Antique roses back in style
  Old Garden Roses prove to be true survivors

February 24, 2005
Victoria County Master Gardener

Antique roses, more affectionately called "Old Garden Roses" (OGR), are making a comeback in today's landscapes. Why? One of the best reasons is the exceptional ease of growing them, while another is how remarkably well they flourish in our hot, humid climate of South Texas. And yet another is the sentimental ties these beauties have to a great-grandmother, a grandmother or mother who have lovingly passed them down through their families as cherished reminders of days gone by.

Stemming from the late 1700s and early 1800s, these roses evolved from European botanists who explored the world in search of new plants of garden value and discovered roses (Chinas and teas) that bloomed year-round in China and the Far East. From crosses between the Oriental and European roses came many of the OGR and the classes addressed below.

These OGR were originally brought to this country by settlers from Europe during the 1800s and many are still in existence today, a testament to the fact that they are true survivors. They have lived through some of the worst weather Mother Nature has produced, including droughts, hurricanes and even floods. Many have lived well, even thrived in old cemeteries in spite of neglect. They are long-lived, disease-resistant and wonderfully fragrant - more so than a lot of modern hybrids of today.

The many varieties and sizes of OGR make them a valuable asset in any of today's landscapes. Large antique rose shrubs such as Duchesse de Brabant and Mrs. B.R. Cant, both teas, can be grown in the back of a flowerbed for great visual affect. Smaller shrub roses such as Perle d'Or, a polyantha of apricot color, and Ducher, a white China rose, can be planted to border walkways, as quite often seen in cottage gardens. Climbing roses, creatively trained along a fence or romantically cascading over a white lattice arbor, will assuredly add a bit of drama to any garden.

Marie Pavie, a polyantha, and Martha Gonzales, a China rose, are two good examples of small antiques that can be successfully grown in containers, as long as the container is at least 15 inches in diameter. It is important to remember that containers dry out quickly, so check frequently by scratching down into the soil about an inch to see if water is needed. After about two years in this environment, they will need to be transplanted. Note that nutrients in the soil are more rapidly depleted when plants are grown in containers.

If you are thinking about growing antique roses this spring, a list of the following OGR classes - and a short description of each - may help in making your decision. There is the wild species - most of these roses only bloom in the spring but can be easy and fast-growing. Another class, the hybrid musk - are among the very best roses, are well-behaved climbers, repeat bloomers with heavy spring, scattered summer and charming fall flowers in both beautiful pastels and blends, and they also have outstanding fragrance. Still another, tea roses, grow upright and are good for cut flowers, have strong tea fragrance, are repeat bloomers with profuse spring, fall and scattered summer flowers, and are good warm climate roses with spectacular and large blossoms in pastel pinks, yellows and some reds and a few whites.

Other OGR include bourbons - these bloom in spring and fall with a cupped blossom having a splendid fragrance and exquisite flowers generally in pastel pinks. Heat-, cold- and drought-tolerant, the bourbon class may require open settings for air circulation and may require disease protection at times. There is the Noisette - this OGR class really originated in South Carolina and the roses are repeat fragrant bloomers as shrubs or climbers, which truly enhance walls, fences or arbors. Chinas are among the best OGR and likely to live many decades with no assistance as hedges or specimen plants with average but continual blossoms on virtually an evergreen plant.

And finally, polyantha and floribundas - these are hardy, disease resistant, compact shrub roses, repeat bloomers with small, perfectly formed buds that are ideal for boutonnieres and look great in low borders, mass plantings and containers.

Other OGR classes exist but these should get any gardener off to a good start. The Victoria County Extension office has five to 10 of the top cultivars listed for each of the classes mentioned above, so I hope you either have a strong will to only select a few or you have a large sunny area just waiting for some color.

March is a good time in our area to plant "antiques." In contemplating which "old garden rose" will best suit your garden, first consider three important points before you dig:

Amending your soil by adding organic matter.

Choosing a place where roses will receive at least six hours of sun each day and making sure they are planted in a raised bed and/or have good drainage.

If planting more than one plant, allow for enough space in between each one for good air circulation, a significant step for healthy plants.

In closing, there are three roses in particular that need to be mentioned that have been recently chosen as Texas Superstars and designated "Earth Kind" by Texas A&M University, meaning they have been vigorously tested by Texas Cooperative Extension, are outstanding performers and are disease- and insect-tolerant/resistant, making them excellent plants for our environment. These exceptional roses are Belinda's Dream, Knock Out and Marie Daly, all fine choices for anyone wanting to try antiques for the first time.

Several of these designated rose bushes have been identified and will be pointed out for all to see in gardens on the Annual Garden Tour the weekend of April 30 and May 1. Nothing will be more convincing than to see these beauties thriving in bloom in gardens in our area. Some bushes may in fact be available for purchase as highlighted plants while on the tour.

Consider "antique or old garden roses" with their spectacular fragrant blooms. It will be a charming and rewarding addition to any sunny garden site.