To some extent, all Vintage roses can be dubbed classics, since they are elegant, understated, timeless and enduring. Some, however, fit more neatly into this category. They exemplify their type in form – delicate single-flowered beauties, expansive cupped goblets, great overblown corsages, and frilled and pleated multi-petalled fancies. Their hue is also significant. Neutral tones cannot automatically be classed as classic merely because they are pale, and not all intense colors shout noisily for our immediate attention. These roses all have a warmth in tone that subtly shifts through a harmonious palette from bud to maturity.
01. Old Blush China
The perfect cottage-garden rose, Old Blush China, twiggy and light, and with its relaxed blooms, blends beautifully with other garden flowers. Dubbed the ‘Monthly Rose’, for its propensity to flower right through from spring to autumn (year-round in warmer climates), it’s a valuable garden plant, and in honor of these charms, it entered the World Federation of Rose Societies Old Rose Hall of Fame in 1988. Its buds are red, opening to loose, pale pink double flowers that blush to a warm pink as they mature. The petals fold right back to reveal golden yellow stamens. Old Blush China has blooms in clusters of five and its flowers, which have a sweet and pleasing fragrance, reach a diameter of around 8cm (3in).
This rose can grow taller if the conditions suit – it likes warmth – and is available in a climbing form with slightly larger flowers. It needs blessedly little pruning: just deadhead and give a light trim to keep it in shape – but stay your hand – and cut out old dead wood. Old Blush China is also known as Parsons’ Pink China in the UK, where it was commercially introduced in 1793 by the astute Mr Parsons. It has been grown in China for over a thousand years and there goes by the name of Yue Yue Fen – which translates as ‘Monthly Pink’. It is something of a matriarch – the genes of Old Blush China are found in most modern roses.
02. Buff Beauty
Buff Beauty is acclaimed as one of the most popular of the Hybrid Musks and is a deserved award-winner. Not only does it have a wonderful Tea-rose fragrance but it produces great trusses of blooms in generous clusters. The color of the flowers is perfection itself; the buds are a pale buttery yellow, opening to apricot-yellow, multi-petalled double and semi-double flowers that fade to a creamy buff. It flowers in summer and again in early autumn; the later flowers are stronger in hue but blooms vary in shade according to temperature and position.
Buff Beauty mixes superbly with other plants, discreetly offsetting many other shades of rose as well as mixed plantings. Grown against a wall, it can reach generous proportions in warm climates. It also has the advantage of being relatively disease-free. Ann Bentall introduced the rose in 1939, though it is thought that it might have been bred by the revered Reverend Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, the famous vicar-turned-rose-grower.
You can’t beat a good old-fashioned pink rose and Celsiana has a long and excellent pedigree. It was painted by Redouté, which in my book is always the mark of beautiful flower. It buds sugar-pink and the feathery, artful sepals open to generous clusters of 7–15 sweet, pink, semi-double flowers that fade prettily with age, nodding and bowing on long stems. The informal ruffled, papery blooms can reach a diameter of around 9cm (3½in) and have a strong, delicious perfume that hangs in the air. The petals fold right back to reveal a halo of golden stamens that are delicately tipped with brown in maturity. Some small hips may be produced in autumn.
Tough as old boots and able to withstand some seriously harsh winters – up to an impressive –30°C (–22°C) – Celsiana should be deadheaded to promote repeat-flowering. You should also trim out some old wood annually but don’t go crazy as it flowers on the old wood. A light prune is what is required.
Celsiana’s true origin is unknown but it was named by the French botanist Claude-Antoine Thory, who worked on the genealogy of roses, reputedly in honor of his compatriot, the distinguished plantsman Jacques Philippe Martin Cels.
04. Irène Watts Pink Gruss an Aachen
Here’s a small but perfectly formed rose that is clouded in confusion and mystery. Mottisfont Abbey, home to one of the world’s most beautiful rose gardens, accidentally mislabelled Pink Gruss an Aachen as Irène Watts – we are all fallible. As a result, many roses that are sold in the USA as Irène Watts are actually Pink Gruss an Aachen. A curator at Mottisfont owned up to the error in the 1990s but by that time the actual Irène Watts had become elusive. The original breeder of Irène Watts, one Pierre Guillot, introduced it in 1896 but even his family’s nursery, though still flourishing, no longer stocks this rose. Even its name is a mystery; we do not know definitively who Irène Watts was, nor why she had a rose named after her.
But let’s not be picky. Both Irène Watts, and its virtual doppelganger Pink Gruss an Aachen, are exceptionally lovely roses. The deep pink buds appear in clusters of 3–11 and open to glorious double flowers with a mass of sweet peachy-pink petals that pale to the outer edges. The color is variable, depending on climate and season. The flowers, which reach a diameter of 7cm (2¾in), have a sweet perfume. This rose performs well in containers and is a delight at the front of a mixed border.
Penelope is a deliciously blowsy, full-blown rose, reminiscent of the kind that was used to decorate hats, or more latterly, the fabric corsages popularized by Sarah Jessica Parker in the television series, Sex and the City.
The flower buds are a coppery pink, fading to pale shell-pink as the ruffled petals start to unfurl, and paling to white as they fold right back to reveal a yellow heart, bursting with splendid lemon-yellow stamens. This is a proper garden rose – not one you’d find in a florist’s shop – and all the lovelier for it.
One of the most reliable of the Hybrid Musks, Penelope is imbued with a lovely musky sweet fragrance, as you’d expect. A bush rose that will grow to around 1.5 – 2m (59–79in), it can be even taller in warm climates, where it can turn into a climber. The bushes are smothered with flowers in large clusters and it repeat-flowers, doing particularly well in the early autumn if you deadhead it through the summer. If you leave the flowers to fade at the end of the summer, you’ll be rewarded with some startlingly bright, coral-pink hips.
Penelope is tolerant of shade and can withstand poor soil if it must. It was created in 1924 by the Reverend Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, who wanted to recreate the roses he remembered as a child.
06. Lady Hillingdon
Lady Hillingdon (1857–1940) is perhaps best remembered for purportedly coining the phrase ‘lie back and think of England’. She reputedly used it in 1912, either in her journal or in a somewhat revealing letter to her mother, in reference to enduring her husband’s twice-weekly visits to her ‘bedchamber’. The Lady Hillingdon rose was introduced in 1910, two years before Lady H made her pithy observation, by the rose breeders Lowe and Shawyer. Their nursery was in Uxbridge and ironically they named the rose after Lady Hillingdon as a mark of respect to her husband – the second Baron of Hillingdon and a Conservative politician, whose family home (Hillingdon Court) was in Uxbridge. Elisha J Hicks, an English breeder, introduced the climbing form – a sport of its parent – in 1917.
Perhaps best known as a climber, Lady Hillingdon buds a warm coppery yellow and throws out an endless succession of cupped buttery yellow flowers that fade with age. The cupped flowers reach a diameter of around 10cm (4in) and curl back revealing a halo of copper-yellow stamens. The blooms, which come in clusters of 3–7, have a strong Tea-rose scent and nod and bend their heavy heads on slender stems – perfect for climbing roses as they can be admired from below.
Lady Hillingdon blooms on new wood so initially train the whips, tying them in where you want them to grow and fanning them out so they don’t grow vertically, which encourages flowering. After the second or third year, prune out any dead or damaged wood in winter and tie in strong new shoots in the same way.
07. Comte de Chambord
This is a sugar-pink marvel of a rose, a giant corsage of sweet fragrant delight. It buds a dusty rose-pink and unfurls to a glorious, cupped, papery tutu of double-petalled blooms that can reach an impressive 10cm (4in) in diameter. With a color that’s a world away from a harsh pink, it pales and fades to its outer petals, and does so still more with maturity. With its loose quartering, it’s not a perfect bloom but is all the more charming for its relaxed style. The buds can ball but since it flowers so regularly, simply snip off any recalcitrant ones and wait for the next flush of blooms.
Comte de Chambord was introduced in 1863 by Robert et Moreau but, despite its honorable vintage, didn’t gain a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit until 1993. It was named after the splendidly titled Henri Charles Ferdinand Marie Dieudonné d’Artois, duc de Bordeaux and comte de Chambord (1820–83), the last legitimate male heir of Louis XV of France.
08. Rosa rugosa Hansa
A splendidly sturdy Rugosa with good resistance to disease and with great, overblown, reddish-purple flowers that reach around 10cm (4in) in diameter. These flowers unfurl from a long curl of a bud and open into a relaxed chaos of petals. This is no perfect nursery flower but an utterly charming bloom with an intense and delicious fragrance – a perfect cottage-garden flower. The blooms are followed by a glorious flush of round, red hips.
Prune to keep growth in check if required; this rose is a good choice for hedging. Schaum and Van Tol of the Hansa Nursery introduced it in the Netherlands in 1905.
09. Baronne Prévost
Bred by the amateur rose grower, M. Desprez of Yèbles, in France, and introduced in 1842, Baronne Prévost was one of the first Hybrid Perpetuals – a hybrid that repeat-flowers. And what flowers and what perfume! The fat pink buds open to luxuriant blooms that can unfurl to a heady 10cm (4in) diameter, multi-petalled extravagance set against the bright green foliage. The flowers are a rich sugary pink in tone, fading with maturity to rose or lilac-pink. The petals are quartered and in the heart, you’ll catch a glimpse of a tiny yellow button eye.
This rose benefits from a light prune in late summer to encourage repeat-flowering. It suits a relaxed setting, which makes it an ideal rose for a cottage garden. However, Baronne Prévost’s performance varies depending on climate: it grows more luxuriantly in warm environments but is somewhat susceptible to blackspot in cooler climates. Remove dead and diseased wood in winter and give it a light prune to improve the interior architecture for a rounded, open look.
It is a greedy plant but if you feed it, you will reap the reward in blooms. Baronne Prévost was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
10. Lovely Fairy
It doesn’t get going early, but when it does, this diminutive pink rose is simply smothered in clusters of sugar-pink flowers from summer into autumn. It buds a warm pink, opening to double flowers that reach just 2.5cm (1in) in diameter, and which appear in candyfloss clusters of 10–40 blooms. It’s pretty in cottage gardens and is a good ground-cover plant.
Dying blooms tend to cling on to the plant, so you need to indulge in some deadheading every so often if you want to keep Lovely Fairy looking at her best; this will also encourage repeat-flowering. If you’re impatient, a very light trim with a pair of shears will do the trick. Every winter, cut back a proportion of the older stems quite hard to encourage the production of new shoots, which will flower the next summer. But all in all, this rose is an absolute doddle to grow.
The parent of this Polyantha rose, The Fairy, was introduced in 1932, but it was another 58 years before its sport, Lovely Fairy, was introduced by the Dutch breeder, Vurens-Spek.
11. Perle d’Or
This is a dainty, diminutive, deliciously hued flower that throws out masses of flowers and repeats in flushes. The warm, flesh-pink buds are perfectly formed and open into similarly perfectly formed creamy pink flowers. These unfurl further to a flat chaos of petals, with the outer petals paling to cream and with a fleshy, curling pink heart. The flowers are borne in great clustered bouquets of 5–15 flowers, reaching a diameter of just 4cm (1½in) and exuding a strong, sweet fragrance.
This is an amiable, tolerant, rewarding shrub, which can withstand some shade. Grown in poor soil, the flowers will have fewer petals and will open to reveal the stamens. Feed it and it will repay you handsomely. Deadhead, and prune lightly to shape.
Perle d’Or took the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. There appears to be some debate as to whether it was raised by Joseph Rambaux or his splendidly named widow, Veuve Rambaux. Either way, it was introduced by their son-in-law, Francis Dubreuil, in 1883. For some inexplicable reason it is also known as the Yellow Cécile Brünner; while it does resemble this flower in form, it could never be described as yellow. The literal translation of its name – pearl of gold – indicates a much subtler colourist’s interpretation.
12. Constance Spry
It may only flower once – but oh, what a rose! Fragrant and outsized, this is a dazzlingly beautiful bloom. Graham Stuart Thomas, the famous English horticulturalist and rose connoisseur, described its fragrance as being like myrrh, but he was not a perfumier. Myrrh has a familiar but curiously earthy smell; in Constance Spry, the notes of myrrh are subtly mixed with those of Old rose to produce an exquisite, spicy, heady perfume that hangs in the air.
It buds dark pink, opening into a great globe of a flower of the sweetest pink that reaches an impressive diameter of around 13cm (5¼in). Paling as it unfurls, Constance Spry reveals a globular bloom with exquisite incurving petals reminiscent of a peony. At the heart is a halo of golden stamens that are rarely fully revealed. The flowers are borne singly or in clusters of up to six blooms; they nod their heads on slender stems, wafting their glorious perfume.
This tall shrub, which also comes as a climber, may bloom only once in mid-summer but it is positively smothered in flowers. Pick and deadhead with a vengeance and prune lightly in winter. Feed it freely to encourage the great flush of blooms.
As a cut flower, Constance Spry is exquisite, though it starts shedding its petals within a couple of days of being picked. It blooms profusely for around three weeks and is so very lovely that you will lose your heart to it.
Constance Spry was David Austin’s very first rose – the archetypical ‘English Rose’. He named it in tribute to the great florist, Constance Spry OBE, who championed natural flower arranging and who had a particular fondness for Old roses. Spry arranged the flowers for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip in 1947, and also for her coronation as Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This rose was introduced in 1961 by Roses and Shrubs of Albrighton and Sunningdale Nurseries, before David Austin Roses Ltd was formed in 1969.
Desdemona is a superb example of a classic rose – the color works with everything in the garden and as a cut flower, it is the picture of elegance, equally effective alone or as a neutral foil in all kinds of flower arrangements. Launched in 2015 by the indefatigable David Austin, Desdemona buds a pale pink with a darker tip. It opens into a charming chalice of petals, imbued with the palest hint of creamy pink and paling as the incurving petals unfurl to a creamy white, then fade again to white. It creates a wondrous ensemble of shades of white that are influenced by the light and surrounding colors. At the heart you can catch a glimpse of the sulphur stamens. The flowers, which reach 9cm (3½n) in diameter, have a strong fragrance with hints of myrrh. They bloom from early summer until the first frosts. Desdemona’s flowers are apparently indifferent to rain, which is a huge bonus in a wet climate.
Austin named this rose after William Shakespeare’s pure and innocent heroine from his tragedy, Othello.
This dusty pink bud opens to a sumptuous pale pink confusion of folded, pleated and cupped petals. It appears in clusters of 3–9 blooms that fade prettily with age. The flowers, which reach a diameter of 10cm (4in), have a delicious Old-rose fragrance. At their heart is small green button eye, half-concealed by a frill of tiny petals.
Prune this rose in winter and cut back the flowering stems by one-quarter after flowering. Feed generously.
David Austin introduced Eglantyne in 1994, naming it in tribute to Eglantyne Jebb, who launched the esteemed charity, Save the Children, in May 1919, in the aftermath of World War One. Don’t confuse this rose with Rosa rubiginosa, otherwise known as R. eglanteria, eglantine or sweet briar; that one is a wild rose with single pink blooms that becomes a bit of a giant.
15. Graham Thomas
Graham Stuart Thomas was a man who knew his roses, and when he chose this one to bear his name, from a selection proffered by his friend David Austin, he knew what he was doing. Irrepressibly cheerful in hue, it is a superb golden yellow rose with hints of apricot, paling as it ages but never with any harsh or sharp lemon tones. Obliging in disposition, it throws out blooms from late spring until the first frosts but will determinedly continue to try to produce the odd bloom as late as Christmas Day if conditions are favorable.
The buds appear streaked and flushed with red, unfurling to cupped double flowers. These grow in clusters of 3–9 blooms and reach a diameter of 11cm (4½in). The flowers have a strong tea fragrance with fruity and floral notes.
The shrub grows tall so you have to be quite ruthless if you want to contain it. In warmer climates it makes an attractive climber.
Graham Thomas was voted the World’s Favorite Rose in 2009 by members of the 39 National Rose Societies worldwide, and it was also awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. It was named as a tribute to British horticulturalist and influential gardener, Graham Stuart Thomas, a champion of Old roses and a leading light in their revival. Thomas designed the world famous rose garden at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, using much of his personal collection.
16. Pierre de Ronsard
This is a glorious spun-sugar confection of a rose, a multi-layered swirl of petals in a froth of delicious cream, white and powder-pink tones, with a hint of green on the outer petals. The colour is variable but is always a blend of these charming tones. It buds a pale, pale green tipped with raspberry. The petals unfurl slowly over a period of days to reveal great cupped double blooms brimming over with curls of petals. The heavy flowers, which nod on their stems, reach an impressive 10cm (4in) in diameter and have a light fragrance.
This rose demands two things, sunshine – it really does best in a Mediterranean climate – and patience. It is slow-growing but worth the wait as it is simply smothered in flowers in its first flush of blooms. In cool, wet climates, the blooms often fail to open fully.
Pierre de Ronsard was introduced by Marie-Louise Meilland in France in 1987. It is also known as Eden Rose, Eden 88 and Eden Climber. It was dubbed the World’s Favorite Rose in 2006. Meilland named it in honor of the sixteenth-century French poet, Pierre de Ronsard, who wrote the poem The Rose in 1551.
17. Sally Holmes
Sally Holmes, named after the grower’s wife, was introduced in 1976. The buds are pale pink and unfurl into simple, refined flowers with wavy-edged petals and golden yellow stamens at their heart. The flowers, which reach a diameter of around 8cm (3in) and exude a light musky fragrance, simply smother the plant, and do so especially heavily at the top of the stems.
In cool climates, Sally Holmes is a large shrub but in warm climates it can become a climber that flowers incessantly. Blackspot can be a problem.
A classic white rose, hugely popular for its clusters of pretty flowers that repeat-bloom throughout the season. It entered the Rose Hall of Fame in 1983 after being voted the World’s Favorite Rose by the World Federation of Rose Societies. It buds a pale shell-pink, unfurling into a delicately shaped rose with a hint of pale pink, then opening further still to display fully white petals with a halo of golden stamens at their heart. The flowers, which have a light fruity fragrance, come in clusters of 3–15 blooms and reach a diameter of around 8cm (3in). As the summer advances, the petals acquire a pink hue or become freckled with the palest splashes of pink.
This is a tall shrub, which will reach climbing proportions in a warm climate. It also comes in a climbing form. It is subject to blackspot.
Iceberg, also known as Schneewittchen and Fée des Neiges, was introduced in 1958 by the German rose grower, Reimer Kordes.