Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scent of a Rose

I used to think roses were a waste of time and effort. They were finicky and just waiting to get some rose disease and die. What was all the ado about anyway? Fragrance? What was everyone talking about? I have a very acute sense of smell and I never could find any scent. So people sprayed and pampered to grow sad looking thorn bushes that eventually sent up sucker growth from the rootstock before they died, just to get a couple of unscented blooms. Well, I exaggerate slightly, but you get the point.

A few years ago I started working for The Rose Lady. That is Jim's name for her because he does not remember names well, but he knows all of my ladies. After working in her garden and seeing her roses, it did not seem so hard. True, I had cemetery rose, a rose I had taken a cutting of in an old cemetery, and it thrived on neglect, but I thought that was an exception. Jim was taken with cemetery rose, too. His past experience had been with two dollar special roses that he was lucky if they survived for two years. After debating with myself for awhile, I told Jim I thought I wanted to try growing the coveted Austin Rose. He said I should, so I researched them, narrowed it down to a few, and Jim made the final selection for our first "real" rose.

I ordered 'Tess of d'Urbervilles' from www.highcountryroses.com and she arrived a few days later, ready to thrive. She grew like thunder and soon put on her first bloom. My excitement was replaced with confusion when the bloom did not look like the photos and there was NO SCENT! Had they sent the wrong one? After researching some more, I learned that until roses mature, they do not have their correct form, color, fragrance or strong enough stems to support the blooms.

It finally happened! Jim and I were walking through the garden and he stopped to smell the roses. A new one had opened, and as with all the others, it had to be checked. Jim smiled with delight and told me it was fragrant. I had to smell for myself. Ah, it was intoxicating and its form was different, too. So that Mom and Grandma could enjoy it as well, I cut it and put it in a vase on the kitchen table. Even over the smells of supper, the fragrance of Tess could be detected.

Why modern hybridizers bred for rose show form at the expense of fragrance is beyond me. I cannot help but admire David Austin's vision to combine old rose fragrance, plant and flower structure and ease of care with modern rose colors and repeat flowering. To think that marketers would not handle his creation of English Roses because they thought no one would be interested. I am sure he is laughing at them now.

See The Obsessed Gardener for information on rose care.  Also, Pass The Sniff Test for more about rose fragrance.

'Tess of d'Urbervilles' taking on mature form.


  1. I love David Austin Roses. I have "Mary Rose". I was a bit crazy buying it as it was a mature one that I paid like $140 with shipping for. It is beautiful, but I have like zero experience with them. I have since bought a knockout and a few others. Love them though. But this year, had lots of issues with powdery mildew. I tried the natural baking soda and water solution as I'd like to stick with organic, but it was not that helpful. :(

    I am also ground layering some of the knockout and Mary Rose.

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  2. Yikes! That's expensive!!! I was lucky to have access to lots of cuttings to get my start. I want to expand though, and have ordered from a few places that are listed at http://theobsessedgardener.weebly.com/rosa.html If I had to pick a favorite place, at this point I'd probably say Heirloom Roses, though all were excellent in my experience. I prefer to stick with roses grown on their own roots.

    I've been fortunate to have minimal rose problems. Occasionally a little black spot here and there, but not enough to worry about. An anti-fungal I've used in the past is milk, a 10% solution diluted with water. Use skim milk to keep down the smell. For more information ... http://www.thefrugallife.com/mildew.html

    I'm working on some propagating experiments this fall/winter and will hopefully be able to report some positive results come spring.

  3. I can't wait to hear about your experiments. I've done rootings in water, directly in the ground, in pots, burritos in newspaper and bags in a dark place for 2 weeks, and ground layering. So far i've had luck with all methods, but the success rate isn't all that great and we shall see how many make it through the winter. Not sure what would be the best and most frugal way of overwintering them. Thinking of covering up the ones I have outside with leaves and mulch and taking the ones in pots and also burying them in the ground and covering them up. If they make it through the winter, I will have lots of new roses. ;)

    1. Oh and yes, it was expensive. But I really wanted an established rose in my garden and went a little crazy. Everything else has been either free off of craigslist, from friends and bought super cheap at demolition sales. It was the only splurge.

  4. I think one of my biggest rose surprises is how quickly a cutting can establish itself. Though, if you think about it, by nature they are very hardy plants, which is how they survived so many years of neglect in old cemeteries and abandoned homesteads. It's when hybridizers forgo those traits in search of something obscure that roses become finicky and hard to grow.

  5. Interesting. I had a lady on GardenWeb offer to send me some cuttings of easy to grow from cutting roses. She said some are super easy and almost fool proof, while others are almost impossible to start from a cutting.

    How does one know if a rose is finicky and hard to grow?

    Would you consider the knockout a hybridized rose? I guess it is and it seems to be one that thrives on neglect too.

  6. The other day I was reading at http://www.heirloomroses.com/about/a-visionarys-dream/ and found this interesting ...

    "When John began hybridizing he decided that if roses could out live neglect, they were worthy of considering for introduction. He watched the seedlings as they developed in the greenhouse and if they looked promising he planted the new seedlings in rows in the ground and they were only given water. No fertilizer, no pest or disease control. The survivors were then given closer attention."

    Also http://www.davidaustinroses.com/american/Advanced.asp?PageId=1899 ...

    "Over recent years, the trial fields have not been heavily sprayed for pests and diseases. This is quite a challenge for our young roses, as in a monoculture, where only a single kind of plant is grown, pests and diseases are much more likely to flourish. The advantage of this is that only the healthiest varieties will survive testing. We can be confident that if our roses perform well under our trial conditions, they will be even more outstanding when given a little care, grown in good garden conditions."

    With that in mind, I would say look at particular breeders' introductions. There are so many David Austin roses that I am interested in that I am only starting to dip into others' introductions as I fill my wish list. I think Buck roses are good, too. Roses grown on their own roots as opposed to grafted are generally easier. Places like http://davesgarden.com/ have reviews by ordinary gardeners with varying degrees of knowledge, which can be a good thing.

    Yes, Knockout Roses are bred to thrive on neglect. I believe they are patented, too.

  7. Interesting info. Thanks for sharing. You are right about the knockout, they are patented.

    Quick question, what does it mean when a rose is grown on it's own root?

  8. Not grafted. For various reasons, many roses are propagated by taking a cutting of one rose and grafting it to the rootstock of another. Here's a little more about it ...