Roses redux


My struggles with roses have entered their final phase: reconciliation. After getting rid of all the boring Meidiland shrubs that came with the house (though for their kind, they were nice enough), I experimented with a few old rose cultivars as well as some Carefree varieties. Nothing really thrived and the Carefrees took up too much space. The one hybrid tea I had was a ridiculous blackspot magnet, and I dug it out early on. I kept a couple David Austins—Abraham Darby (above) and Charlotte, a couple climbers, and one or two others.

But then I was sent two new David Austin varieties: Darcy Bussell and Lady Emma Hamilton. These started blooming almost as soon as I put them in the ground, and, aside for the 5 months between December and May, they haven’t stopped. There is no breather between flushes of blooms and they remain healthy without any spraying or other treatments—which I stopped doing years ago.

The things other people don’t like about David Austins make them perfect for me. Yes, they are lanky; all of them seem to aspire to be climbers. But verticality is perfect for me. A full, bushy rose takes up too much space on my property.  Their lankiness makes it easy to fit in other plants around them or even train plants to climb around them, such as clematis or even an out-of-control buddleia.  All my DA roses bloom more or less continuously, earning their keep in a small garden. They all have wonderful fragrance and big, full blooms. I won’t tolerate a scentless rose.

Just don’t pay any attention to the height specs on the label. The Darcy Bussell is supposed to get to 3 feet. Ha. Mine is 5-plus—so far.  I like roses to surprise me, which is why all the boring, easy-care, non-stoppers (if you don’t mind the ugly flowers) have no place in my garden.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Just commented to a reviewer on my blog (who complained about my opinion of Sally Holmes), that some roses are just adapted better to certain climates than others. It certainly helps to choose roses bred in or selected for your climate; as evidence, the Griffith Buck roses do well here in Kansas. I suppose after reading your thoughts, it may also be true that some roses are better adaptable to some gardeners and gardens than others….which is why you prefer the lanky English roses and I’m underwhelmed by most of them because they stay smaller and less healthy here (except Heritage).

  2. I was looking at your headline, and then the picture, and thought “why are you getting rid of that rose?”. Whew, it is staying.

    I love the David Austin’s, but not all of them do well for me. It is like any other plant, you need to figure out which ones will do well in your space. The fragrance and the fullness of the flowers is what gets me. I have planted some other very low maintenance roses, Ballerina, Fairy Tale, but they don’t have the fragrance. We will see how they all do this year, and then I will edit.

  3. David Austin roses are too tender for me, but I have kept a Mary Rose going – barely although it probably doesn’t help that the chickens share the Shed Bed with her. WE all just have to find the roses that do well in our climate and in our garden. I hope everyone is paying attention to the Earth Kind Plant List for disease resistant roses, and the Kordes roses. Sustainable roses!

  4. My complaint about the David Austin roses is that they are way more prone to black spot than any of my hybrid teas! The flowers are beautiful, but they shatter more easily than the hybrid teas. I’ve just found them to be a real disappointment – here in my garden, they don’t live up their hype.

    • Where do you live? I live in NC and it’s hot as blazes in the summer. Heritage does well.

  5. I completely agree with professor that instead of struggling to grow a variety of your choice, it is always better to do some prior research and find out which varieties suits your soil and climate.

  6. I dug out a ‘Show Garden’ climber and sent it to my sister in Oregon because I never got to see the flowers; the Japanese beetles got them first. I just couldn’t keep ahead of the beetles, despite my efforts at knocking them into the soapy water. Still have one Knock Out and one Rugosa. The Rugosa blooms before the beetles are out and the Knock Out seems to be less attractive to them. You must live someplace without the beetles. ( I live in Michigan)

  7. Susan – Years ago, I read somewhere (maybe Organic Gardening magazine; can’t remember) to plant peonies near your roses to curb Japanese beetles. I tried it and it really does help. It won’t eliminate the beetles entirely, but it makes a noticeable difference. This is how it works: you know those little wasps you see flying around the peony buds just before they open? That’s a parasitic wasp. They complete their life cycle above ground and go below to lay their eggs. When the wasp larvae hatch, they then feed on Japanese beetle larvae! Again, won’t get rid of the beetles totally, but you will see a big difference.

    • I have never heard that before. What a great tip! My second most favorite rose, Therese Bugnet, is seldom bothered by Japanese beetles (or anything else), and is surrounded by peonies, so maybe that’s why. Therese is completely hardy for me (at 2300 feet elevation in the Catskills) with almost no winter die-back. My favorite rose is the species Rosa glauca, which I love for the blue/pink leaves and graceful habit.

  8. I heartily agree that ‘Darcy Bussell’ and ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ are well worth their space in the garden. I have also had excellent luck with David Austin roses ‘Abraham Darby’ and ‘The Generous Gardener.’ I am a lazy rosarian; I never spray and seldom feed them, yet they bloom well for me every year. I agree that they get rangy, but a skirt of bearded iris around each plant hides their bare legs well (I also love the effect of Salvia guaranitica growing up through ‘Darcy Bussell’). They grow much larger than advertised, though I think that is generally true for most English roses grown in the US, and I have no complaints about robustly growing roses. My only complaint is that their blooms do not last very long as cut flowers, but if I am therefore forced into spending more time in the garden in order to enjoy their blooms (which do last well on the shrub), ah, so be it. There are worse punishments.

  9. Elizabeth: Interesting information but without knowing what climate and soils you garden in we can’t really do anything but note that these roses do well somewhere.

  10. I live in the midwest and I also do pretty well with my climbing roses. I have Seven Sisters as well and like you said, low maintenance and they are beautiful.

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