So we’ve come up with our list and we’re ready to go shopping. What roses are going to give us the characteristics we’re looking for… There are three basic groups for us to look at and a plethora of different types within those three. We have:
Three Basic Kinds of Roses
- Species Roses
- Old Garden Roses
- The Modern Rose
1. Species roses
These are wild roses (at least they are somewhere) and humankind has had little or nothing to do with how they have turned out. They are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic to the Tropics and, as a group, tend to be early bloomers that put out masses of flowers that turn into masses of hips (good bird food).
They tend to be very hardy and not very fussy about soil conditions. Easily identified in the garden center by the fact that you won’t find a fancy name, just the genus Rosa (sometimes just R.) followed by a species name (i.e. R. nitida or R. rugosa). These are often hard to find in the trade, as the industry seems more interested in that next NEW rose. Let’s start asking for more species roses at the garden center because they are easy, low maintenance, and if we use natives to our area, we can really help bolster the local ecology…
2. Old Garden Roses
All the roses man has had a hand in up until 1867. Broken into two sub-groups we have:
These are the roses grown in Europe before the everblooming roses arrived from China, around 1800. These include Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias (Cabbage roses) and Moss roses.
Not roses from China, but roses that were bred FROM roses from China. These include Teas, Bourbons, Noisettes, Damask Perpetuals, and Hybrid Perpetuals.
3. The Modern Rose
This group comprises 90% of what you will find in any garden center and encompasses every rose created after 1867. In this group we have Hybrid Teas, Polyanthas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, Shrubs, Miniatures, Climbers, Ramblers, Hybrid Musks, Trees, English roses and a host of individuals that defy classification.
List of Eleven Spectacular Roses to Grow
There are a lot of roses out there. I’ve made my plea for Species Roses, and the Old Garden Roses are both difficult to find and raise, so let’s focus our attention on the Modern Rose, our best bets.
- Hybrid Tea Rose
- Polyantha Rose
- Floribunda Rose
- Grandiflora Rose
- Shrub Roses
- Miniature Roses
- Climbing Rose
- Rambling Roses
- Musk Roses
- Trees Roses
- English Roses
1. Hybrid Tea
Hybrid Teas are the oldest of the modern roses (‘La France’, the first, was introduced in 1867) and they have many of the foibles of their older brethren; more susceptibility to disease and fungus, such as blackspot, mildew, and rust and a lack of hardiness (although the wide range of hardiness among this group makes it difficult to generalize) keeps any of these roses from making my list of favorites.
Yet, for some reason this is still the most popular group sold in the United States. I suspect it is mostly old habits (I have heard ” I’ve gotten a new box rose from J&P every year for fifty years”) or new gardeners getting their info from the old guy who got a new box rose every year. But it could be that when grown right, deadheaded, dusted and watered religiously this huge group can provide shades and hues the other groups barely touch. Just be aware of the maintenance tradeoff for all that beauty. Best as specimens in their own border (‘Helen Naudé’ has been knocking ’em out on the show circuit for a few years now).
2. Polyantha Rose
The polyantha rose is a cross between a Hybrid Tea and R. multiflora, introduced around 1870. They are very hardy but not very fragrant with sprays of smaller flowers. They make excellent hedges and groundcover. R. polyantha ‘The Fairy Rose’ is an old favorite of mine.
3. Floribunda Rose
The floribunda rose appeared as a result of breeding the polyanthas back to Hybrid Teas to get more hardiness. The first was introduced in 1909, but the group wasn’t formally recognized until the 40’s. They look like cluster-flowered hybrid teas, and have the same iffy hardiness, and make up for the lessened fragrance with slightly better disease resistance. Use as hedges or in borders.
4. Grandiflora Rose
Grandiflora roses were crosses between Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was introduced in 1954 along with the new English Monarch and they are both still going strong; I like this rose for almost everywhere in the country. Still some hardiness issues in the group and still only moderate disease resistance. Taller plants that make good hedges and specimens.
5. Shrub Roses
Shrub roses are a widely inclusive group; sort of a catch-all for everything that doesn’t fit neatly into the other categories. As such a huge amount of the very newest roses fall into this category and if I could only pick one group of roses this is it. Flower Carpet, Dream Rose, the Carefree Series from Dr. Buck, Meidiland landscape roses, Towne and Country landscape roses and a wide selection of hybridized species all fall into this category, so there is a wide range of hardiness and disease resistance, but generally you will find the best of both in these roses.
This is the rose group that all you beginners and no-maintenance types should look into; the best of the bullet-proof are here. But don’t forget these are roses and some maintenance is necessary to keep them looking good and not just surviving. All the ones I’ve named are great; look for ‘Sea Foam’, and a newer favorite of mine, ‘Knockout’ which will actually take a little shade. All of the groundcover roses and “landscape” roses fall in with this lot and some folks put the English Roses in this group. For those who need a REALLY hardy rose, try the Canadian raised Explorer Series. These rugosa hybrids are pretty much hardy to the sub-arctic, so they’ll work in Minnesota…
6. Miniature Roses
Minature roses are really older than 1867, but were lumped into the Moderns when they were rediscovered in Switzerland in the late 1800’s. They are being rediscovered again and are gaining popularity as window box and container plants. With that end in mind, I look to the new Palace series of roses or the older Sunblaze series as good bets. Careful, many of the miniatures sold at florists or checkouts around the country are hothouse plants that won’t take any cold at all; make sure to ask. Average hardiness and decent disease resistance, these are the roses for your container garden or small city garden.
7. Climbing Rose
Climbing roses are a workhorse bunch that can be made to creep and climb over most anything from trellises to trees. It’s another big group, many are sports of Hybrid Teas or Floribundas while some are species selections or hybrids with better disease tolerance and hardiness. Getting vertical with your roses is the best way I know to make a new rose garden look old fast- in fact climbers can be used in most any garden at all for the flower power and instant height they impart.
The color spectrum for roses is represented, from the white of ‘Iceberg’, to the blush of ‘New Dawn’, the huge salmon-pink blossoms of ‘America’ to the red of ‘Blaze’; your palette can even stretch into the yellows with the fine, but unfortunately named, ‘Golden S——‘. Make sure you ask for the climber as most of these are sports off of Hybrid Teas. ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ is an older Bourbon climber enjoying resurgence as a choice for light shade, but it can be a bit squeamish about blackspot and mildew. Think about mixing climbers in perennial or annual beds, over hardscapes and trellises or even up into trees (an old English favorite, often over crabapples).
8. Rambling Roses
Ramblers are an old fashioned lot (sometimes called pillars) that have fallen out of favor in the United States; most anything you might do with a rambler you can do with a climber. They are all single bloomers and not many are found in the trade but ‘Chevy Case’ springs to memory from the Rose Walk at Longwood Gardens for it’s clean, vigorous growth and deep red flowers…
9. Musk Roses
Hybrid musk roses are another fallen group that isn’t often found in the trade. ‘Nymphenberg’ is the occasional exception for it’s apricot buds, repeat salmon-pink flowers, apple-like fragrance and multitude of uses; it can be trained as a climber, a rambler, or a shrub
10. Trees Roses
Trees roses are not truly a distinct group like Hybrid Teas or shrubs, but more of a way of training roses. As such you will find a huge range in hardiness and disease resistance. I prefer the look of a smaller flower on tree roses (it fits their scale better) and the smaller flowers are often favorites like the ‘Fairy rose’ and ‘Sea Foam’, so they are easy to coordinate in the garden AND to take care of.
11. English Roses
English Roses are a newer group and the brainchild of a single man, David Austin. Looking to bring back the old world fragrance and flower shapes of the antiques he began an exhaustive breeding effort that has made his name nearly a household word (it’s certainly a garden center word). This is a great place to begin if you want to get started in Old Garden Roses; these are generally easy to grow although that old rose parentage can sometimes rear it’s ugly head ( ‘The Squire comes to mind; I remember falling in love with the darkest red flower and it’s wonderful fragrance, only to repulsed time and again by the habit and foliage). In his own book Mr. Austin rates his roses from one to four and even he cannot be kind to some of his progeny, so be careful which English rose you choose (his yellows are a very strong suit).
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and there are a number of similar programs from around the world praising him. The Renaissance Roses from Denmark and the Generosa Roses from France are two very good programs that may have even gone The English Roses one better in the disease category. (These are considered shrub roses; I include them here due to their similar natures)
So have you found the one you need top get the job done? Not yet? Checking with a state extension service, your local master gardeners program or try looking for a local rose society. Plenty of folks at these places would love to talk to you about roses or know the person who does! And if that doesn’t work you can always go talk to the old guy on the end of the street with 50 roses…