Guide to Selecting the Best Roses (for You)

Rose 'Crimson Bouquet'

“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Boy did ol’ Bill Shakespeare have it right. Is there any other flower that evokes such emotion or carries so much meaning in just a single blossom as a rose? Of course for experienced and novice gardeners alike, roses can evoke other emotions from joy to pain, with a liberal dose of frustration for good measure. 

While a well-tended rose garden was once the pride and joy of every well-appointed landscape, roses have fallen out of favor in recent years.  These days, time-pressed gardeners are reluctant to add a plant to the garden that may demand extra time and attention.  The organic-minded may find the perception that roses need lots of chemical attention distasteful.  The purist may lament that the modern rose may not actually “smell as sweet”. But there are rose choices that will make anyone in these categories happy.

If you’re in the time-pressed category, or simply don’t enjoy tending to a garden, the landscape roses are a great choice. The best known is still the ‘Knockout’ series but the ‘Drift’ and the ‘Flower Carpet’ are gaining popularity rapidly, with additional varieties and colors introduced every year.  All are nearly ever bloomers even with little or no attention. ‘Drift’ and ‘Flower Carpet’ are low growing, while the ‘Knockouts’, when placed in an ideal location, can reach 6’ without pruning (The label says 3-4’, but if you don’t own a pair of pruners they’re going to grow a bit bigger.) Additionally, they are very resistant to black spot, mildew and rust, so there’s no weekly commitment to spraying. There’s just one little drawback to the landscape roses-they have very little fragrance.  But that’s OK-you probably never get out in the garden anyway.

Best Bets-Landscape roses:

‘Home Run’-A true red landscape rose with ‘Knockout’ parentage, super disease resistant and a heavy bloomer.

‘Apricot Drift’-A dainty groundcover rose in a delicate shade of peachy-pink that blooms all season.

‘Flower Carpet Coral’-The color of grandma’s lipstick, and a very heavy bloomer.  Drought tolerant once established, as are all Flower Carpet roses.

Rose 'Dick Clark'

What if you love the thought of roses and don’t mind tending the garden, but hate the thought of having to spray every. Single. Weekend? Well, the lazy-man’s roses above will work for you just fine, but with a little extra attention, you can also grow some of the newer floribundas with a more classic rose flower and fragrance.  The Easy-to-Love roses feature medium to large flowers with delicate fragrance, and good disease resistance. They’re easy to spot because most have “Easy” in the name.  Or try ‘Julia Child’, the color of the butter she so loved and a repeat bloomer.  And ‘Dick Clark’ won’t drop the ball on disease resistance, even though it looks delicate with glowing cream and cherry-pink bicolor flowers. For the classic red rose, try ‘Crimson Bouquet’ with velvety-red flowers and good disease resistance.  To minimize the need for fungicides, practice good rose hygiene (sweep up and dispose of fallen leaves at the end of every season) and plant with enough space to allow for good air circulation (to keep leaves as dry as possible).  For the occasional disease problem, an organic sulfur fungicide usually does the trick.

Best Bets-Florabunda roses:

‘Easy Does It’-Ruffled flowers like a Flamenco dancer’s skirt in delicious mango-peach shades with a fruity rose scent.  The only All American Rose Selection award winner in 2010.

‘Julia Child’-Lots of fragrance for a disease resistant rose, described as ‘licorice-spice’, with gorgeous full buttery yellow flowers. Very prolific bloomer and a 2006 AARS Winner.

‘Easy Going’-Glowing peach-gold with a citrus scent.  Well branched and the flowers hold their color well without fading.

The romance of the rose is complete when the classic rose flower is combined with heady perfume. That’s just what you get with the hybrid teas.  If a rose is not a rose to you without intense fragrance, the hybrid teas are for you.  Sadly, the genes that give roses fragrance are often lost when disease resistance is the goal of breeding.  Many of the newer hybrid tea introductions have somewhat better disease resistance than older types, and have lost some of the potency of fragrance. A regular spraying program is still advised for most. (Or use a systemic combined fungicide/insecticide product that needs only to be applied every six weeks or so.)

Best Bets-Hybrid Teas roses:

‘Falling in Love’-Icy-pink with wonderful fruity rose fragrance. Very thorny, but hey, love hurts.

‘Secret’-Cream with a pink-blushed edge. ‘Secret’ won the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Medal in 2002; she definitely has not been “deodorized”.

‘Mister Lincoln’-Deep, deep red, velvety textured petals, with an exceptional fragrance of damask rose that other roses aspire to.  Winner of the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Medal in 2002.

(Edit to add:) David Austin Roses-various colors, old-fashioned rose form and fragrance with modern rose re-blooming. 

For more AARS winners see www.rose.org

All the Gamble Fragrance award winners here.

American Rose Society website: www.ars.org.