Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
June, 2001
Regional Report

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The Alba rose 'Felicite Parmentier' is diminutive, but the blossoms are loaded with a heavenly fragrance.

My Most Fragrant Roses

I was never much of a roses fan until my wife, Barbara, introduced me to the old-fashioned varieties years ago. The roses I knew until then were mostly hybrid teas. They were strong growers and produced many flowers, but many of them lacked one of the essential ingredients of high-quality roses: fragrance. The old-fashioned roses reintroduced me to the world of unusual rose flower shapes with the added benefit of heady fragrance.

Hardy Roses

Old-fashioned roses (antique or heirloom roses) are those roses that were bred prior to the twentieth century. There are a number of classes of roses in this group, some hardier than others. My favorite classes include the Gallica, Damask, Moss, Centifolia, and Alba. I've found these to be the hardiest of the old roses in my USDA Zone 4 garden. Plus, they seem to survive with little extra care and maintenance.

Common Characteristics

Although varieties of these five classes vary in their growth, flower shape, and flower color, generally the bushes grow 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, survive in less than ideal soil and sun exposure, produce pastel-colored flowers in early summer, and feature unusual flower shapes and unique fragrances. The only drawback to these roses is that they bloom only once during the summer. The English roses have taken many of the characteristics of the old-fashioned roses and incorporated them into a reblooming habit, but they have proven unreliably hardy in my garden. They would grow better in a zone 5 or warmer climate.

Best for Fragrance

The Gallica roses such as 'Apothecary' feature single red flowers on a dwarf bush. Damask roses such as 'Madam Hardy' produce beautiful landscape plants with red or white blooms, depending on the variety. The flowers of Centifolia roses such as 'Paul Ricault' look like cabbages cut in half. Many petals are stuffed into each flower, and the flowers have a lovely fragrance. Moss roses such as 'Blanc de Quatre Saison' feature hairy growths on the flower buds and sepal that remind me of Spanish moss hanging from a live oak. However, my favorite class is the Albas. Although the Moss and Centifolia roses are fragrant, Alba roses such as 'Maiden's Blush' produce pastel-colored flowers that smell like heaven. I remember being bowled over by the fragrance of such a bush at the Montreal Botanic Garden one summer. If you want a sweetly scented rose, try the Albas.

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