In Defense of Once-Blooming Roses


IMG_3803 I''ve always preferred once-blooming roses to repeat-bloomers for a number of reasons:

  1. Since many of them are old European roses never oranged up in color by contact with yellow China roses or distorted in shape by the China's pointy buds and long centers, they tend to be more beautiful than anything more modern, in my opinion, in both color and shape.
  2. We are talking insanely vibrant magentas and rose pinks and pristine whites and flesh pinks and crowded blossoms that sometimes are quartered and sometimes look as if they were sliced off by a knife.
  3. They tend to explode into bloom in June in my part of the world, rather than judiciously doling out the blossoms over a long season.
  4. They tend to be finished blooming by the time the one truly annoying rose pest, Japanese beetles, arrive.  This is why I prefer albas and gallicas to the even tougher rugosas, which do repeat.  Some rugosas, like 'Sarah Van Fleet' are super-pretty, but rendered disgusting in July in my part of the world by Japanese beetles.
  5. My repeat bloomers never repeat bloom anyway.  Maybe it's me.  Maybe that vicious but gorgeous rose in my yard labeled 'New Dawn' was mislabelled…and is really its more vigorous but once-blooming parent 'Dr. Van Fleet.'
  6. Once-bloomers, without that China parentage, tend to be so much hardier in a cold climate than, say, David Austin roses or anything else you are likely to pick up at Lowe's.

IMG_3804 My absolute current favorite among my once-blooming pets is the 'Russelliana' climbing my front porch, a rose that dates to the early 19th century, if not earlier.  Its blooms are relatively small, but there are so many of them in such a striking magenta and they are so stuffed with petals on such a healthy plant, well, it's pretty amazing.

Even more amazing than the rose itself, however, was my friend Julia from Atlanta writing down the name 'Russelliana' when she came to visit me last weekend.  Atlanta–where they can grow what I consider TRULY gorgeous old roses like Duchesse de Brabant and Marechal Niel–teas and noisettes too sensitive to survive above the Mason-Dixon line.

"Can''t you grow nice repeat-bloomers?" I asked her in astonishment, assuming my preferences had everything to do with severe upstate winters.

"Oh, they're never as healthy," she said dismissively.  "I'm ordering YOUR rose." Case closed.  Once bloomers are the best.


  1. I think the emphasis on plants that “bloom all summer long!” is a bit misguided. I LOVE having different things coming in and out of bloom in my garden. It keeps it interesting, and keeps me excited and anticipating the next big arrival in the garden. A garden where everything reblooms is a garden that gets a bit boring after a while.

  2. I haven’t ever thought about once bloomers being ‘better’ than repeat bloomers, but it is the gallicas, albas, and yes, rugosas (that do not REALLY repeat bloom) that I celebrate in my garden with the Annual Rose Viewing at the end of June. I just need the hardiness of those once bloomers. I also have fabulous roses that have come to me without a name, but with a local history like the Purington Pink growing on a farm for who knows how many of the 7 generations that have cultivated that piece of land. I really wish I could grow climbers, but our winters seem to be too daunting to even inspire the roses to lift their heads very high. Russelliana looks like a beauty.

  3. I agree…although I am not (yet?) a rose grower. But I feel this way about lilacs and peonies! It would not be as special if they bloomed all season!

  4. There is no need to “defend” old garden roses. They have great virtues. There’s a rose for every climate. Once-bloomers work great for you: wonderful.

    What is great for you won’t even bloom at all here where there is no winter chill.

    Here modern roses are wonderful. If I lived where you lived I would not grow them. But I live here, where they are wonderful, so I grow them.

    None of them are perfect everywhere. Some of them are awful almost everywhere. Many of them are very good somewhere. The right rose for the right climate.

  5. I love my Theresa Bugnet rose which is blooming now. It reminds me of one my grandma used to have. I do not like the rose chafers though making short work of the blooms.

  6. We had a once bloomer (forget the name) in a yard many years ago. About every other year, I would cut it back hard after it had bloomed in early summer and it would respond with fresh new growth and another flush of flowers in late summer. Long live old roses. 🙂

  7. I loved the comments about “New Dawn”. I planted “New Dawn’ (maybe) several years ago, and vigorous is an understatement. One year we let her go wild because of a family problem, and she completely covered our house. We got an estimate to cut the rose down and remove it-$22,000! Needless to say, my husband got up on the roof and cut her down himself. A huge task. She still comes back every year, though. She is beautiful and healthy, but she only blooms once and is only barely fragrant.

  8. Happy to hear your ideas about ‘old roses’. They’re the only kind I grow mostly for the fragrance but they also have wonderful form, all different, and none stiff & ugly like some ‘florist’ roses.
    I’m trying to resuscitate an old ‘Celsiana’ plant, which keeps getting trimmed by the deer but I will grow it somehow. This is a Damask rose, and has the best fragrance: you just want to keep sniffing it, can never get enough.
    The flowers are semi-double, light pink fading to white with dark whiskers in the middle.
    It once grew 5 by 5 ft, completely covered in blossoms. I have pictures of it or would not believe it the way it looks today. Right now it has three buds, and I cut the flowers as soon as they open.

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