A rose is a rose is a rose

Choosing the right varieties for your rose garden

by: Hilary Newell

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Roses can present a very confusing picture: Tea rose vs. grandiflora, climbing rose vs. rambling rose, not to mention all the heirloom varieties, new hybrids and the other various brands. How ever is one to tell which rose is the best for one’s garden?

Here’s some information about several different groups of roses to help inform your choice when you decide to incorporate roses into your landscape.

Old garden roses are roses that were bred pre-1867. Known for strong fragrance, disease-resistance and general cold hardiness, these roses generally bloom once per summer. Old-fashioned names like Gallica, Damask, Moss or Bourbon are all included in this group.

Modern garden roses are those that were bred after 1867. They have a larger bloom size, are less hardy and not as resistant to disease, but the upside is they have a much longer period of bloom than their predecessors.

Hybrid tea roses are probably the most recognized of the modern roses, and they have a reputation for being high-maintenance. They are a very popular cut flower and if left to open in the garden, some varieties’ blooms will reach five inches in diameter. The cute little roses you find in four-inch pots are just miniaturized hybrid teas. They’re often sold as houseplants, but I have seen them used very effectively in containers. If they are kept well-fertilized, they will continue to bloom.

David Austin roses, also known as English roses, have gained in popularity over the last decade or so. David Austin started breeding this line of roses more than 50 years ago in an attempt to develop a line with the best features of old garden and modern roses. Most of them have the rosette or double form with a wonderful fragrance like old roses, but with the wider color range available with modern roses.

Pete and I planted several of them two years ago. At first glance, they seem a little less hardy than most other roses we have grown, as one of them died over the first winter. The others are doing fine and this should be the year that they shine. The fragrance is wonderful, so we’ve planted them close to a walkway that we pass by every day.

Roald Dahl, Bathsheba and Imogen are all new varieties this year and they look beautiful in the photos. There are also three different hedging collections this year: Olivia Rose Austin, Harlow Carr and The Alnwick Rose, each sporting their own shade of pink. These varieties seem like a good choice for planting a stunning row of roses.


Climbing roses are not the same as rambling roses. The word “climbing” is a bit of a misnomer, as they don’t actually climb like a vine, but they have stiff, upright canes that can be manually trained on a support. You will commonly see them growing up the side and over the roof of a house, requiring both a strong support system and careful attention to how and where they are attached. Pruning is key in long-term maintenance of climbing roses.

They tend to have large flowers, and if they are deadheaded after the first flush of bloom, they will usually reward you with a less showy but still pretty second bloom. Because of the availability of light, climbers that are trained horizontally along a fence or the top of a wall will provide more blooms. Next time you drive by one of those quintessential rosecovered Nantucket cottages, you may notice that the roof has more blossoms than the wall.

Zepherine Drouhin is a stellar variety with a great habit, beautiful color, no thorns and it thrives in part-shade. Other climbers that are proven to do well here are Climbing America, Blaze, Banks, Eden, Climbing Iceberg, and of course, the pink, cottage-covering New Dawn.

Rambling roses are vigorous and have long, flexible canes. They also need a strong support system, like a trellis, and they need to be pruned heavily. Given the right conditions, ramblers will grow along the ground and cover just about anything in their way. This vigorousness makes them very useful in rapidly covering a pergola or other garden structure. Generally, rambling roses flower once a summer and climbers can be easily coaxed into a longer bloom time.


Polyantha (many-flowered) roses live up to their name with large clusters of small flowers. They are generally low-maintenance and very hardy. Prolific bloomers, these varieties can be covered in flowers from spring to fall. Low-growing and compact, they are perfect for small gardens or containers.

Breeders have crossed polyanthas with hybrid teas to get floribunda roses. Each bud looks like a hybrid tea, but they are in clusters. The color range is greater, including shades of orange, yellow, pink, purple and white. The hybrid vigor provides good disease-resistance and they are pretty easy to maintain. The Fairy is probably the most notable of this group. This rose is a perfect companion for a perennial border. The profusion of continual bloom and the bright-green foliage fit right in with a minimum of care.

The term grandiflora was created in the 20th century as a way to classify modern roses that are a cross between the hybrid tea and floribunda roses. Known for clusters of large, showy flowers, they have a graceful form and lots of repeat blooms. They are great in a cutting garden as their stems are long, strong and straight, and their winter hardiness is a plus. I love the combination of the long stem with the cluster of stunning flowers on each.

If you want to enjoy even larger blooms, you can selectively pinch off the side blooms and leave the main bud to expand into a stunning single blossom. We have had a Queen Elizabeth grandiflora in our gardens for the last 30 years. By that I mean the very same rose bush. We planted it in our first garden and moved it to our current garden (along with a few other special plants) and while it has had a few difficult summers, it is a sturdy and resilient specimen that always has buds on it long after nearly everything else is all done blooming in the fall. It has had buds on it right up until the first snow, and I often cut that last stem to put in a vase for our Thanksgiving table. Grandifloras have long been consumer favorites, with varieties like Dick Clark, Earth Song, Tournament of Roses and Radiant Perfume.

When a plant name has the letters “sp” after it, this indicates that it is a species plant: a plant that has not been hybridized. Species roses are the same. They are very hardy and are often found on roadsides and along the edges of woods. They can be very vigorous and even form thickets. Some species roses, like Rosa multiflora, are invasive and can overtake small trees and shrubs. They can lend vigor to hybrids and many garden roses have species roses in their ancestry.

The pervasive Rosa rugosa has nearly reached iconic status here on Nantucket. Because it is sand-, saltand storm-tolerant, it is the only noticeable shrub on some of our island coastlines. Rosa rugosa is native to Japan, China, Korea and southeastern Siberia, and was introduced on the North American continent in 1845. It began appearing where it hadn’t been planted about 50 years later. Rosa rugosa is not on the Massachusetts invasive-species list, but arguably it is inva-

sive, readily taking over and replacing native species. On the positive side, though, it is delicately scented and lovely to look at. The red, white and pink flowers brighten the dunes in summer and the red seed heads (hips) are beautiful in late summer and into the fall. Because of its habit of spreading underground by suckers, it also seems to help stabilize dunes against erosion. Rugosas are often used by hybridizers seeking hardiness for their new crosses. Their dark green, leathery, crinkly leaves are also desirable when

trying to make a new hybrid. Some familiar rugosa types are Blanc Double de Coubert, a perpetual flowering white that forms a dense shrub, and Peach Grootendorst with clusters of quilled, peachy blooms.

If you have a difficult area, like a hillside or rocky area that you would like to cover with flowers with very little maintenance, you might want to try a groundcover rose. Jackson & Perkins offers several of these useful low-growers in white, pink, yellow

and coral, and the very small varieties are even nice spilling out of a large hanging basket or mixed container. These types are typically disease-resistant and tend to max out at under three feet tall.

The category of shrub roses includes a lot of roses that don’t fit into any other category. They may be single or cabbage-like flowers or anything in between and they may be fragrant or they might not. If you can’t figure out what kind of rose it is, it probably belongs in this category.


There are a number of new, easy, no-fuss roses on the market today. Proven Winners has the Oso Easy line of shrub roses. They boast several desirable characteristics like non-stop bloom, easy maintenance, disease-resistance and a love of average soil. There are 14 varieties in this series, some mounding, some upright, doubles and singles, some scented, pink, yellow, bicolor, red and lavender. There is no white yet, but that will be coming along, I’m sure. Try Lemon Zest in a container as a solid-color focal point. Its canaryyellow flowers don’t fade to white as they mature.

Pruning is simple with these: prune once in early spring, cutting the stems back by about one-third, and remove any dead canes. The biggest benefit to me is that they do not require deadheading to continue blooming. This is a signature of many Proven Winners plants. They are bred to be easy-maintenance, and deadheading is a very time-consuming practice that I’m happy to forego.

Another big benefit of these PW roses is their disease-resistance. Most roses in the categories above need regular sprays for the prevention of black spot, powdery mildew, botrytis and canker. The popular island pastime of peeking in rose gardens confirms who is vigilant in using preventative measures to keep these rose diseases at bay, but with the PW varieties, spraying for diseases is reduced or eliminated. Keeping these plants healthy is the best way to protect them against insect infestations, too.

There’s another new PW rose out this year, though I have not seen it in action yet. At Last claims to “combine the romance of a fragrant, fully-petaled tea rose with the no-nonsense practicality of a disease-resistant landscape rose.” Prune back by one-third when new buds begin to swell and this 36-inch soft-orange rose should have flowers from June until frost.

The Knock-Out family of roses was introduced more than 20 years ago, beginning with a hot pink. We planted one right away and we’ve been very happy with it. It is very low-maintenance, and I think we may have sprayed it for black spot only once in all those years. There are now at least a dozen colors and flower forms to choose from, and they are available in most retail garden centers. If you’ve never grown roses before, start with a few Knock-Outs.

Regardless of what kind of roses you choose to grow, it is important to fertilize correctly. We use Espoma Rose-tone and greensand, applying each in the spring when there is four to six inches of

new growth, then again after the first flush of bloom is done. Every other year we add a little composted manure as well. Every rose-grower I know has their own “special sauce” combination of nutrients that they use, and there are plenty of choices available. No matter what you choose to fertilize with, though, follow the directions on the package and do not apply right before a big rainstorm.

Correct watering is also important for all roses. Overhead watering is likely to increase the chance of diseases. A far better choice is watering with a hose directly on the soil. Keep the foliage dry if you can, and if any foliage falls off, remove it from the base of the plant. In times of no rain,

water deeply, not just a light spritz on the surface of the soil. The water needs to get way down in the ground to the deepest roots.

I’ve heard so many people say, “I don’t grow roses because they are too fussy,” and I was one of those people. I wanted so badly to have a rose garden like my grandfather had, but our weather here on Nantucket made it very difficult to do without extreme spray measures. I’m excited that the Knock-Out series has worked in our garden, and I’m looking forward to planting some other low-maintenance varieties. ///

Hilary Newell is the marketing director at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm and a regular contributor to Nantucket Today.