By Betty Mott, Master Rosarian
Attempts have been made for at least two centuries, some say at least 2000 years to classify garden roses into groups that could be easily recognized and compared with one another. Until recently, these attempts proved unsuccessful, mainly because of the inconstancy of the rose itself.
The botanist distinguishes one rose from another according to its structure rather than by its behavior in the garden, which is the aspect of most interest to the gardener.
All roses belong botanically to the family Rosaceae, which also includes plums, pears, and strawberries to mention a few. Roses are a sub-genus of this family, and within the sub-genus, various sections have been defined, each with different characteristics.
At the close of the 18th century there were a dozen easily distinguishable roses either species or ‘historic-hybrids’ such as Centifolia, Alba, and Damask roses which had become seemingly stabilized through the survival of the fittest and had established their identity in the garden. It had become clear that any attempt to classify garden roses according to their antecedents was doomed to failure since most were not merely simple hybrids, but hybrids of hybrids.
It was considered a major triumph in 1976 when members of the World Federation of Rose Societies agreed among themselves to consider an entirely new system that classified roses, not according to the variety or species from which they might originally have been derived in the distant past, but on the way in which they could be expected to behave in the garden today. The resulting system recognized three main divisions: Modern Garden Roses, Old Garden Roses, and Wild Roses.
Modern roses are those varieties bred after 1867, the year generally recognized as that in which the first hybrid tea appeared. Old Garden roses were the traditional classes established before the advent of the hybrid tea. Wild Roses were Species roses, the wild roses created by nature. Their fossil records date back 30 to 40 million years and roses have been found naturally dispersed or growing wild in virtually all areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
This new system of classification of roses allowed the nurseryman to arrange catalogues and plants in the nursery in a logical manner for gardeners to order and select plants, according to their growing habits.
I would like to begin with a class of modern roses called Hybrid Rugosa (HRg). Let’s begin by defining a hybrid: a plant resulting from natural or human-induced crossbreeding between varieties, species, or genera –the hybrid expresses features of each parent plant.
‘Rosa rugosa ‘ and its hybrids are some of the most easily identified members of the genus Rosa, thanks to their rugose (heavily lined) foliage that gave the species its name. The species and most of the hybrids have fragrant recurrent blooming flowers that are followed by large, red hips (fruit.) The rugosas are one of the easiest groups of roses to grow, since they are very cold hardy and do not require a spray program to prevent fungal diseases.
In fact they will often be harmed by spraying or too much fertilizer. One of my first rose memories while growing up in New England were summers at Cape Cod playing in the sand dunes covered with white and mauve colored rugosas, with their heavenly scent spread by the ocean breezes. I would collect their scented petals, letting them dry into a potpourri of scent lasting long after the summer days had turned into winter and rose hip jam appeared at the farm stands, promising to keep you healthy and free of colds during the long winter months.
My first, ‘R. rugosa’ Sp, mauve, before 1846, (9.1 ARS garden rating), was a wild rose plucked from the sand dunes, smuggled home in my suitcase and planted in my backyard. I am still drawn to that rose along with the bees, by scent, unusual foliage, and sheer astonishment as to how little care this rose requires. This little transplant won Best of Show at our Annual Show as a spray that had opened to perfection picked the morning of the show. Unfortunately this single rose will close up like a clam indoors without natural lighting, so don’t bring one to a show unless there will be natural daylight. The blooms are fleeting, but once the petals drop the scent will stay with you forever in a potpourri of petals. In a chemical free garden harvest the hips for rose hip jelly and tea.
My second rugosa, a hybrid rugosa,‘Topaz Jewel’, HRg, medium yellow, 20-30 petals,1987, won as a raffle rose from one of our monthly rose meetings, won Best Classic Shrub at one of our Annual Northgate Shows. The reason I mention this is to encourage you to include roses from other classes in your garden. You can win blue ribbons for hybrid rugosas as well as hybrid teas and floribundas. Your odds of winning are actually better because fewer people include them in their gardens.
The third hybrid rugosa in my garden came into my collection of roses after a trip to Monet’s garden in Giverney, France. I was taken aback by this rose looking like miniature carnations poking through a fence. Knowing I could not get a slip past customs and agriculture, I was able to order ‘Pink Grootendorst’ HRg, medium pink, very double, 1923, 8.0 ARS garden rating), bareroot from Heirloom Rose Garden and Nursery in Oregon.
Other Hybrid Rugosa’s to consider are:‘Linda Campbell’, HRg, medium red, 25 petals, 1991 ( 8.2);‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’, HRg, light pink, 5 petals, 1914 (8.5); ‘Jens Munk’, HRg, medium pink, 25 petals,1977 ( 8.6); ‘Henry Hudson’, HRg, white, 25 petals, 1977 ( 8.8); ‘Hansa’ (easy to grow and hard to kill), HRg, medium red, double, 1905 (8.4); ‘Therese Bugnet’ HRg, medium pink, 35 petals, 1950 (8.3) and ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’, HRg, dark red, double, 1901 (8.7). Notice the current garden performance ratings on these hybrid rugosas!
Now is the time to start thinking outside of the box and include all kinds of roses in your garden collection. Everyone grows floribundas and hybrid teas –grow and show hybrid rugosas!
Photos by the author, Betty Mott
American Rose Society, (2000). Ultimate Rose, Dorling Kindersley
Beales, Peter, (1985). Classic Roses. Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Fisher, John, (1987). The Companion to Roses, Salem House Publishers
Sala, Orietta, (1991). The Worlds Best Roses. Prentice Hall
To download a digital copy of this article, click here.