Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Roses

Fragrant Roses: Two Gardeners Weigh In

by Charlie Nardozzi and Yvonne Savio


The Alba rose 'Felicite Parmentier' is diminutive, but the blossoms are loaded with a heavenly fragrance.

Everyone can agree that fragrance is an important characteristic in a rose. Though sometimes this trait has been diminished in the pursuit of breeding larger or various colored roses, some gardeners prize this trait highly, and won't do without it. Two of our Regional Reporters, Charlie Nardozzi of Vermont and Yvonee Savio of Southern California, offer their opinions on the topic.

Charlie's Antique Roses

I was never much of a rose fan until my wife, Barbara, introduced me to the old-fashioned varieties years ago. The roses I knew until then were mostly hybrid teas. They were strong growers and produced many flowers, but many of them lacked one of the essential elements of a rose: fragrance. With old-fashioned roses I encountered a world of unusual flower shapes with the added benefit of a heady aroma.

Old-fashioned roses (antique or heirloom roses) are those roses that were bred prior to the twentieth century. There are a number of classes of roses in this group, some hardier than others. My favorite classes include the Gallica, Damask, Moss, Centifolia, and Alba. I've found these to be the hardiest of the old roses in my USDA Zone 4 garden. Plus, they seem to survive with little extra care and maintenance.

Although varieties of these five classes vary in their growth, flower shape, and flower color, generally the bushes grow 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, survive in less than ideal soil and part shade, produce pastel-colored flowers in early summer, and feature unique flower shapes and luscious fragrances. The only drawback to these roses is that they bloom only once during the summer. The David Austin has taken many of the characteristics of the old-fashioned roses and incorporated them into a reblooming habit, but his roses have not proven reliably hardy in my garden. They perform better in zone 5 and warmer climates.

Favorites for Fragrance

'Apothecary' is a Gallica rose featuring single red flowers on a dwarf bush. Damask roses such as 'Madam Hardy' produce beautiful landscape plants with red or white blooms, depending on the variety. Centifolia roses, like the 'Paul Ricault' in my garden, sport flowers that look like cabbages cut in half, with many petals stuffed into each robust blossom. Moss roses such as 'Blanc de Quatre Saison' feature hairy growths on the flower buds and sepal that remind me of Spanish moss hanging from a live oak. But my favorite class is the Albas. Although the Moss and Centifolia roses are fragrant, Alba roses smell like heaven. I remember being bowled over upon sniffing 'Maiden's Blush' at the Montreal Botanic Garden. If you want a sweetly scented rose, try the Albas.

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