It’s June and the subject is roses


Roses have to earn their keep in my urban garden, just like every other plant I have. Space is at a premium, so I need there to be at least two months of floral and foliar interest from any given plant and prefer more if possible.

But my requirements for roses are not quite the same as what I read in industry and home gardening publications. An article in Fine Gardening from 2012 cites these criteria: easy to care for, disease resistant and suitable for different regions of the country. While there’s no question that such factors make sense for national trials, they are meaningless as far as I’m concerned. I’ve developed my own criteria.

The Licata rose standards:
Must be fragrant: This is a dealbreaker. Ideally I’d like every one of my roses to emit a full blast of that intoxicating sweet fruity slightly musky scent that I associate with this flower. But I’ll take a mild version of it—as long as there’s something. The most beautifully fragrant rose I have is David Austin’s Abraham Darby (at top).

Darcey Bussell
Darcey Bussell

Repeat blooms: I’m not looking for nonstop, but I’d like to see flowers on the plant from June through frost, accepting that the fullest flush will occur in mid June to early July. The most floriferous rose bush I have is again a David Austin: Darcey Bussell—but the blooms don’t last as long as other types. They’re gorgeous though.
Full, elegant form: Single types are interesting and in many cases quite beautiful, but I prefer full doubles, with the densely packed, cupped blooms typical of old roses.

Unknown climber
Unknown climber

Must be tall: That’s due to the type of garden I have, where plants have to compete in small spaces and most of the surrounding architecture is tall and narrow. An unknown red climber—maybe Don Juan—fulfills this criteria beautifully at twenty feet or better, depending on the season. (It died back to the ground one year but bounced right back.)


As for the hardiness and disease resistance, I don’t find these to be big worries. If a rose doesn’t make it through the winter, well, that happens.  Disease has not been much of a factor. I spray nothing, but aside for a touch of black spot on the Darby, they seem to stay pretty healthy. They’re surrounded by other perennials, so I don’t need their foliage to be perfect.

Blush Noisette
Blush Noisette

It should be clear by this time that I have no interest in Knock Outs, Drifts, Look-a-likes or any of the other shrubs developed for landscapers and en masse plantings.  They may be fine for commercial uses, but I can’t imagine giving them space in a small private garden.

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Elizabeth Licata

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 regularly 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. I agree with all of this, Elizabeth – the exception being that I’ve found David Austins to be hugely susceptible to black spot, far more so than any of my hybrid teas. They’ve been a big disappointment. Which is why I prefer the hybrid teas – I find them to be tough and durable, and best of all they have wonderful fragrance. And whatever is the point of a rose with no fragrance??

    • Yeah, I got rid of my one hybrid tea I don’t like their form as much. And I also have a couple old garden roses. The DAs have been great for me, though I know they don’t work for everyone.

  2. My Don Juan climber is doing very well this year, squeezed in between two Polka climbers (last week it sprung a four foot long stem topped with over a dozen buds, which I bent down under one of the horizontal Polka stems). They cover my front porch, and even though they do get black spot new stems quickly replace the damaged ones because they grow so fast. The blooms seem to last quite a while, the Polka start out as large orange apricot bud, open to an apricot bloom and finally fade to a large open pink rose.

    The Colette climber and the Cornelia climber have both gone to the top of the entry arch mixing in with the jasmine and high bush cranberry. I don’t bother pruning those anymore except for trimming with the pole pruner, so I get a burst of May/June blooms and the sporadic flowers through the summer. The both seem resistant to black spot.

    I am disappointed with the Compassion climber, since it is prone to black spot but does grow fast enough to replace the damaged leaves, and its flowers fade too quickly.

    I do have a “landscape rose”, it is a Fairy Meidiland (see link). It is suited to a very difficult spot, on the corner of the rockery. It is very hard to grow things there because it is in full sun and the drainage is much too good. So it provides an anchor, and presently has three to five foot tall lilies growing through it. Its roots seem to be holding in the soil better, and allows the water to get to the lily bulbs. I believe it is the only rose I have with very little scent, but it solved a problem in a very exposed part of my garden.

    • Some of those older meidiland shrubs are not bad at all. I had some nice slightly fragrant white ones, but they were too low for my conditions.

  3. You’re so convincing! Yet… I think we have more disease problems here in the Midatlantic than you do in Buff. Though your solution of having perennials hiding much of the rose foliage is a good one, it might be hard to accomplish that without making the disease even worse (less air circulation).

    I’ve spent enough time with the Knockouts, etc to agree they’re not for me, but I didn’t replace the last of the bunch with more roses but instead, with perennials, the most pollinator-attracting ones I could find.
    Just discovered a fabulous new fragrance to me – on common milkweed. Like nothing else.

    • Susan, I discovered it last year at the K-State gardens. A long line of milkweed was growing in the native plants garden and, frankly, I didn’t recognize it…in pampered conditions, it was over 6 feet tall and I had no idea milkweed had a great fragrance until that moment. Perfumers, where have you missed this one?

  4. Susan Harris, thanks for the tip! My milkweed is just beginning to flower now, so I need to go out and sniff. I never knew they had a fragrance!

  5. Brava, Elizabeth, Brava! Fragrance…and winter hardiness…are why I grow many Old Garden Roses. To that end, I might recommend you try ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ or ‘Souv. du President Lincoln’. And an English rose that I’m now coveting is ‘Fisherman’s Friend’. I don’t grow it, but it’s fabulous at the K-State garden!

    • An OGR I have is Louise Odier. It suffered severe dieback this winter, though I expect it to bounce back. No repeat bloom at all though, ever. That’s the price you often pay with OGRs, which makes them hard for me.

      • Rose de Rescht is an old rose that is very hardy, it has a lovely scent and is even doing well in a shady part of my garden. It does have repeat blooms if you are willing to shear its thorny branches:

        In our maritime climate fungal diseases are a problem. I had time to plan our garden after building the house, so I toured local rose gardens (our area has a rose test garden) to see what did well and to sniff out the fragrant roses.

  6. Repeat blooms is the point that struck a chord with me the most with this post. Some of my roses bloom a couple of times and bah, they’re done! And because of the thorns, my husband want to give them the heave-ho. He hates thorns! And his clothing sticking to them. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

  7. Mmmm . . . scent. My biggest mistake when planting my first landscape plants (20 years ago) was including several roses that are beautiful and hardy (Canadian Explorers, fairy roses, wild roses) but have no perfume. I’ve tried several DA’s through the years, and had a New Dawn climber, and others, but I just can’t seem to get them to stick around for a long term relationship. Colorado is tough and I apparently don’t have the pampering skills they need. But we have these antique white roses by our garage, planted many decades ago . . . and they are AMAZING. Lemony-spicey-sweet.

  8. I’m near to Buffalo in Toronto, and this winter killed off my Austin Golden Celebration which I think is one of the best scented roses. Happily it just killed off everything above ground and the shoots are 2 feet high now, but in the meantime I bought the only other yellow Austin I could find “Graham Thomas” which doesn’t hold a candle to Golden Celebration in terms of scent. The Explorer rose John Cabot was entirely unaffected by the winter and may have its best showing this year…but entirely unscented.

  9. I have lots of room so my roses are rugosas that travel from time to time, and antique roses like Ispahan that is very tall – and fat these days – and sturdy fragrant roses from farms in the area. This Sunday we have our Garden Open Today – our Annual Rose Viewing.

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  11. I am very “rose insecure,” but I have fallen in love with my Pat Austin rose. I knew it had to be special, seeing that David Austin named it after his wife. I had a pale pink rose that has been taken over by the rose it was grafted with, I guess — and I could not be happier! I have no idea what it is, but is a gorgeous deep red, and very fragrant. I also have a climbing Cecile Brunner, which is a real brute. It died to the ground this winter (thankfully!) but is rising from the dead, no doubt to regrow canes the size of my wrists once again.

  12. I would like to argue that there is so much variety in roses that you can find one to suit what you need. I have a few hybrid teas, but due to growth of some trees in my yard I have lost a few. I did want one to survive because its name is related to what my hubby was working on when we built the house, so I moved it to a sunny spot.

    The climbing roses work because they reach above the level of the trellis. I have some rosa rugosas in very dry difficult areas, including one between the front rockery and the street. Its five foot wide thorny presence prevents folks from parking over the water meter (no sidewalk). I have a rosa glauca because it is funky and is in a tiny area between a rockery and parking pad.

    And lastly I have planted a a Fairy Meidiland on the corner of the five foot tall rockery that is next to a shared gravel driveway. I have trouble keeping anything alive there because it is too dry. So after several things not working I put the landscape type rose there, and planted lilies behind it. It holds the water well, and who cares if it does not have any scent when the lilies bloom!

    The following is a photo taken of it, and as you can see the ice plant is also one thing that survives the brutality of the space (purple flowers):

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