Natchez heirloom roses bloom with color, fragrance for season

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 24, 2016

Many gardeners admire the intense fragrance, romantic history and informal growth habits of heritage roses, also dubbed antique roses and officially classified as Old Garden Roses. Their major distinction is rather than the upright, high-centered shape of modern hybrid tea roses, these flowers usually are cupped, ruffled or quartered. In general, they also grow larger than modern roses, have more fragrance and many have very good disease resistance.

The American Rose Society defines Old Garden Roses as roses introduced before 1867. That year is considered the boundary line between old and modern, at least as far as the rose world is concerned, because that was when a remarkable rose, “La France” was created, although it took another two decades before its classification of “hybrid tea” was firmly established. For practical purposes, many rose experts draw the line between antique and modern roses as those grown before 1901.

So many Natchez gardens in the 19th century contained roses that visitors described Natchez as “a city of roses.” Nurseryman Thomas Affleck offered 175 rose varieties for sale. Many gardens were bordered with “Cherokee Rose” whose thorns kept animals outside those boundaries. During the decade before the Civil War, Affleck recorded the sale of 31,500 Cherokee rose cuttings and 1,746 rose plants.

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Now, most Natchez gardens are without roses, or if there are any, shrub roses like Knock-out are the preferred varieties because of excellent resistance to blackspot, that dread fungal disease that kills leaves and even entire plants.

However, heritage roses still bloom in Natchez. In spring, white or yellow Lady Banks roses still climb on fences or walls. Rosecraft Garden Club member Teri Tillman appreciates the fragrance and beauty of these vintage roses. Her own garden showcases “Spice,” a fragrant apricot rose; Safrano an apricot tea rose and white Lady Banks. She has planted other heirloom varieties in the Natchez City Cemetery. Visitors can enjoy the heady aromas and lovely colors of Old Blush, Archduke Charles, Louis Philippe, Duchess de Brabant and both the climbing and bush forms of Cecile Brunner, whose dainty pink flowers are termed the Sweetheart Rose.

Teri favors these OGRs because “they are fragrant, easy to grow, easy to root and fun to share with other people.”

NanErle Schuchs, a fellow Rosecraft member, includes some heirloom roses in her garden. She admires a polyantha variety, “Margo Koster” for its many blooms in spring and fall. However, polyantha roses are not fond of Southern summers with high heat and humidity, and will drop their leaves in summer. But when temperatures fall, leaves again form, as do new blooms, and the floral show is lovely.

The best types of heirloom roses for our Natchez region are:

4Noisettes — Hybridized more than 150 years ago in South Carolina, these repeat blooming, fragrant plants are often used as climbing or pillar roses. Excellent in hot climates.

4Teas — Named because the scent of these roses resembles crushed fresh tea leaves. Developed in China, this group’s flowers are larger than are their China relatives. Large, open plants with fragile stems. Best for warm climates.

4Chinas — Introduced to Europe in the mid-18th century. Small- to low-growing shrubs produce clusters of small flowers ranging from white, to pink to true scarlet. Their fragrance is spicier than other OGRs, and they’re noted for repeat blooming and being cold tender. Excellent for warm regions.

I admire and appreciate all types of roses, but must admit to a preference for modern roses because I love the flower forms of hybrid tea roses. Unfortunately, many lack resistance to blackspot. Since moving to Natchez in 2005, I have trialed many rose varieties and grown them without any type of spray program. In addition to Knock-Out, there are modern roses that do very well here. My recommendations include Belinda, a pink hybrid tea; Beverly, a highly fragrant pink hybrid tea, The Generous Gardener, a pale pink climbing rose with excellent fragrance, and Heritage, a lovely David Austin rose of apricot hue and intense fragrance.

Other excellent modern shrub roses are red or pink Home Run, Innocencia Vigorosa, red, pink or apricot Drift series of roses and the Flower Carpet rose series, especially scarlet.


Karen Dardick is president of Rosecraft Garden club, a rose enthusiast, and author of “Simply Roses.”