A Rose Is Not A Rose


Everybody who thinks roses are a lot of trouble for a few pretty flowers on a pathetic, disease-ridden bush really needs to meet Russelliana, otherwise known as Old Spanish Rose, or Souvenir de
la Bataille de Marengo, among other things. (She dates to 1840 and has had time to pick up a few aliases.)

The only special treatment this rose gets from me is a shovelful of compost around its crown in fall.

And forbearance for the fact that it only blooms once, for about two weeks.

Knockout roses?  Go ahead, but they look like a comparative gaudy nothing.  Austin roses?  Well, I do own a Constance Spry, which is spectacular in a less subtle way.  It's also a once-bloomer. But the rest of the Austins I've experimented with?  Awkwardly shaped bushes, most of which disappear into the great beyond over the course of an upstate winter.

Why am I such an authority?  I have personally killed more roses than most people look at in a lifetime. In my part of the world, absolutely nothing is as beautiful and carefree as the once-blooming Old European roses. 

This may not be true everywhere. I had a conversation once with customer service at the Antique Rose Emporium, which is my favorite source for these roses.  And the woman I was speaking with said that in Texas, they are not so great.  Maybe they don't like the heat?  Maybe in Texas there are other old rose categories, like Tea Roses, that are equally spectacular and rebloom?

But in the Northeast, for my money, it's the old unimproved once-bloomers, all the way.


  1. Almost all roses are good somewhere, but almost no roses are good everywhere.

    Here Austins are graceful and spectacular, and Knock Outs are a mildewed mess.

  2. I have some lovely old-fashioned burgandy roses that get absolutely no care or irrigation. They just finished their one-month blooming cycle.

    They were the root stock of the former owner’s tea roses.

  3. This looks just like my one time bloomer that is blooming right now here in North Central Washington state. I had no clue what it’s name was, so I’m glad to have this information now.
    The scent of mine is just heavenly, btw. I love it.

  4. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s an Austin or an old rose, but I have an Autumn Sunset climbing rose outside our front porch in Western Washington, and it’s prolific and disease free. It’s been in the ground almost 5 years and I completely and totally neglect it. I just tie up the canes and trim off spent flowers.

    Last year I planted a Cecile Brunner climbing rose on our back pergola and although it’s blooming beautifully right now, it has its fair share of black spot, which I’ve never seen on the Autumn Sunset. It’s fun to experiment anyway!

  5. Hi Hoover–your rose may well be ‘Dr Huey,’ a lovely burgundy rose commonly used as a rootstock (http://roses.toytrains1.com/images/Roses/2009/dr-huey-2009-08a.jpg ).

    Michele, you’re right: Teas are an excellent class of tough, beautiful, and free-blooming roses for Texas. China roses are similarly rugged and bloom like mad down here.

    So glad to finally meet someone else who doesn’t like ‘Knockout’! Isn’t it kind of plasticky and gaudy–like something Barbie would plant in front of her Dreamhome?

  6. Melanie, thanks for the photo of Dr. Huey. It does look like the one I have.

    I guess the good thing about ‘Knockout’ roses is that they don’t require a lot of care or use of poisons. Maybe they have reduced some of the poisoning of suburbia.

  7. I live in Texas and antique hybrids don’t do well in my garden. I’ve grown “Ballerina” and “Mrs. Oakley Fisher” and neither have performed although are purported to be hardy and easy to grow. I gave these two roses everything a rose could ask for and even after 9 years, they failed to perform (scraggly, few blooms, black spot, etc.)

    I second the admiration of “Belinda’s Dream.”

    In Texas, we like to cook our roses & shrubs so if they don’t like heat & humidity, they don’t do well.

  8. Roses are a gardeners best friend these days.
    You can count on them to keep us employed.
    I have only one maintenance account and it is a rose garden, it pays my mortgage each month.
    Go blackspot, rust, cane borers, and mildew !
    It’s a love ~ hate relationship.

  9. DH just brought me in the loveliest fluffy, pink bouquet. Some seventy years ago, as a very young (15 year old) bride, his mother planted this rose, only to have her irrascable father-in-law pull it up and pitch it over the fence. (Seems he resented having to hand-mow around anything in the yard. I don’t particularly think that excuses his actions, but whatever…) Thanks to this article, with accompanying lovely photo, we now know what the rest of the world calls his “Mama’s ditch rose”.

  10. try these roses that I grow personally and call them “bullet-proof”: Carefree Beauty, Carefree Wonder, Westerland, Don Juan, Julia Child, Zephirine Drouhin, rugosas White Spice and Wild Berry Breeze, Fourth of July, Playboy, Judy Garland and Pat Austin. See my blog:

  11. Ghislain de Feligonde is in full, glorious bloom over my fence right now, a lovely primrose once-bloomer. Next to it is Cornelia, a hybrid musk that actually repeats a little, but it’s been blooming for two weeks already and is still going strong–in partial shade! They get compost with the rest of the bed, and organic seaweed fertilizer when I think of it (maybe twice a year).

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