Of all the flowers in the world, roses are the most beloved; their beautiful shapes, intoxicating fragrance, glorious colors and versatility make them irresistible. Nothing makes a garden more romantic or glorious than roses.
With so many types to choose from, there is something for every situation. Even though most of them require and thrive in full sun, there are some that do fairly well in partial shade. There are scented and unscented ones (but what is a rose without fragrance?), there are thorny and thornless ones, and there is nearly any color imaginable except blue and black (and hybridizers are working on those). The American Rose Society, located in Shreveport, Louisiana, classifies roses into three main groups—species, old garden, and modern.
“Whatever differences of opinion we may hold about roses, and whether our taste inclines to the hybrid teas, or to the ramblers or to the old shrub roses, there is one thing on which we are all in agreement: it is an advantage for a rose to smell like a rose.”
Species roses are those that are found naturally in the wild. They have been cultivated for centuries for perfumery, medicinal and culinary uses. And they have been celebrated in poems, plays and art throughout history. Though most species bloom only once in spring, they bloom profusely and are usually wonderfully fragrant. They also tend to be very vigorous, disease-resistant, and require little attention. Crossing the wild species and their naturally occurring hybrids led to the development of the antique rose classes which led in turn to today’s modern hybrids.
Rosa banksiae, ‘Lady Banks’ rose, Zones 6-9. Lady Banks’ rose, in either it’s white or yellow form is a very vigorous climbing rose that can reach 15-20 feet, and thus is an excellent candidate for a trellis (sturdy) or arbor completely smothering it in spring in a cascade of white or yellow blooms. The individual flowers are small, but are borne in clusters and in great profusion. ‘Alba Plena,’ the white one, is said to have a stronger scent than ‘Lutea,’ the yellow one, redolent of violets. Both are very vigorous, thornless, and relatively pest-free. Mainstays of Southern gardens.
Rosa eglanteria, eglantine rose or sweetbrier (also known as R. rubiginosa). The sweetbrier rose is a European native commonly seen in hedgerows in England and elsewhere. It also makes a lovely garden subject with its soft pink single flowers followed by large, red hips. It has a lovely fragrance, and even the leaves when crushed have a scent of apples. The shrub can grow to 8-10’, but can be maintained at a lower height. Shakespeare references eglantine and other roses throughout his plays.
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene 2, William Shakespeare)
Rosa hugonis, Father Hugo’s rose, Zones 5-9. Father Hugo’s rose, or the Yellow Rose of China, as it is also known, is an extremely important rose in the history of hybridization because it introduced yellow into the genetic pool. A lovely rose in its own right, it is a soft buttery yellow with fine, ferny foliage and grows to 8-9.’ It blooms only once, in late spring, but prolifically.
Rosa laevigata, Cherokee rose, Zones 7-9. The flowers of the Cherokee rose are single, large, pure white, and fragrant. There is only one flush of blooms in the spring, but it is profuse, produced on long canes that can reach 30 ft., or more. Introduced into this country from China in the 18th c., the Cherokee rose has become naturalized in the Southeast and is considered invasive in some areas. It is the State Flower of Georgia.
Rosa moschata, musk rose, Zones 6-10. One of the most fragrant species of roses, the musk rose has been used in the development of several classes of roses including the Damasks and Noisettes. The double form is R. moschata ‘Plena.’ Both single and double forms have the distinction of blooming in late summer into fall, making them most welcome at that time of year.
Rosa moyesii, Moye’s rose, Zones 5-9. This red rose from China was introduced in 1908 and it is noted not only for the bright red single flowers, but for the large, decorative, vase-shaped hips that follow in late summer. This is a rose that can reach about 12 feet, so it is not the best choice for a small garden.
Rosa palustris, swamp rose, Zones 4-9. The swamp rose is native to eastern North America where it can be found on stream banks, boggy areas, and pond edges, thus it is a good candidate for gardens with damp areas and full sun. Fragrant deep pink single to semi-double flowers appear in late spring into mid-summer and are followed by small red hips that birds will devour. The foliage often turns lovely shades of red in autumn.
Rosa roxbughii, chestnut rose, Zones 6-9. The chestnut rose is a species of rose that originated in China. The flower is tightly packed with petals, sometimes incurved like a chrysanthemum, but it is the hips that look like the outward coverings of chestnuts that give this species its common name. The leaves are different from the typical rose, being made up of many small leaflets. The chestnut rose blooms in the spring, it does very well in the South and is quite disease-resistant.
Rosa rugosa, beach rose, Zones 2-7. Deep pink fragrant flowers continue intermittently until frost and are followed by large red hips. These are tough roses and do exceptionally well near the seashore. ‘Alba’ is the white sport of Rosa rugosa. See rugosa hybrids under “Old Garden Roses.”
Rosa villosa, apple rose, Zones 5-9. Also called Rosa pomifera. The apple rose has several excellent characteristics going for it. It has lovely blue-green foliage and long canes that tend to arch over. The single, soft pink flowers with white at the base appear in early summer and are followed in the autumn by large, highly ornamental, bright red hips.
Rosa virginiana, Virginia rose or prairie rose, Zones 3-8. This Eastern North American native is very tough and grows well under varied conditions. It is very cold-hardy, is not fussy as to soil type, and like Rosa rugosa, tolerates seaside conditions well. The single pink flowers are followed by red hips, and as an added bonus the foliage turns bright red in autumn as well. Due to the plants suckering habit, it can form a goodly-sized colony over time, so it does need room.
Plant of the Month
Updated new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map 2023.