About Roses

I’m still a beginning rose gardener, but here are some basics that might help others just starting out learning about roses.

First off, roses aren’t all one thing. They probably aren’t as hard to care for as you think and some roses are easier than others. (Though most DO need a good amount of sun.) Certain types of roses prefer certain climates, so maybe there is a perfect rose for you that will naturally do well in your yard.

What most people think of when they think of a “rose” is a class of rose called the Hybrid Tea with a high-centered bloom and a long, thorned stem.  These are the roses you see in a long-stemmed red rose florist bouquet. Most Hybrid Teas also have roughly the same bush shape and habit. Tiffany (below) and Peace are good examples.

Tiffany Hybrid Tea

But there are many types of roses that have different styles both in appearance and behavior. Hybrid Teas are actually a well… a hybrid of “tea” roses and “hybrid perpetuals” (two classes of roses). Hybrid Tea roses have only been around, though since roughly the 1860’s while roses themselves have been around for thousands of years. Many of these old varieties of roses (OGRs) you can still find. And even today, some varieties that are hundreds of years old are bred with old and/or modern varieties to create new roses!

Most roses of a similar class fall prey to the same diseases/problems as others of their class and roses of a particular class do best in particular climates, etc.  So just because one particular rose doesn’t do well in your garden doesn’t mean that ALL ROSES would do poorly in your garden.

Some Old Garden Roses don’t even have to be pruned.



This is just a rough idea of the classes, you can find out much more by reading Vintage Garden’s descriptions, HighCountryRoses or RoseFile or by googling “Rose Classes” or something of the like. I haven’t grown all of these, so I’m only summarizing what I’ve learned from books and online. The only trouble is that many rose sellers and many rose class definitions don’t necessarily detail the climate requirements, so you might have to do a little research if you live in a very cold or a very hot area.

SPECIES – These are roses found in nature, or really really old roses, basically. Often thought of as wild roses. They’re very easy to grow and hardy. Their blooms are single, they have hips (fruit) in the winter. Once bloomers. Roses like “Rosa rubra”, “Rosa phoenica”, “Rosa banksiae” and “Rosa canina”.

ALBAS – Old Rose. Mostly white or pale pink flowers. They have hips. These are very tough and hardy (even to zone 4!) Once bloomers. They won’t bloom well (at all?) in areas without enough winter chill. Some good examples are “Madame Legras de St. Germain”, “Madame Plantier”, and “Maiden’s Blush”.

BOURBON – Flowers are white, pink, red or purple. Fragrant. The first roses that repeat bloomed. Started in the early 1800’s. Most of them require a certain amount of winter chill (or don’t do well in super hot climates.) Though there are some exceptions (some of the smaller Bourbons like Souvenir de la Malmaison seem to do ok in hotter climates). Some other good examples are “Honorine de Brabant” and “Madame Pierre Oger”.

CENTIFOLIA – Old Rose. 17th century. “Cabbage” roses, very full flowers with tons of petals. fragrant. Once bloomers. Very hardy. (zone 5 and up, probably). Tall bushes with lax arching canes. Can be prone to mildew and blackspot in areas with a lot of rain. Good examples are “Sheiler’s Provence”, “Gros Chos de Hollande” and “Fantin-latour”.

CHINA: Brought back from China during the late 18th century (probably far older). Do better in warmer climates. They brought yellow colors and more reblooming into rose breeding. Most are shades of pink and red. They bloom exceptionally frequently and are fragrant. Usually small blooms. Sometimes have changeable colored blooms. Some can grow year round in warm climates. Some good examples are “Cramoisi Supérieur”, “Mutabilis”, “Old Blush” and “Fabvier”

DAMASK – white, pink or red colors, intensely fragrant. Some repeat bloom. Some of the most ancient roses. Used by the Romans. Great for potpourri. Some good examples are “Autumn Damask”, “Isaphan” and “Madame Hardy”.

ENGLISH SHRUBS or DAVID AUSTIN ROSES – a modern class of rose that breeds older roses and modern roses together to get what looks like an old rose, but with the rebloom and wider color range of modern roses. Good examples are  “Graham Thomas”, “Abraham Darby” and “Jude the Obscure”.

FLORIBUNDAS – a cross between polyanthas and hybrid teas.  modern rose. Continually flowering. Often better color than fragrance. Often clusters of flowers together (rather than a single stemmed rose.) The white (and red) Iceberg roses you see all over in mass developments are floribundas. They can be very useful and they don’t all look like Icebergs.

GALLICA – Old Rose. Pink and Mauve colors. Very Fragrant. Also used by the Romans. They’re hardy and tolerate neglect. Their leaves turn red in the fall. Once bloomers. Don’t bloom well in places without enough winter chill. Some good examples are “Cardinal de Richelieu” and  “Charles de Mills”

HYBRID MUSK – variety of bloom types, many singles. Often clusters of rose blossoms together. Fragrant. Hardy. Some of these are very useful in shadier spots (though no rose likes total shade.) Reblooming. Some have hips. Best without pruning. Some good examples are “Ballerina”, “Buff Beauty”, “Cornelia” and “Penelope”.

HYBRID PERPETUAL – One of my favorite classes due to the beauty of the bloom. Initially crosses of Autumn Damask or Portland types with China roses. Mostly very fragrant repeat bloomers in mostly red, dark purply red, pinky-lavender or pink. “Perpetual” referred to how often they bloomed, at least how it appeared to folks in the Victorian era when they first started coming out. Varies within the class perhaps more than some other classes. Some examples are “Reine des Violettes”, “Paul Neyron”, “Baronne Prevost”, “Marchesa Boccella” and “La Reine”.

HYBRID RUGOSA and RUGOSA – rugged roses with wrinkly shiny leaves that do well near beaches. Originally Rugosa was native in Asia. Hardy. Reblooming. Usually strongly fragrant. Easy to grow where they excell. Prefer acid soil and do poorly in alkaline. Disease resistant (some actually dislike being sprayed by pesticides or treatments). Most have hips. Some popular varieties are “Hansa”, “White Rugosa”, “Frau Dagmar Hartopp”, “Blanc Double de Coubert”, “Roseraie de l’Hay”.

HYBRID TEA and GRANDIFLORAS – Modern roses. A cross between Hybrid Perpetuals and Old Teas. Long, thorned stems, reblooming with a high centered bloom. Some are fragrant, some aren’t. Some are disease prone in certain climates. Some of the most popular examples are “Peace”, “Tiffany” and “Mr. Lincoln”.

MINIATURES – Cross of chinas and species R. multiflora. Modern. Very small flowers, usually under an inch. The bushes and leaves CAN be small, but not necessarily. (in fact what is classed as a miniature, in warmer climates can be a 6 foot wide bush covered in tiny blooms… ) Some do stay very small and some can be kept easily in pots. Vigorous and disease resistant. Ralph Moore was responsible for most of their popularity/development.  Two popular examples are “Rainbow’s End” and “Cinderella”.

MOSS – as early as 1600’s. Sports from Damasks and Centifolias. Hardy. Generally an upright, thin shaped bush covered in mossy spines and thorns. The ones sported from Centifolias have softer green “moss” (example: “William Lobb”).  The ones from Damasks are more brown and bristly (example: “Perpetual White Moss”). Fragrant (including the moss). Some reblooming, some not (depending on parentage).

NOISETTES and TEA-NOISETTES –  Climbing or broad shrubby roses that a cross of tea roses and china roses. Noisettes started in Charleston, SC in the early 1800s. Vigorous, climbing, fragrant and reblooming. One of my favorite classes. Doesn’t do as well in cold weather. Some examples are “Mme Alfred Carrière”, “Nastarana”, “Lamarque” and “Old Blush Noisette”.

POLYANTHA – vigorous and continuously covered in flowers, usually clustered flowers, usually easy to grow. A modern rose, very useful.

PORTLAND – old roses, a cross between damask and gallica. Since 1792. Small, repeat blooming plants with short stems. Good examples are “Comte de Chambord” and “Rose du Roi”. Very few varieties remain.

TEA – Different from Hybrid Teas and older. Very popular in Victorian times. They are from species Rosa gigantea, chinas, and old European roses. They do best in warm climates like California and the Southern US. Very Fragrant. Sometimes have changeable colored blooms(!). Blooms usually range from cream, pale yellow, pink, apricot. Their flowers often nod on the bush. Their new growth is particularly lovely. The new growth leaves and wood come out in reds of various shades, often. They -can- grow year round in areas they like. One of my favorite classes. Some examples are “Archiduc Joseph”,  “Duchess de Brabant” and “Madame Lambard”.


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