Legend has it that when the Greek goddess Aphrodite – Venus to the Romans – sprang from the waves, the Earth, not to be outdone, created the rose to equal the beauty of the goddess. Now roses are so weighted with centuries of romantic symbolism that they have become something of a Valentine’s Day cliché – some 110 million roses are sold on Valentine’s Day in the USA annually, and the figure rises with every year that passes. It is ironic that red roses have become the most romantic symbol of all: they do not occur in nature but have only been developed through breeding. The first true red rose didn’t appear until the late eighteenth century and red roses are still prone to weak necks even after all this time. Undoubtedly the fragrance of the rose has something to do with its allure – our olfactory receptors are connected to the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain and one that is linked to our emotions. Here we offer a selection of the prettiest roses – soft, inviting, fragrant and guaranteed to generate emotion. Like people, they come in a range of characters, moods and coloratura.
01. A Shropshire Lad
Winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2012, A Shropshire Lad was introduced by David Austin – a Shropshire lad himself – in 1996.
It has coral-pink buds opening to soft, peachy pink flowers. Their smaller central petals are warm in tone, fading to a pale shell-pink on the outer petals, which are paler still at their tips. It is blessed with a strong, fruity, Tea-rose perfume and blooms in clusters of 3–10 flowers, which, if properly pruned, will appear from the base of the plant to the top.
Rose grower Antoine Jacques, head gardener to the Duc d’Orléans, named his roses to honour his esteemed employer – with one exception. When Jacques’ wife was pregnant, he determined to name his next rose after his child. The arrival of twin girls on 7 March 1827 presented him with a dilemma: how to incorporate both names? Since 7 March was the feast day of the third-century Christian martyrs, Félicité and Perpétue, one a noblewoman and the other a slave, mauled to death by wild animals in a Carthaginian amphitheatre, Jacques named his twin girls after them. He then combined the two names to use for his rose. Félicité-Perpétue remains a firm favourite thanks to its exceptional beauty and reliability.
This vigorous Sempervirens rambler has deep pink-red buds that open to a creamy pinkish white, fading to white. Each rose is a powder-puff rosette of perfect petals with a green eye at its heart. The fragrance is lovely and light. Félicité-Perpétue erupts in great abundant clusters of 20–40 flowers and in season it is smothered in blooms. Its only drawback is a tendency to keep a tenacious grip on its petals so that as the flowers fade, they brown on the plant.
Also known as Félicité et Perpétue, this rose is best planted where it can ramble unchecked – so grow it over a garage or a tree stump. Courtesy of New York florist Peter Henderson, we have a popular mutation, or sport, White Pet, that was introduced in 1879. This smaller evergreen shrub blooms continually, though like Félicité-Per-pétue, it hangs onto its fading petals.
03. Félicité Parmentier
The nineteenth-century Belgian, Louis-Joseph Ghislaine Parmentier, was a prolific rose grower. What started as a hobby grew into a grand obsession – he bred over 800 varieties in his lifetime. Some of these are the ancestors of our most popular modern roses.
The precise origins of this particular rose are lost in time, though we know it was first introduced in 1828 and is thought to be a hybrid between an Alba and a Damask rose. Its longevity lies in its exceptionally beautiful flowers that simply beg to be cut. The flat, scented blooms are a cupped, multi-petalled extravagance, with a button eye at the center. The buds are fleshy yellow-green, changing to a fleshy pink, then fading from pale pink to white as the bloom matures, with exquisite grades of harmonizing tones in between. The flowers are smallish, 5–7cm (2– 2¾in) in diameter, but they grow in profuse clusters of 3–8. The bush flowers for 6–8 weeks.
Despite its fragile beauty, this plant is quite sturdy and can be used in hedges but it does need some sunshine to flower. It relishes a mulch of humus-rich soil every year and will thank you for an annual helping of manure. It enjoys an annual pruning; cut the height down by one-third each year but only give it a light prune to begin with.
04. Rambling Rector
The true origins of this rose, which is thought to date back to the nineteenth century, are unknown but it is quite a sight in full flower. It is for this reason that it took the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
It will clamber over or through anything and is perfect as a screen for unsightly garden buildings. In midsummer it will produce cream buds that open to charming, diminutive, creamy white flowers, which fade to white. The double-petalled flowers have masses of golden yellow stamens at their heart and are produced in generous clusters of 10–50 blooms, each flower measuring just 4cm (1½in) in diameter. The flowers have a strong, musky perfume. The whole plant is festooned and swathed in flowers like some artful florist’s display. Even the hard-hearted will find it difficult to resist this plant’s romantic allure. After flowering, Rambling Rector produces masses of small orange rosehips.
This vigorous plant will scramble away with great speed but the young shoots are soft and pliable, and easy to train. Theoretically you can keep it pruned as a large shrub but it takes a lot of pruning to keep it under control; it’s better to let it have its head and run wild.
Its flowers may be small but Ballerina took the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. Its attraction is that it produces clusters of delicate, simple, pale pink flowers, with a splash of white at the base. In the center is a halo of golden stamens. The buds are a raspberry-pink with pale green sepals that protrude at right angles. The clusters of flowers get bigger and more magnificent as the season progresses and it will keep on flowering until the first frosts – long after most other roses have ceased to put on a show. The flowers can bleach as they age, so each cluster is a harmonious assortment of pink and white blooms.
This Hybrid Musk was introduced by Jack Bentall in 1937. He learned his craft working for the esteemed rose fancier, Reverend Joseph Hardwick Pemberton. Aside from being planted in the border, Ballerina can make a useful hedge as well as flourishing in pots. It can also be sculpted into a Standard rose, though I am of the firm opinion that neither roses nor poodles are natural subjects for topiary.
As contemporary paint charts show, there is no such color as plain white; Tranquillity is the perfect example of a warm, multi-toned ‘white’ rose. It buds a raspberry-green, unfurling to creamy pink perfection, then unfolding further to reveal hints of creamy yellow at its heart. The blooms are a positive profusion of petals that form a fulsome rosette, some 10cm (4in) in diameter, and exude a light, apple fragrance. This rose is lovely in a mixed border and looks superb with shades of pink and lavender. Prune it to suit its situation; it can grow quite tall given half a chance.
Launched in 2014 by David Austin, it was named to reflect the tranquil nature of it soft white hues.
If ever a rose was misnamed, this is it, for aside from its rich, sugar-pink color, it is quite a modest rose. Its breeder, the Reverend Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, who introduced it in 1920, obviously thought otherwise.
The buds are a dark, deep pink and the simple flowers have a double layer of warm pink, curling, pleated petals, tipped white at their base, that fade with age. The blooms unfurl to 7cm (2¾in) in diameter and reveal an artful circlet of thick yellow stamens that are loved by bees. The flowers are followed by orange hips. This Hybrid Musk rose has a good, musky perfume.
Vanity is sometimes criticized for its unprepossessing foliage – it’s a bit on the thin side – but the flowers, which seem to bloom almost continuously, make it a splendid plant for the back of the border. A group clustered together makes a somewhat glowing impact. As Vanity has a rather hot-pink hue, it can dominate some color schemes but mixes well with blues, purples and violets, both in the flowerbed and in the vase.
Budding an intense and vibrant coppery yellow, Grace unfurls into a frou-frou vision of apricot frilliness, with all the subtlety of shade and tone of a still-life painting. Intense, but never vulgar, the color is strongest at the heart of the bloom, paling and fading in hue to the outer petals and bleaching further with maturity. It’s hard to pick a bunch of these flowers, which bloom in nodding rosettes, and achieve anything other than a stunningly relaxed, warm arrangement.
Grace is charming in a mixed border and can be pruned to curtail or celebrate its arching habit. Either cut it back by two-thirds annually or restrict yourself to a mere light trim, but do not fail to remove dead, diseased or crossing growth. The fully double, cupped blooms, which reach a diameter of around 9cm (3½in), have a lovely warm fragrance.
Launched in 2001 by David Austin, Grace was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2012. It was named to celebrate the particular grace of Austin’s English Roses as a group.
09. Queen of Sweden
Roses don’t come much more romantic than this in appearance. The flowers, though small – around 7cm (2¾in) in diameter – are exceptionally beautiful. Each has an exquisite perfection and they keep on coming in small clusters. The coppery pink buds open to produce apricot-pink flowers, fading to palest pale pink around the exterior petals. Each flower is shallow and forms cupped rosettes. It has a pleasing but light myrrh fragrance.
This English Musk hybrid was introduced by David Austin in 2004 and is a cross between an Old rose and a Noisette. It makes a charming cut flower and will drop its petals prettily. Austin named it to commemorate 350 years of friendship between Sweden and Great Britain.
10. Kathryn Morley
Rose lovers grow this species for the exceptional beauty of its flowers. The yellow buds blush to a deep pink at their tips and open to cupped, multi-petalled flowers of a sweet, soft pink. The petals are paler at the tips and fade with age. The flowers, around 9cm (3½in) in diameter, are borne in small clusters and come in many forms – an eruption of curling petals, full and double or quartered, with a tiny visible golden eye. The colour remains strongest at the heart of the flower. Kathryn Morley also boasts a strong, sweet Tea-rose fragrance.
Introduced by David Austin in 1990, the shrub is prone to powdery mildew in cool, damp areas but thrives in warm climates, where it can grow far beyond its average size.
The name was auctioned at a charity event and purchased by Eric and Julia Morley in memory of their daughter Kathryn, who died aged 17. The flower is a true salute to her.
11. Mon Jardin et Ma Maison
This is a sugar-coated cupcake of a rose, with a colorist’s exquisite subtlety of tone. The long, pale pink buds begin to open to creamy flowers with a suggestion of warm buttery pink at the center. As they continue to unfurl, they reveal a soft shell-pink interior, sometimes with a hint of a tangerine cream, too, all finished off with a sunburst of bright yellow stamens at the heart. This rose looks as though it is lit from within and is exceptionally lovely. As it matures, it turns to soft white and the petals acquire hints of pale lemon. At a distance you could mistake it for a good white Old rose but it deserves close examination. It is nothing short of a multi-petalled extravaganza of a rose. The flowers come singly or in clusters of up to six and reach a diameter of around 10cm (4in). It has a sweet, light perfume.
Plant it near to the house so you can admire its beauty close up. Leave it alone, apart from training, for a few years. Bring the blooms into your home and admire its perfection from bud to dropping flower, either solo, or arranged with other pink, peach and white roses.
Mon Jardin et Ma Maison was suitably named for the French lifestyle magazine of the same name. The rose grower, Meilland Richardier, introduced it in 1998.
12. James Galway
This confection of a rose has dark pink buds that open to multi-petalled flowers, which darken from the pale outer tips of their petals to their warm, sugar-pink heart. The large, fulsome and frilly blooms have great whorls of perfectly placed petals. With their delicious Old-rose fragrance, the blooms just beg to be sniffed.
This tall shrub sits beautifully at the back of a border and blends very amicably with other garden flowers. It is blissfully thorn-free, making the business of pruning much less of a chore. If you give it its head, it will happily grow to a small climber.
James Galway was introduced by David Austin in 2000 and was named in honour of world-famous Irish flautist James Galway to commemorate his sixtieth birthday.
The apricot buds of this pretty rose open their long, feathery sepals to reveal buttercup-yellow, cupped, semi-double blooms. These fade slightly with the age but retain their wonderfully sunny tone. The petals unfurl right back to reveal a corona of sulphur-yellow stamens. The flowers, which have a light Tea-rose fragrance, are superb in a vase, will brighten any corner to spectacular effect, and are perfect mixed with other brights.
The plant is light and airy and the clusters of flowers are borne in a perfect display on tall, arching stems. It does not do well in shade but is happy in a sunny border or in a container. Buttercup was introduced by David Austin in 1998. The name celebrates its resemblance to the wild buttercup in color and habit.
14. Olivia Rose Austin
This perfectly pink rose is a 2014 introduction from David Austin and was named after the rose grower’s granddaughter. The flowers are formed in best Old-rose tradition; the buds are a warm pink, fading as they open to a sugary pink sweetness of multi-petalled rosettes that pleat out from a barely visible golden eye. The flowers will reach 9cm (3½in) in diameter and have a fruity fragrance with hints of plum.
It blooms early in the season and sheds its petals prettily, which ensures that the blooms look as good in the border as they do in small, informal arrangements.
This sensuous wine-red Gothic beauty buds a deep, dark red, unfurling to shallow-cupped blooms with quilled and quartered petals that pale as they age and retract further still into a can-can dancer’s seductive tutu. The blooms, which reach around 8cm (3in) in diameter, have a deliciously strong, rich perfume. These exquisite blooms, which come in clusters of 5–10, simply beg to be picked.
The downside – or upside depending on where you live – is that Tradescant performs best only in hot climates such as California and Australia, where it can be grown as a small climber, reaching around 2.4m (95in) in height. In temperate climates it is more likely to struggle. It does suffer somewhat from blackspot and rust. Tradescant benefits from a good feeding regime. David Austin introduced this rose in 1994.
16. Alan Titchmarsh
More peony-like than a peony, this magnificent rose has great cupped blooms of nodding heads and a strong Old-rose fragrance that drifts on the air. The plant has fat pink buds that open to whorls of crisp, incurving, multi-petalled extravagances. The outer petals are paler and darken to a soft or warm pink heart. In a vase they cannot help but resemble a still life by an Old Master.
This shrub is beautiful in the garden as part of a border. Pruned regularly, it will stay small but you can leave it to grow taller in the back of the bed.
Introduced by David Austin in 2005 and named after the popular British horticulturalist, Alan Titchmarsh, it is known in the USA as the Huntington Rose, having been named after the Huntington Library in San Merino, California – home to an important rose garden. That garden was designed, in part, for Arabella Huntington – once known as the richest woman in America – so she could utilize the cut blooms in elaborate floral arrangements.
17. Jubilee Celebration
David Austin describes this rose – introduced and named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 – as salmon-pink. The perception of colour is always open to personal interpretation but in my book, this is a much more interesting, warm, rich and intense shade of pink than the pink of the lurid-hued smoked fish.
The buds are a warm coppery yellow and it is this tint that gives the pink petals a deep, raspberry-sherbet intensity when they are open. The folded and pleated petals whorl around in an origami of domed sculptural perfection. The bush holds its flowers high, making a lovely showy display. Jubilee Celebration enjoys a superb perfume – a strong, fruity, rose scent combined with a lemony zing and a diverting hint of raspberry.
18. Yves Piaget
This multi-award-winning rose has whopping, sweet-scented, peony-like flowers – so perfect that even home guru Martha Stewart favors them as cut flowers.
The buds are pale pink but darker at the tip and open into mighty blooms that reach 12cm (5in) in diameter. The petals are curled, furled and ruffled at the tips, with a darker raspberry hue in the center paling to pale pink on the outer petals. As the blooms fade, they pale and sometimes take on a lavender tint. Some petals in the heart of the flower are flecked with white. Yves Piaget has a strong, sweet, fruity perfume that readily scents the air. It is an exceptional flower for wedding bouquets and arrangements, and looks stunning combined with shades of pale pink, green and blue.
This rose was introduced by Marie-Louise Meilland in 1985 and is one of the nursery’s Romantica collection. It is named after Yves Piaget, the Swiss luxury watchmaker.
A sugary, sweet-pea lavender in hue, Tasogare is a Japanese rose introduced by Moriji Kobayashi in 1977. It is a dainty, frilled-petticoat of a rose, with a delicate fluting of ruffled petals and a thicket of sulphur-yellow stamens at its heart. The buds are uncompromisingly purple. The flowers, which reach around 7cm (2¾in) in diameter, are not especially fragrant.
It blooms in flushes, which are strongest in late spring. Deadheading will promote repeat-flowering.
Tasogare means ‘sun-down time’ in Japanese, and is also used as a metaphor for old age.
This rose bears single, sulphur-yellow blooms on slender stems; the petals wave with age and fade to white at the tip. It blooms in clusters of 2–3 flowers, which reach around 7cm (2¾in) in diameter. Look inside and you’ll see a bright red pistil. Amanogawa has a light fragrance and a delicate form that the Japanese adore, but this rose is less well known in Europe and the Americas.
The growth is arching and the rose is prone to powdery mildew and blackspot. Amanogawa means ‘Milky Way’ in Japanese. It was introduced by the Japanese rose grower, Mr Seizo Suzuki, in 1963.
Hosokawa Garasha was a Japanese samurai, daughter of a general and wife of a famous samurai warrior, who became a Christian convert. This semi-double palest pink rose, named in tribute to her, bears large, almost conical flowers that bloom from early summer into autumn.
Deadhead but leave the flowers in place late in the season if you want to encourage the production of rosehips. It has a graceful, spreading habit, with the blooms borne on slender stems in great flushes.
Though it blooms but once a season. Pheasant makes quite an impact. It erupts into a great mass of ruffled, untidy blooms long after most roses have finished flowering. The flowers, sometimes unkindly described as coral-pink, appear in arched clusters of 10–30 nodding heads. It buds a warm pink, fading as it opens, and ages to a flesh-pink. When the frilly petals unfurl fully, the blooms reach 5cm (2in) in diameter and you’ll find a thatch of golden stamens at their heart. It has a light, musky perfume.
This shrub is happy to ramble and will obligingly rampage over small walls, but it is also amenable to training. It was initially developed for ground cover but is determined to oblige in all kinds of situations. The stems are supple so it is easy – though prickly – to train.
Pheasant was introduced by the German breeder, Kordes, in 1985. It is also known as Heidekönigin.