A couple of years ago I created a rose garden in a cemetery in central Edinburgh. As a result, this has fired up a passion for these enchanting shrubs that my grandmother always adored. She had a beautiful English country garden where she and my grandfather introduced me to a few of their favourites back in the 70’s. These included ‘Compassion‘, ‘Peace‘, ‘The Pilgrim‘ and the elegant ‘Iceberg‘ rose.

 My grandmother's rose garden

When selecting roses for your garden it is worth doing a little research first. As I’m sure mother told you, do not be swayed by first impressions and looks aren’t everything. One of the very best attributes of roses is their heady fragrance. This adds to their romance and kindles fond memories of the past.

Roses vary in the type of fragrance as well as the intensity. Scents vary from old rose, musk and cloves to fresher citrusy, apple and tea scents. David Austin Roses describe the rose ‘Evelyn’ of having a fragrance ‘with fruity notes of peaches and apricot’. ‘Golden Celebration’ has notes of citrus and lychee. And ‘Jude the Obscure’ is meant to have hints of guava and sweet white wine. Which brings back memories of Jilly Goolden’s wine critiques on the BBC’s food and drink programme! Robert Calkin has also written a great article on ‘the fragrance of old roses’. In this, he explains their different components, how they evolved and their chemical composition.

It is a real pity that these days, roses are not judged on perfume at all. As a result, rose breeders are selecting for roses based on appearance alone and so many roses sold in garden centres have no fragrance at all. Surely, a rose without fragrance is like a beautifully iced cake that doesn’t taste of anything?

Unlike cake, you want your roses to last and ideally keep on flowering…and flowering…ideally from midsummer right through to the first frosts. There are cultivars of roses that flower just the once in one great flush. However, some of the best repeat flowering roses are ‘Harlow Carr’, ‘Jacqueline du Pre’, ‘Eglantyne’ and ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’.

jacqueline du pre rose


I think that the next most important attribute is healthy leaves. The leaves are produced over a longer period than the flowers and some leaves are very pretty in their own right. No matter how beautiful the flowers are, they will not look good surrounded by diseased leaves. Roses with black spot, rust and powdery mildew are very unsightly. Sadly some of the varieties that were popular when my grandmother was gardening such as ‘Zepherine Drouhin’ are susceptible to black spot and powdery mildew these days. ‘Peace’ also has a reputation for being susceptible to black spot.

With healthy varieties, it is possible to minimise the need to use chemical sprays such as fungicides for treating such problems. So far, I have not needed to use any chemical treatments on the rose garden to keep the roses healthy. Select healthy disease resistant varieties such as ‘New Dawn’, ‘Wildeve’, ‘Mortimer Sackler’ and ‘Buff Beauty’. Then treat them well by growing them in a sunny spot in good soil. If conditions are less than optimal, then pick a rose that is able to cope in this situation. There are many wilder varieties that are very tough and can thrive, even in windy coastal environments. To keep your roses strong and healthy, feed and mulch them with plenty of well rotted manure. Water them regularly in dry periods but don’t let them become waterlogged.

Other attributes include roses which bear hips and these provide additional interest through the Autumn and Winter months. These rose cultivars are also great for attracting wildlife into the garden. Some of the ‘hippest’ roses include ‘Sir Paul Smith’ (of course), ‘Madame Gregoire Staechlin’, ‘A Shropshire Lass’ and ‘Constance Spry’.

Whether it’s a climbing rose trained over a doorway filling the entrance with heady perfume, a shrub roses lighting up a border or the delicate looking (though oh so tough) single dog rose in the hedgerow, it is hard not to melt at the exquisiteness of these flowers.