The first English rose was introduced to gardeners back in 1961, the year I was born, which also happened to be when construction on the Berlin Wall began and Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. It was a pink climber with a heady myrrh fragrance that was bred by crossing an old-fashioned Gallica rose, ‘Belle Isis’ (1845) and a floribunda called ‘Dainty Maid’ (1937) with semi-double, albeit highly fragrant blooms. The breeder, one David Austin from Shropshire England, was attempting to create a new class of roses with the look and scent of antique types, but with increased disease resistance and reblooming potential. David Austin passed away at the age of 92 in 2018, but his legacy of rose breeding continues to this day in the form of numerous English Rose cultivars that he left behind for us to enjoy.
Many of these have become standards in the modern landscape and I would like to begin our look into English Roses by reviewing these. Let’s start with one of my favourites, ‘Abraham Darby’ (1985) a tallish shrub rose with cupped coppery-apricot blooms that nod and emanate a heady fruit fragrance – it was created by crossing the modern climber ‘Aloha’ with a floribunda rose, ‘Yellow Cushion’. ‘L.D. Braithwaite’ (1988) produces a strong crimson blossom (that does not fade) with an old rose fragrance and is a reliable repeat-bloomer. ‘Golden Celebration’ (1992) is a cross of two English Roses, ‘Charles Austin’ and ‘Abraham Darby’, and is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. The large cup-shaped golden-yellow flowers also provide an award-winning fragrance of old rose and tea with hints of fruit.
Rose 'Golden Celebration'
‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (1986) is named after the famous garden designer and presents large rosette blooms of a strong pink hue with a heady, old rose fragrance. It can be a bit tallish in its growth habit but looks great when paired with Ceanothus ‘Victoria’ as the latter’s blue blooms complement it nicely. ‘Winchester Cathedral’ (1988) brings a rare white to the English Rose palette and this sport of ‘Mary Rose’ bears loose-petaled old rose blossoms with slight fragrance, but the disease resistance and strong repeat-blooming character more than makes up for this.
Rose 'Gertrude Jekyll', Rose 'Winchester Cathedral', Rose 'Mary Rose'
Both ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ (1998) and ‘Munstead Wood’ (2007) provide velvety crimson-red flowers with the classic old rose scent, with the former training well into a short climber. For those apricot-orange tones you need to look at ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ (1999) or ‘Lady of Shalott’ (2009) with the latter producing blooms with reddish-orange buds that open to a rich apricot with a hint of salmon on the edges of the outer petals. You can expect a pleasant tea fragrance from both of these with ‘Lady of Shalott’ having fruit and herbal hints (apple & cloves).
Rose 'Crown Princess Margareta', Rose 'Lady of Shalott', Rose 'Munstead Wood', Rose 'Munstead Wood', Rose 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles'
White or pale cream-flowered English roses are a bit of a hard find but both ‘Claire Austin’ (2007) and ‘Desdemona’ (2015) fill this void with heavily scented blooms of strong myrrh and old rose with a hint of lemon, respectively. The disease resistant ‘Claire Austin’ starts out with pale yellow buds that open to a stunning creamy-white, while ‘Desdemona’ retains a hint of a pale shell pink throughout flowering. Strong yellow blooms are much more common with this class of roses, with ‘Teasing Georgia’ (1998), ‘Charles Darwin’ (2003) and one of my favourites ‘Molineux’ (1994) all fitting the bill with flowers that range from deep canary yellow to gold. These are all very fragrant roses with the compact ‘Molineux’ and ‘Teasing Georgia’ both winning RHS Award of Garden Merit and fragrance awards, while ‘Charles Darwin’ is considered one of the best-scented of the English Roses.
Rose 'Claire Austin', Rose 'Teasing Georgia', Rose 'Desdemona', Rose 'Charles Darwin', Rose 'Molineux'
A handful of David Austin’s introductions have unique flower colours that defy a simple classification. Both ‘Bathsheba’ (2016) and ‘Carding Mill’ (2004) present intricate apricot-pink blooms with hints of pale yellow that emanate a strong myrrh scent. The AGM winning ‘Crocus’ (2000) cools the colour palette with two-tone pale apricot flowers that fade to cream on the outer petals accented with a pleasant tea rose fragrance.
New introductions (at least for Canada) to look forward to next year include the sublime ‘Emily Bronte’ (2018) with her very full flowers of a soft apricot-pink with golden centres and an equally intoxicating fragrance of tea and old rose, accented with a kiss of citrus (grapefruit & lemon) overtones. ‘The Mill on the Floss’ (2018) will join her with its deeply cupped lilac-pink blooms and slightly darker edges, with the flowers fading as they open and emanating a medium to strong fruit fragrance.
Rose 'Carding Mill', Rose 'Crocus', Rose 'Emily Bronte', Rose 'The Mill on the Floss', Rose 'Bathsheba'
Of course, these are just a handful of the forty cultivars of David Austin’s English Roses that Amsterdam Garden Center will be offering its customers starting in March 2021, but keep in mind that it’s ‘first come, first served’ when it comes to these, as there is a supply shortage and reorders will not be possible; so take the winter to refine those wish lists and be sure to get here early for the best selection.
*Photos courtesy David Austin Roses