Growbag Blog

The Growbags’ War of the Roses


I don’t really like roses ….. only kidding, I know that to even murmur any sort of criticism against this national gardening treasure is a treasonable offence tantamount to suggesting that the queen isn’t quite pulling her weight nowadays or that Adele is just a teensy bit overweight. But there are roses and then there are roses and I think I am allowed to have a preference for one sort over another, whilst still acknowledging that overall they are, like Holly Willoughby, a bountiful gift sent down from heaven to adorn our lives.

Rosa multiflora – a buzzing cloud of scent.

I personally don’t think you can improve much on some of the selections that nature has provided for us in the form of the unadulterated species roses from around the world. I know I have banged on about this rose before in this blog, but when our young postman is actually motivated to remove one his earphones to ask me where that lovely smell is coming from, and by the way what is that funny buzzing noise? and that the answer to both these questions is our now massive Asian Rosa multiflora visibly pulsating with bee activity, I rest my case.

Rosa omeiensis ‘Red Wings’

If you don’t have room for a R. multiflora why not try the Scottish equivalent Rosa pimpinellifolia, much dwarfer in form, and with an exquisite white rounded flower, but covered all over with tiny barbs and an aggressive territorial habit (remind you of someone?).
I know Elaine is going to give you a lecture about how modern breeding techniques have produced roses that will now flower repeatedly all summer long whereas with the species roses it is all over in one glorious flush, but to me the anticipation and the ephemeral nature of their fragile blossoms just add to their charm, plus the species tend to have scent that drifts around the garden and simple open flowers with pretty contrasting stamens that bees  find easy to access (they still rely on attracting pollinators to procreate, not the hybridisers grafting knife) great arching structure and lovely hips. The latest species rose in my armoury is Rosa omeiensis ‘Red Wings’ which I am growing purely for its magnificent menacing red thorns in winter.


Hmm given her nostalgic intellectualising I’m beginning to understand Laura’s disdain for the birthday present I got my bestie for her birthday – a modern, yellow, non-fragrant patio rose called ‘Benson and Hedges’. I don’t know which aspect Laura found most distasteful.

My sisters are good on roses because their provenance goes back for millennia and there are whole hierarchies of purist snobbery in which E & L can wallow.

Basically there are the original species roses, then a minefield of gallicas; damasks; old garden roses; tea roses; hybrid teas and English roses – plus a host of ramblers, climbers; miniatures and ground cover roses. My opinion on one or the other is greeted by E and L either with euphoria or a deathly silence as though you’ve brought Justin Beiber to the pheasant shoot.

Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’, or what it’s supposed to look like.

Notably, neither E nor L have bright yellow ones named after cigarettes, or indeed, naff patios to put them on. Undoubtedly provenance is attractive, (Louise does it so well, just look at the charming background of her Great Plant this Month) so I am sort of impressed when E & L nonchalantly wander around their gardens referring to their two-storey high banksiae (a species rose – I’ve just looked it up)  or ‘Charles de Mills’ (a Gallica apparently).
I tried to enter their club this year by acquiring a hybrid musk shrub rose called ‘Buff Beauty’ to which I’d heard them referring. It was attacked by aphids; then ants; then aphids again before succumbing to the constant deluge of a Scottish summer. Unlike Laura’s, our postman has seen things on our doorstep which he’d love to be able to unsee. My drooping Buff Beauty which looks like a festering marshmallow might now be among them.


Caroline is making things way too complicated, yes you can spend hours deciding which genre of roses is politically correct, but hot news, darlings, you can have it all!  We first started hearing about English Roses back in the 1970s – the 1970s!- when ALL the BeeGees were Stayin’ Alive, Mick Jagger was perfecting his strut, and the redoubtable Tony Orlando was tying Yellow Ribbons all over the place.  Like a magician, the rose-breeder David Austin was cocking a snook at the received wisdom that we have to have Hybrid Teas with all those gaudy blooms and coarse blackspot-ridden foliage, or the species roses that gave you one glorious blast and then left you to get excited about pretty thorns (Laura always was the slightly strange one in the family) for the other 49 weeks of the year.

The Alnwick Rose

Some of the earlier so-called English Roses were admittedly a bit dodgy – I once bought one called William Shakespeare – stupendous deep cerise blooms full of petals, but you had to be content with about two a year, because the rest of the buds turned to tight balls of sogginess in the least shower of rain – a nasty trait to which many of the older rose varieties are prone. ( I believe they have brought out another more reliable version of this one now).
But the recent English Roses – shrubs, ramblers and climbers- are just delicious – an extraordinary array of colour, flower-shape, habit and perfume. Bury your nose in ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (oh, you know what I mean, get a grip!) – pure waves of Old Rose.  And there are hundreds of others to choose from these days – I have a few and they do make the most wonderful garden plants.

Crown Princess Margareta

I have made a short double hedge of The Alnwick Rose – beautifully-shaped pink flowers, and the deep raspberry perfume is a knock-out. If you are assiduous about dead-heading, it really will be in flower till November.
‘Crown Princess Margareta’ is another fave…she has packed apricot rosettes wafting a luscious fruity scent.  Margareta of Sweden was a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, you know, and she was in fact rather a good landscape-gardener.
I digress. One muddy weekend of Glastonbury, two hysterical weeks of Wimbledon – Come On Andy!- but I want perfect roses all summer long. 

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

9 replies on “The Growbags’ War of the Roses”

Thanks for the encouragement! As I sit this morning watching another deluge head towards us over the Firth of Forth (no doubt as Wimbledon prepares for another day of blazing sun), I do start to sympathise with poor Buff Beauty’s surrender! Kind regards

Well, I was actually in David Austin’s paradise of roses on Tuesday. My favourite that day had the inauspicious name of Janet but the Roald Dahl remains a prolific wonder. I love it. Paddy

David Austin’s rose paradise sounds idyllic, Paddy! I see that Janet is one of the older Austin varieties – ‘glowing pink’ sounds much like me after weeding the sun today! I do agree with you about Roald Dahl – what a gorgeous peach colour and shape. Do I have room for just one more rose?

Black spot. Gordon Rowley wom I first met at the John Innes Horticultural Research Institute when it was at Bayfordbury Hertford, said that it came to the country along with Rosa foetida, a yellow flowering species from Persia, now Iran, to try to introduce the yellow colour to the existing red, pink or white of the Gallicas, etc. Until then black spot did not occur.
Aphids, ants, aphids …; Aphids secrete honeydew to which ants are attracted and ‘milk’ the aphids and give them protection. You will also find ants going to scale insects on various shrubs for the honeydew that they produce.

Bill Tait

That theory about blackspot is so interesting Bill, not every evolution of roses has been wholly beneficial then. You’re spot on (pardon the pun) about the ants.I’d never had an ant infestation on my plants before and looked it up – just as you say they are apparently drawn by the aphids. If this chain of attractions continues I may have anteaters arriving shortly! Great to hear from you – you’re a wonderful horticulturalist. kind regards

Sorry but I’m miles behind you here. I actually don’t know how to tell my “species” roses from – well, the other sort! Are we talking shape, size, colour, time of flowering? And should I be treating them differently, depending on whether they are “species” or not? I have to say, I identify our roses by the various kind people who gave them to us.

Janet Macdonald

Hello Janet,
Firstly, I think that identifying your roses by the kind people who gave them to you is probably the nicest way you can possibly classify what you have, and that any boring scientific explanation should definitely take second place!
But for the record, species roses are those that grow wild in the countryside; an example from England would the dog rose, Rosa canina, or from Scotland, the burnet rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, which I refer to in this weeks blog. There are many wild roses from other countries which do well in British gardens and you may well have one in your garden without realising its origin. Rosa rugosa, Rosa glauca and Rosa banksia are all species roses from other countries.
They tend to be unfussy, vigourous, thorny and have a very natural relaxed structure. Most form large shrubs but some are climbers. True, they only flower once but have many other desirable qualities in leaf colour and hips in the autumn. They also come true from seed so will pop up in other places around your garden. The only attention they need is the removal of some of their woody stems from time to time to curb their enthusiasm for life.
Best wishes

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