Old-fashioned and low-maintenance, these vintage varieties of antique roses will add a hint of the past to your garden.
By Jo Ann Gardner
Less finicky than modern roses, antique varieties offer a carefree, informal look that perfectly complements the charm of old houses. (Photo: Roses of Yesterday)
Loved for their sumptuous blooms, heady fragrance, and nostalgic association with the past, antique roses are natural companions for the old house. These centuries-old varieties originated in Europe and were brought to the New World with the earliest settlers. They are characterized by a single but abundant flowering each season (though there are exceptions) and extraordinary cold hardiness. Their graceful forms vary in color from blush white to cerise pink.
The variety of antique roses is staggering—from upright to wide-spreading to those low enough to grow in small spaces, even in containers. They can be integrated into a shrub border, grown as single accents, or as hedges to highlight any landscape design. Climbers enhance porches, fences, and trellises at the side of the house or outbuilding. By choosing wisely among those that flower in early and mid-season or repeat bloom, you can have roses in bloom nearly all season. Fall foliage and attractive hips (fruit) extend the ornamental possibilities.
(Photo: Bob Osborne/Cornhill Nursery)
Roses from the past are low-maintenance, too. They don’t require lots of fertilizer or spraying or pruning to keep them looking their best. Plant in well-drained soil at a site with at least six hours of direct sun a day; some will take less. Go easy on pruning: For single bloomers, prune after flowering by removing dead, damaged, or crossed canes, as well as any slimmer than a pencil. For the most vigorous growth, be sure to keep the center of the rose open to the sun by cutting back extra growth. For repeat bloomers, follow the same routine, but prune when the rose is dormant in early spring. To shorten the height of both types, cut back no more than a third of the plant. Beware: Most old roses have thorns of some size, so wear suitable clothes and gloves when working around them.
Antique roses give us a glimpse into the past and allow us to share in a world where each bloom is treasured for its unique, individual traits. The following varieties are favorites for their extended flowering or repeat bloom, their floating aromas, fall interest, landscape uses, and hardiness. Above all, they possess beautifully formed, character-filled blossoms—which is what antique roses are all about.
'Alfred de Dalmas' (Photo: Heirloom Roses)
Alfred de Dalmas*
Date of introduction: 1855
Characteristics: Derived from the moss rose (1696), ‘Alfred de Dalmas’ is one of the most reliable old roses in terms of repeat blooming. “Moss” refers to the fuzziness around the plant’s sepals, calyx, and stem, the source of the flower’s resiny scent. Clusters of blush-pink buds open to cupped pink flowers that fade to white. Dainty by antique rose standards, the plants grow to a height of only 2′ or 3′ and are suitable for a container or low hedge.
'Blanc Double de Coubert' (Photo: Roses of Yesterday)
Blanc Double de Coubert
Date of introduction: 1892
Characteristics: This early rugosa hybrid is still considered the best white rose. Rugosas, first brought over to the U.S. in 1845 from Japan, are resistant to adversity: They can withstand salt spray, wind, drought, and poor soil. Long, pointed flower buds open to semi-double white flowers with an intense, floating aroma. Typical dark green rugosa foliage creates a handsome ensemble. Growing to 6′ x 5′, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ roses make a fine distant accent. Repeats flowering until the fall, when foliage turns a burnished gold.
'Celsiana' (Photo: Roses of Yesterday)
Date of introduction: Before 1750
Characteristics: ‘Celsiana’ is a classic damask rose, a type with complicated ancient ancestry that’s noted for its fragrance, hardiness, and fall fruits. Clusters of shell-pink, semi-double flowers with crinkly petals grow in delicate sprays, blooming from late spring to early summer. Foliage is gray-green on a 4′ x 4′ plant.
'Queen of Denmark' (Photo: Bob Osborne/Cornhill Nursery)
Queen of Denmark
Date of introduction: 1826
Characteristics: The ‘Queen of Denmark’ rose (Königin von Dänemarck) belongs to the Albas family, which dates back to the Middle Ages or earlier. Opulent, well-scented 3″- to 4″-wide flowers bloom in light- to rose-pink clusters in mid-summer. The flowers are so full of petals that they create a “quartered” effect, typical of many old roses. Foliage is bluish-green, and fall hips are large and scarlet. The plants will tolerate partial shade as long as they have at least four to five hours of direct sun, and typically grow 4′ to 5′ with a graceful, open form.
Apothecary's rose (Photo: Heirloom Roses)
Date of introduction: The early colonial period, but it belongs to the Gallicas family, which has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Characteristics: Despite its antiquity, the Apothecary’s Rose (Rosa gallica officinalis) has a neat, modern look: two layers of nearly hot-pink petals loosely arranged around showy golden stamens. It was used by early settlers as a medicinal to soothe sore throats, heal mouth sores, and ease headaches. Plants grow 3′ x 4′ and make a good medium-tall informal hedge. Mow on both sides, since these roses sucker freely. Large red hips appear in the fall.
'Zephrine Drouhin' (Photo: Heirloom Roses)
Date of introduction: 1826
Characteristics: This Bourbon type resulted from a chance cross between an Old World and a China rose, discovered by 1817. Its offspring are characterized by intense fragrance, sumptuous blooms, extended flowering, and a degree of hardiness. ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ is an all-time favorite, unsurpassed for the mass of showy cerise-pink semi-double flowers that bloom on thornless canes from spring to fall. Plants grow from 5′ to 20′ and will bloom even on a north-facing wall. Hardy from Zones 6 to 9.
*Unless noted, the roses described here are hardy from Zones 4 to 9 or 10. Published in: Old-House Journal April/May 2012