Gardening: Roses gentle on the nose

By Simon Farrell

A rose is a rose, as long as it has a pretty scent, says Simon Farrell.

Anna Pavlova is a best-seller. Photo / Libby Norman
Anna Pavlova is a best-seller. Photo / Libby Norman

Roses are flower royalty and, like the royal family, they have had their ups and downs in the popularity stakes. At times they're celebrated for their classic appeal, at others derided for thorny misdemeanours. But love them or loathe them, fragrant rose blooms with velvet petals, filling the air with scent, have an irresistible magnetism that's captured our emotions for centuries.

Now, fragrance is once again king. Rose breeders across the globe have realised that a rose without fragrance is pretty close to useless. Gardeners can now easily find and grow rose plants that live a healthy life, look handsome for many many months of the year, and are deliciously fragrant.

With too much choice and not enough garden space it pays to be informed before deciding which varieties to plant, so I caught up with an old colleague to get the good oil. To say he is obsessed about roses might be a bit harsh, but you get my drift.

Jonathon Cox (who works at Palmers in Remuera) is a rose oracle. Over a coffee we chat roses and without hesitation he starts, "The best-selling roses have pinkish, pastel coloured blooms, are fragrant and have a girl's name, Evelyn, Katherine Morley, Eglantyne, Anna Pavlova for starters."

Cox, struggling to contain his enthusiasm, says, "Anna Pavlova is possibly the most fragrant rose in the world." That is some claim to fame. For many Kiwis roses fall into several categories. There are the traditional municipal rose gardens that display the plant and flower exhibition style with little consideration for the broader landscape. Then there is the simplicity and charm of the 'Iceberg' rose and box hedge combination. It's attractive but never fails to disappoint due to the absence of breathtaking fragrance. Roses also feature as the rock stars of the cottage garden but our contemporary lifestyles struggle to accommodate this landscape style.

What we are now seeing is the clever use of roses in landscapes where these queens of the garden can evoke nostalgia, mesmerise us with their beauty, reward us with wonderful fragrance, but no longer drive us like slaves, pandering to their every want and need.

Tall bush roses or climbing roses are hot. The whole notion of vertical gardening is seen everywhere, be it espaliered fruit trees or green walls of foliage plants in shopping malls and commercial precincts. In tropical gardens a simple five-petaled rose such as the beautiful red 'Altissimo' or the semi-double yellow rose 'Windrush' make a great show climbing up a palm tree trunk. Many would be aghast at such combinations but these roses sit happily in a lush tropical setting.

Red on green and yellow on green are classic colour combinations.

Our outdoor dining and living spaces often have sundrenched walls or overhead pergolas that would benefit with some floral colour and fragrance. 'Michele Meilland' is a gorgeous soft pink with touches of salmon, apricot and yellow, some fragrance and is a healthy plant. Climbing rose 'Blue Moon' is another candidate for this role. It's a lilac-coloured repeat flowering rose with a wonderful fragrance of sweet tea, and can be paired with climbing "Iceberg" to give you the best of both worlds.

When it comes to long-flowering plants nothing touches roses. Their profuse flowering characteristics are unique; they happily display their blooms from early November to May. What's important is selecting the right rose for the job. The good news is that plants are available almost all year round. You can order your chosen varieties through your local retailer or buy them on-line from mail-order rose-growers such as Tasman Bay Roses or D & S Roses.

Top performing fragrant roses

These varieties are all high health, repeat flowering, and fragrant.
(c) = climber

Strawberry Hill: A strong and delicious myrrh and heather honey fragrance
Anna Pavlova: Strong fragrance blooming throughout the season
Evelyn: A strong old rose and fruit fragrance
The Endeavour: Strong, fresh, fruity fragrance
Summer Song: A fragrance like a florist's shop
Mary Rose: A delicious fragrance of old rose honey and almond blossom
Aotearoa: A huge old rose with a sweet fragrance
Eglantyne: Charming and delicate with a sweet old rose scent
Love Me Do: Intense sweet fragrance
Hi Ho Silver: An exceptional silvery lilac in colour, very fragrant
Altissimo (c): A light clove scent
Windrush: A medium-strength spicy musk fragrance
Blue Moon (c): Blooms have a wonderful sweet tea-rose scent
Lady of Megginch: Fruity old rose fragrance with a hint of raspberry

- Herald on Sunday

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