Old roses of Texas perfect for decorating tables during season's festivities

December 2, 2011
by Beth Ellis, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt
Editor's note:  This is the second of a three-part series on old roses  in Texas.  Next week's article concludes with other specific roses that do well in this area.
The tea rose shrub, 'Mrs. B. R. Cant' can grow to 8 feet by 8 feet in size.  It has silvery-pink double blooms.
Cultivated by the Chinese before the Europeans discovered it in 1752, 'Old Blush' is THE old rose in Texas.  Both the shrub and climbing forms produce open, blowsy blooms.
Duchesse de Brabant Perle d 'Or CLICK FOR LARGER VIEW
LEFT:  The flowers of the fragrant 'Duchesse de Brabant' tea rose are pink, double and cupped. The shrub has a tendency to be upright.
RIGHT: The fragrant, delicate orange-flowered polyantha variety, 'Perle d'Or', can climb massively, 12 to 20 feet, with age.
Old roses truly are a gift from the past. Long ago, our foremothers did all the hard work of winnowing out roses that couldn't take our Texas heat, humidity, drought and pests; and when they were done, they passed the hardy survivors down to us. These venerable ladies didn't have access to all the pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers we have today - and even if they did, they surely didn't have time to mollycoddle finicky plants. Roses in their gardens survived with at most a reasonable level of care, or they died. This "weeding process" produced the old roses we know today.

Three Best Rose Classes for Texas

There is a saying that former county extension agent Dr. Greg Grant attributes to his mother, which states, "Polly loves her Tea in China." Mrs. Grant was referring to the three best rose classes for Texas - Chinas, Teas and Polyanthas. These roses are so hardy, there are pioneer accounts from the 1800s of their blooms decorating family tables as late in the year as Thanksgiving and Christmas. What a lovely way to celebrate the holidays.

Below is a small sampling of old roses that grow well in Victoria. Try them out, and you'll have roses to decorate your holiday table as well.

China Roses

Chinas do so well here; some have been discovered growing happily at homesteads abandoned for decades. These hardy survivors shrug off black spot, and once established can handle the worst our weather can deal out. Chinas bloom profusely in spring and fall, with regular flowering the rest of the year. Medium-sized, fragrant flowers range from blowsy to cupped on rounded shrubs. Several varieties also have climbing forms.

'Old Blush' (1752) - This is "the" old Texas rose. Pink semi-double flowers are blowsy and carefree. "Old Blush" comes in shrub (3 to 6 feet) and climbing (12 to 20 feet) forms. It was "discovered" by Europeans in 1752, but cultivated by the Chinese long before that.

'Cramoisi Superieur' (1832) - Also known as Agrippina, this fragrant red rose bears double, cupped blooms. Both shrub (3 to 6 feet) and climbing forms (10 to 15 feet), rival "Old Blush" in durability. It is often confused with another old favorite called "Louis Philippe" (1834). Both roses were grown in 1834 in the garden of Lorenzo de Zavala, who later served as vice president of Texas.

'Ducher' (1869) - This is the only known white china. Lovely, rounded blooms are refined, fragrant and contrast well with healthy foliage. Ducher's small size (3 to 4 feet) makes it ideal for containers as well as the garden.

'Archduke Charles' (prior to 1837
) - The dramatic color change of the neatly formed blooms on this 3- to 5-foot shrub likely made Archduke Charles a bouquet favorite with early settlers. Fragrant blooms start nearly white, and then deepen through pink to red.

Tea Roses

Like China roses, heat-loving Teas originated in the Orient. They are healthy, long-lived and bloom profusely in spring and fall with scattered flowers in summer. Large, fragrant blooms range from cupped to pointed. Many have weak stems so the blooms "nod" - a trait Victorians found charming. Shrub form tends to be upright. The name of this class derives from the dry tea leaf fragrance of the flowers.

'Bon Silene' (prior to 1837) - This 4- to 6-foot shrub is the first recorded tea rose. It's profuse, deep rose colored blooms are fragrant and star-shaped.

'Duchesse de Brabant' (1857) - The fragrant pink flowers of this lovely rose are double and cupped. Its beautiful sport "Mrs. Joseph Schwartz" (1880) has white petals rimmed with pink. Both variants grow 3 to 5 feet.

'Mrs. B.R. Cant' (1901)
- Foliage is dense and healthy, and fragrant silvery-pink flowers are cupped and double. At up to 8 feet by 8 feet in size, there's nothing "light weight" about this rose, so be sure to give her plenty of room.

'Mrs. Dudley Cross' (1907) - This 3- to 5-foot mostly thornless shrub has old fashioned blooms reminiscent of an old Victorian painting. Loosely double flowers start pale yellow and shade to pink with age.

Polyantha Roses

Polyanthas were developed in France in the later 1800s in an effort to produce roses for use at the front of borders and in large masses in the landscape. Shrubs are typically wider than tall, and small blooms appear in prolific clusters. While some polyanthas bloom once a year, the following varieties bloom abundantly in spring and fall, with scattered flowering in summertime.

'Cecile Brunner' (1881)
- This classic polyantha has small, perfectly shaped fragrant pink flowers. Shrub form is 3 to 4 feet, while the climbing form (12 to 20 feet) can become massive with age. This rose was reputedly the favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, who liked to wear a bloom in his lapel.

'Perle d'Or' (1884) - This 3- to 4-foot fragrant rose is similar to Cecile Brunner, except that the flowers are a delicate orange.

'Marie Pavie' (1888) - This lovely 2- to 4-foot rose has very fragrant, blush-white blooms. Flowers are semi-double, and the canes are usually thornless.

But Wait, There's More..

We're not done with old roses yet. Next week, the last installment on roses will discuss other "antiques" that do well in our area

Bloom profusely spring and fall; regular flowering rest of the year.
Medium-sized, fragrant flowers range from blowsy to cupped on rounded shrubs.
Some varieties available in climbing forms.

Bloom profusely in spring and fall; scattered flowers in summer.
Large, fragrant blooms range from cupped to pointed.
Many blooms 'nod' - a trait Victorians found charming.
Shrub form tends to be upright.

Some bloom once a year; others abundantly in spring and fall, with scattered flowering in summertime.
Small blooms appear in prolific clusters on wide shrubs.
Ideal for borders and large masses in the landscape.
Some varieties available in climbing forms.

Note: See last week's column for references on old roses
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at