The enduring love affair we have with roses is strong. From the best smelling to the thornless, here’s our top 21 picks of the bunch
Fossil evidence shows the rose to be an ancient flower – about 35 million years old, in fact. From Central Asia it spread throughout the northern hemisphere – America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East – evolving into an estimated 150 species. All but one of these species roses had single flowers with just five petals. Today these species roses are still around, but in the 5000 years since it was first cultivated in China, breeding has created at least 30,000 varieties – some with more than 100 petals. And although they come in myriad shades and colours, the search continues for that elusive true blue one. Here are some of our favourites:
1. Molineux is a smart upright shrub rose whose compact foliate is quickly smothered in neat yellow to apricot rosettes. The scent is light but replete, with those indefinable, slightly musky tea rose.
The best fragrance:
2. Double Delight is a hybrid tea with an impressive spicy citrus fragrance and spectacular flowers. As the sun strikes the ivory petals, they slowly turn carmine, from the edges in. The large flowers are usually borne singly on long stems and, as a bonus, last well in the vase.
3. The large semi-double soft-apricot blooms of Apricot Nectar exude a delectable and powerful fruity fragrance. Being a floribunda, the flowers come in small sprays and have a form similar to the teas. A pleasingly vigorous grower.
4. Baronne de Rothschild is an eye-catching hybrid tea with a strong rose fragrance. Its large, cupped bicoloured blooms start off crimson red and open to a deep pink, with distinct silvery backs. Great as a cut flower too, this tea rose has it all.
5. Touted by many as being the world’s best yellow rose, the floribunda Friesia is also no slouch when it comes to fragrance, which is best described as heady (and much scent in yellow roses is rare). The clusters of medium-sized clear and bright blooms appear over a long season and don’t fade.
6. If you like your perfume spicy and your roses uncommon, then grab a Spiced Coffee. This hybrid tea has shapely blooms of beige (some say fawn) overlaid with smoky lavender at the borders. If murky moody colours are in, then so is this beauty.
The easy care
7. Low-growing carpet roses took the gardening world by storm at the start of this century. Most roses are easy-care and drought tolerant and although they might look like a Persian carpet, they act more like a doormat, putting up with no end of neglect and mistreatment. They flower for a long time and super abundantly, come in a range of colours, and are pretty much free from disease.
8. The enduring popularity of Iceberg is partially based on its uncomplaining nature but also on its profusion of gorgeous medium-sized, semi-double icy white blooms, which are sometime tinged with the palest of pinks. Pair them with box hedging for a retro fin de siecle look.
9. For a rose to plant and tend no more, the disease-resistant climber Seduction is fabulous. Its blooms are the palest soft yellow with smudgy pink bands and its vigour in growth is matched only by that of its ability to keep on producing flowers.
10. All summer long, the beautiful Ballerina bears many, large trusses of small, dainty single flowers. The pink flowers of this hybrid musk rose have white centres, prominent golden stamens and a light and pleasant scent. A favourite since the 1930s when it was introduced.
Those best in vases
11. For a period last century, Queen Elizabeth was the world’s second-most popular rose. A hybrid tea and floribunda cross, this large, tall upright bush is covered all season with large pink, globular blooms on long straight stems. Fantastic alone in the vase, or with others in floral arrangements.
12. Just Joey’s large, blowsy, even, coppery apricot blooms are produced in abundance. Famed for their longevity as a cut flower, Just Joey is also visually stunning, and like all the best roses, has a good fragrance as well.
13. Scentimental’s blooms are creamy white splashed, splattered and striped with burgundy and a strong spicy scent. This floribunda is as vigorous and free-flowering as it is showy. We love it.
14. Perfect Moment is perfect for those who like their roses flashy, real flashy. The big svelte buds on this hybrid tea unfurl to reveal harlequin-worthy sunny yellow and lipstick-red petals on a compact bush. Very mid-century modern. The fragrance is light and fruity.
15. Like the paintings of Paul Gauguin, the blooms of this eponymic hybrid tea are a profusion of warm tones, of coral, red, yellow brushed, splashed, freckled and striped. Always beautiful, even as they fade with age, they are produced prolifically and for long periods on a vigorous bush.
16. Not as colourful as the artist’s canvases but the rose that bears Henri Matisse’s name is as appealing as his works. The large floribunda blooms are dark cerise splashed in white in a rather painterly manner. The curious fragrance has tasty notes of raspberry.
17. French Lace is as charming as its name suggests. Its sweet-smelling, delicately wrought blooms are cream with a breath of apricot at their hearts. And supporting all this Gallic elegance is a strong, sun-loving bush.
18. Banksias are famously thornless, a definite plus when it comes to pruning this vigorous, evergreen rambler. Its long arching canes are smothered in small double blooms in either a pretty soft yellow or white flowers, both of which have a delicate fragrance.
19. Crepuscule is covered in beautiful, double, medium-sized, loose and slightly muddled rich apricot-yellow blooms for months, from mid spring right through to winter. This easily trainable climber is not completely thornless but its delicious tea-rose fragrance more than makes up for that.
20. Dioressence’s name alludes to its heady fragrance, which is often described as geranium tossed with bergamot. However, this hybrid tea’s repeated offerings of large and lightly ruffled lilac blooms with darker edges are what steals many a heart. That it has very few thorns is just cherries on the icing on the cake, so to speak.
21. Veilchenblau only has one flush of flowers a season but what a glorious sight that is. This old-fashioned rambler has large clusters of small purple and white-centred blooms, which fade to lilac-grey. Its scent is rich and fruity, it’s almost thornless and it doesn’t mind light shade – a winner all-round.
Words by: Mary Lovell-Smith