Rosa Ena Harkness © Ita McCobb

Things to consider when planting a rose

Roses are grown for their tremendous variety of flower form and fragrance but most of all for their profusion of Summer flowers. With the huge variety of forms and flower-types available the choosing of which rose to plant has become almost an art form.

Rose bushes are deciduous or semi-evergreen shrubs that grow in either a somewhat open form or as scrambling climbers. Since most roses are not evergreen it must be remembered that the open structure of their branches can leave you with rather bare looking patches in your garden during the Winter months. But, if treated correctly, this is more than compensated for by their abundance of flowers and wonderful fragrance during their flowering season.

When choosing which rose to plant don’t be swayed by looks. First you must consider the available space that you have for your rose and then the type of environment your garden or terrace can offer it – particularly soil type and surrounding plants, if any.

The questions you should ask yourself are:

• Are you looking for a fabulous display of Summer and/or Autumn flowers?

• A rambling rose for a decorative feature against a trellis or wall?

• Perhaps a wonderful Summer fragrance to attract bees and humans alike?

• Or a colourful selection of rosehips to give life to a drab Winter garden?

• Do you prefer a more “natural” looking garden, in which case consider a Wild rose species (confusingly called “Wild or Species roses”).

Once you’ve decided what you expect from your plant you can then consider which roses offer you the best fit for your needs by considering the natural characteristics of each of the different groups of roses. But be aware that most roses are often endowed with more than one name so wherever possible below we have mentioned both names with the most popular first and their secondary names (often their show names) following in brackets.

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Rose-flower shapes

Rose flowers come in a variety of forms: single flowers (with 4 to 7 petals), semi-double flowers (with 8 to 14 petals), double flowers (with 15 to 30 petals) and fully double flowers (more than 30 petals). Since their flowers are probably the most attractive element of a rose, let’s first take a look at the basic rose flower shapes you will encounter.

Flat rose flowers:

Open, usually single or semi-double flowers, with petals that lie virtually flat.

Cupped rose flowers:

Open roses with single to fully double flowers and petals that gently curve outwards and upwards from the centre.

Pointed rose flowers:

Hybrid Tea-shaped roses, with semi-double or fully double flowers and petals that have high pointed centres.

Urn-shaped rose flowers:

The classic rose shape – curved and flat-topped with semi-double or fully double flowers of the Hybrid Tea type.

Rounded rose flowers:

Double or fully double flowers, with even-sized, overlapping petals that form a rounded outline.

Rosette rose flowers:

Double or fully double flowers, with tightly packed slightly overlapping petals of unequal size.

Quartered rosette rose flowers:

Double or fully double flowers that are rather flat with even-sized petals that form a quartered pattern.

Pompom rose flowers:

Small, rounded double or fully double clusters of flowers, with masses of petals.

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Dog rose (Rosa canina) © Ita McCobb

Rose species

Rose plants can be classified into three general groups: Wild (or Species) roses, Old garden roses and Modern roses.

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Wild/Species roses

Dating back centuries, certainly as far back as Roman times, these roses are typical of those we see growing in country hedgerows. They usually produce fairly flat-petalled flowers that bloom once only during the Summer months. The flowers are then followed in Autumn and Winter by, often quite large, rich red or black rosehips. 

Wild (Species) roses can grow as shrubs or climbing roses such as the wild Dog-rose (Rosa canina). Wild roses commonly grown in gardens include the Musk rose (Rosa moschata), Lady Banks’ rose (Rosa banksiae) and the Sweetbriar or Eglantine rose (Rosa rubiginosa). Wild roses are low-maintenance shrubs in comparison to other garden roses and can usually tolerate poor soil conditions. 

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Old garden roses

This is the group of roses that most people visualize when thinking of roses. An Old Garden Rose is defined as any rose belonging to a class that existed before the introduction of the first Modern Rose (La France), which was introduced in 1867.

Old garden roses come in 12 main categories of which the Tea rose and Damask rose are probably the most well-known roses. In alphabetical order the categories are:

Alba roses

These white or pale pink, scented roses bloom in mid-Summer. They are large, very hardy, free-branching shrubs that carry clusters of flowers (5 to 7 semi-double or double flowers). With their profusion of grey-green leaves they make excellent specimen/feature plants, are good when used in borders and some (such as Rosa x alba “Semi-plena”) can even be grown as a hedge.   

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Bourbon roses

As their name suggests, they originated on the French island of Bourbon (now called Réunion), off the coast of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. These roses are believed to be the result of a cross between the Autumn Damask and the “Old Blush” China rose, both of which were frequently used as hedging on the island.

These roses bloom in Summer and Autumn, generally in groups of 3 fully double flowers. They are what we call “remontant” plants (a plant that blooms more than once each season – also referred to as “repeaters”). As climbing shrubs they can be trained to climb, so are frequently used for trailing over fences, walls and pillars as well as for borders. Typical examples are Rosa Louise Odier and Rosa Mme Pierre Oger.

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China roses

These roses have been grown in East Asia for centuries but in Western Europe only since the late 18th century. The China rose has less fragrant, smaller blooms and is more spindly and cold-sensitive than most Old rose shrubs. Even so, it has been argued that most of our Modern roses have been cultivated from China roses.

These repeat-flowering roses bloom in Summer and Autumn generally either singly or in clusters of 2 to 13 flowers. China roses have pointed shiny leaves. They are ideal for borders or against walls but need a sheltered position. The most well-known example is the Old Blush China rose.

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Damask roses

As the name suggests, the Damask rose is named after the city of Damascus where it originated in ancient times (from a natural cross between Rosa moschata, x Rosa gallica and x Rosa fedtschenkoana).

The Damask rose is an open sprawling shrub with (usually) very fragrant semi- to fully double flowers borne singly or in loose clusters of five to seven flowers. Summer Damasks bloom once in Summer whereas Autumn (or Four Seasons) Damask roses will also bloom again later but less energetically.

They are ideal for borders, especially in spots where you want to catch a hint of perfume as you pass. Examples are Rosa Ispahan (the Rose of Isfahan) and Madame Hardy, the latter having quartered-rosette petals.

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Gallica/Provins roses

This very old class of shrub (famous as it includes the Red rose of Lancaster) produces fairly dense, free-branching growth of up to 1.25 metres in height with leaves of a dull green. Gallica roses bloom once in Summer producing single to fully double, richly coloured flowers (shades of red, maroon and deep, purplish crimson) often in clusters of three. They are suitable for border planting. Typical examples are the fragrant fully double-flowered Rosa Cardinal de Richelieu and the smooth-stemmed Rosa Charles de Mills.

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Hybrid perpetual roses

These were the most popular form of rose shrub during the Victorian period thanks to their large, fully double blooms of pink, white or red growing singly or in threes.

Although they are repeat-flowering in Summer and Autumn, their second and subsequent flowerings are often rather weak. Their leaves are usually olive green that, with their vigorous free-branching stems, create an excellent backdrop for their flowers. They are ideal for borders and flowerbeds. A typical example is the confusingly named Rosa Reine des violettes (with large violet to purple flowers).

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Moss roses

Named because of the furry moss-like growth that appears on their stems and calyces (sepals of their flowers). Their moss-like, resin-bearing hairs give off a woody or balsam-like scent when rubbed.

Moss roses have double to fully double flowers in Summer and can occasionally be repeat flowerers. They generally form what can only be called rather “floppy” shrubs with dark green leaves. Typical examples are the Common moss rose (Rosa centifolia-moss), which needs to be grown on a support, and the pleasantly scented, bushy Rosa Mousseline (also known as Rosa Alfred de Dalmas or the Autumn Damask moss).

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Noisette roses

This repeat-flowering, climbing rose originating from South Carolina bears clusters of usually up to 9 double flowers during Summer and Autumn. It has a slightly spicy fragrance and generally smooth stems and glossy leaves. Although the original Noisette roses were fairly hardy the current plants are less so, needing a sheltered site and generally preferring the protection of a south- or west-facing wall. Typical examples are the Rosa Blush noisette with its blush-coloured pink flowers and the yellow-flowered Rosa Marechal Niel (a Tea-Noisette). 

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Portland roses

These were named after the Duchess of Portland who, in 1775, received a rose from Italy that was known as the Scarlet four seasons’ rose (Rosa paestana). The whole category of Portland roses has been developed from that one rose.

These upright, repeat-flowering shrubs have semi-double or double flowers held singly or in threes that flower mainly in the Summer with intermittent flowerings during the Autumn months.

Somewhat short and stubby, they are ideal for borders and flowerbeds (although they do put out suckers). A typical example is the lilac-tinted pink-flowered Rosa Comte de Chambord, which is also suitable for hedges.

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Provence/Centifolia/Cabbage roses

Known both as “Cabbage roses” and “Provence roses”, these roses originated in Holland during the 17th century and are related to Damask roses.

They are floppy, rather thorny shrubs that produce scented flowers in Summer growing singly or in threes. Their flowers are usually double to fully double and their leaves tend towards dark green. They are mostly suitable for borders. A typical example is the very fragrant Rosa cristata (Rosa centifolia).

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Sempervirens roses

Semprevirens roses were developed by Monsieur Jacques, the famous gardener to the then Duc d’Orleans (later King Louis Philippe of France).

Quite robust, these semi-evergreen climbing roses with shiny light green leaves flower with numerous semi- to fully double flowers in late Summer. They are ideal for growing on fences or trellis – even pergolas. A typical example is the vigorous climbing rose, Rosa Félicité Perpétue.

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Tea roses

This is the classic florist rose form. Tea roses are so named because their fragrance is supposedly reminiscent of that of Black China tea!

Tea roses are repeat-flowering, slender stemmed, frost-hardy shrubs and climbing roses that produce spicy-scented, high-centred blooms from pointy buds. Their semi to fully double blooms flower in Summer and Autumn.

The flowers are white or pastel shades of pink, yellow or apricot borne singly or in threes. Because their flowers are quite large and heavy and their stalks are quite weak, many Tea rose flowers hang or “nod” (so often need supporting). Their leaves are shiny and pale green.

While they are suitable for beds and borders they need to be planted in sheltered positions. Typical examples are Teddy Roosevelt’s favourite, the fragrant Rosa Duchesse de Brabant and the Rosa Mrs Foley Hobbs with its creamy white petals tipped with pink.

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Half-standard rose © Ita McCobb

Modern roses

The classification of Modern roses is not as clear-cut as that of Old roses since the forms of Modern roses vary so much and also since most Modern roses have been cultivated from Old roses. Consequently, Modern roses are classified on the basis of their form and flowering characteristics.

Climbing roses

Difference between Climbing roses and Rambling roses

The difference between Climbing roses and Rambling roses is that Climbing roses have stiff stems and Rambling roses do not.

Most Climbing roses are vigorous climbers and can grow from 2.5 to 6 metres in height, which makes them ideal for training over walls, fences and even pergolas.

Climbing roses have single to fully double flowers, borne singly or in clusters, anytime from late Spring to Autumn. Some, but not all, are repeat flowerers. Climbing roses and Rambling roses are not true vines since they cannot cling to supports on their own and must be trained and tied over structures. Typical Climbing rose examples are the thorn-less Rosa Zéphirine Drouhin, and the spectacular clustering flowers of the Kiftsgate rose (Rosa filipes).   

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Floribunda/Cluster-flowered bush roses

Floribunda is Latin for “many-flowering”. These are repeat-flowering, rather stiff shrubs that produce very effective sprays of between 3 and 25 single to fully double flowers from Summer to Autumn. Harking back to their parentage – Hybrid Tea rosesFloribunda roses are found in all of the same colours and often with the same shaped blossom.

They are perfect for flowerbeds, borders and hedges. For best effect plant them in groups of the same colour. Examples are the delicate double-flower Rosa Iceberg (Rosa Schneewittchen) and the long-stemmed clustering pink roses of Rosa Queen Elizabeth.

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Groundcover/Landscape roses

A low-maintenance group of roses developed in the late 20th century, these are low-level trailing and spreading roses that grow up to 0.5 metres in height. They have single to fully double flowers mostly borne in clusters of 3 to 11. Many of these roses are repeat flowerers flowering in Summer and Autumn. They are mostly disease and pest resistant and require minimal pruning.

They are suitable for flowerbeds, banks and walls. Typical examples are the fragrant Rosa Grouse (Rosa Korimro) and the dense single, pink flowered Rosa Nozomi (Rosa Heideröslein).

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Hybrid Tea/Large-flowering bush roses

The most popular of 20th century Modern roses, the Hybrid Tea was created in the late 19th century by crossing Hybrid Perpetual roses with Tea roses.

They are repeat-flowering shrubs with large, high-centred double flowers 8 cm or more across that are borne singly or in threes from Summer to Autumn. These shrubs tend to be rather upright and sparsely foliaged (currently seen as unfashionable in landscape gardening) plus their reputation as high-maintenance plants has led to a decline in their popularity even though most are sweetly scented.

They are excellent for flowerbeds, borders or hedges. Typical examples are Rosa Peace (Rosa Gioia, Rosa Gloria dei, Mme A Meilland) and the unusual large lilac flowers of Rosa Blue Moon (Rosa Mainzer Fastnacht, Rosa Sissi).

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Miniature rose © Ita McCobb

Miniature rose bushes

Repeat-flowering, twiggy shrubs of under 0.5 metres height (most being less than 0.25 metres) and with even less root spread. They produce sprays of 3 to 11 tiny, single to fully double flowers from Summer to Autumn. Blooms come in all the Hybrid Tea rose colours; many varieties also emulate the classic high-centred Hybrid Tea flower shape.

Miniature roses have very tiny leaves and are suitable for rock gardens, small spaces and growing in containers. While often sold as indoor plants these plants are true outdoor plants and need an annual “cold” period in order to survive. Typical examples are the spreading Rosa Rosemarin and the slightly fragrant free-flowering Rosa Rosina.

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Patio/Dwarf cluster-flowered roses

These roses are neat, repeat-flowering shrubs (of under 0.6 metres height and root spread) that produce sprays of flowers of usually 3 to 11 tiny, single to fully double flowers from Summer to Autumn and are ideal for flowerbeds, borders, hedges and growing in containers or window-boxes. While pot-grown plants may be brought indoors, they should remain outdoors most of the year.

Typical examples are the Rosa sweet dreams or the luscious Rosa Sweetie. Patio-climber varieties have also been bred that are small rambling-style plants that flower from the base upward and are suitable for confined areas. Typical is the Rosa open arms. 

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Polyantha roses

These tough, mostly compact (although a few are spreading), repeat-flowering shrubs are aptly named since Polyantha means “many-flowering” in Greek and they carry sprays of usually 7 to 15 small prolific, single to double flowers from late Spring to Autumn.

They are popular because they are low-maintenance, disease-resistant garden roses and are ideal for flowerbeds. Typical examples are Rosa Cécile Brünner (Rosa Mignon) and the fragrant pompom-flowering Rosa Fairy changeling (Rosa Harnumerous).

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Rambling roses

Difference between Climbing roses and Rambling roses

The difference between Climbing roses and Rambling roses is that Climbing roses have stiff stems and Rambling roses do not.

Rambling roses are also more vigorous, tending to grow much taller (between 6 and 9 metres) than Climbing roses. Rambling roses have clusters of three to 21 single to double flowers, which flower once during the Summer. They are suitable for training over walls, fences and even trees and other large structures. Climbing roses and Rambling roses are not true vines since they cannot cling to supports on their own and so must be trained and tied over structures.

Typical examples are the fragrant, pale-pink flowering Rosa Blush rambler, the unusual Rosda Veilchenblau (Rosa Blue rambler) with its white streaked, violet-coloured flowers and the semi-evergreen Rosa Emily Gray.

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Shrub roses

This tends to be a mishmash category of Modern roses, many of which are repeat flowerers and grow larger than most rose bushes (between 1 and 2 metres). They tend to have single to fully double flowers that grow singly or in sprays in Summer and/or Autumn. Roses classed as shrubs tend to have vigorous growth that creates a somewhat unrestricted bushy shape.

As the catch-all group of Modern roses, Shrub roses are flexible enough to be used for flowerbeds and borders, for growing as feature/specimen plants and some even for hedging. Typical examples are the repeat-flowering Rosa Double Yellow and the very fragrant Rosa Charles de Mills.

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Standard/Half-standard/Weeping standard roses

While not exactly a category of rose, these single “trunk” decorative roses with a profusion of flowers at the top are formed from Hybrid Tea roses and/or Floribunda roses budded on 1 metre briar stems. Half-standards are just over 0.5 metres tall.

Rambling rose varieties are used for Weeping standards with their stems trailing almost to ground level. They require special pruning, staking and care to maintain their somewhat “forced” form.

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References: Ita McCobb; Jennifer Hope-Morley; Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press; The Royal Horticultural Society Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers, Christopher Brickell ed., Dorling Kindersley Ltd; The Gardening Year, Reader’s Digest; Botany for Gardeners, Third edition, Timber Press; David Austin Roses; Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London; Missouri Botanical Garden; International Botanical Congress (IBC).

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