive fringed “stipules”, the small outgrowth at the base of the leaf stalk, as well as the production of numerous blooms borne in clusters at the tops of branches. The polyanthas also differ from R. multiflora in several respects. The most important are its dwarf blooms, its dwarf bush form and its repeat blooming habit. In the 1930s, these roses had undergone a substantial transformation, from dwarf, compact bushes with small flowers to much more robust plants with large foliage and flowers. It was then recognized that a new group of roses had emerged that were initially dubbed Hybrid Polyanthas, a name subsequently changed to Floribundas. Since then, very few roses have been developed that have been included in this class.
Polyanthas are generally very free-flowering and healthy. Some of the most popular varieties have few to no thorns or prickles on the stems, and some are fragrant. As a class, you can’t go wrong with these beauties.
China Doll, medium pink, ARS rating 8.1. A vigorous spreading polyantha, with large flushes of china-rose pink pom-pom blooms. It is an excellent exhibition polyantha.
Excellenz von Schubert, deep pink, no ARS rating. Abundant dark carmine, nearly purple, small blooms in clusters. The foliage is dark and green and attractive.
La Marne, pink blend, ARS rating 8.8. A vigorous, fairly upright bush that produces unique pink blooms blushed white that change colors with age. The habit is loose and the bush is constantly in bloom.
Marie Pavie, white, ARS rating 8.9. A moderate upright and spreading bush with fairly large foliage, moderate-size white loose pom-pom blooms with a flesh center. The foliage has no prickles, except on the backs of the leaves.
Mlle Cecile Brunner, light pink, ARS rating 8.4. Often called the “Sweetheart rose”; this plant is super healthy, filled with blooms and the small, double pink blooms are fragrant. Most people are familiar with the climbing variety that can cover a house if left alone; the bush is much more manageable.
Mrs. R. M. Finch, medium pink, ARS rating 8.9. Rosy pink double flowers that pale with age. The plant is medium sized, and generally covered with blooms.
Paquerette, white, no ARS rating. The first polyantha; small spreading bush with pure white double blooms produced constantly in broad clusters that are slightly fragrant. Glossy foliage glossy and bright green stems.
Perle d’Or, yellow blend, ARS rating 8.4. This is like an apricot version of Cecile Brunner with thorny stems. It is also fragrant.
Red Fairy, medium red, no ARS rating This is a brick red look-alike of The Fairy that blooms in large upright abundant sprays. There are few prickles, the foliage is medium green, semi-glossy; and the bush is quite spreading.
The Fairy, light pink, ARS rating 8.7. A hardy plant with small rosette-like flowers in clusters on a healthy medium sized plant.
White Pet, white, ARS rating 8.6. The pom-pom, quarter-size blooms are white and appear in large clusters on a plant of very dwarf growth. It is a good exhibition polyantha.