By: S. Andrew Schulman, MLA (1996)
Fragrance has never been among the strong points of miniature roses. A shame, since miniatures are otherwise very attractive and adaptable garden plants, justly deserving of their enormous present popularity. But so far as fragrance is concerned, the miniatures have had three substantial strikes against them from the outset. First, there is the simple matter of size. The scent of most garden roses is carried in the petals. (‘Rosa moschata ‘ is the common exception, carrying its fragrance primarily in the filaments.) Common sense suggests that all else being equal, the larger the petals, the more scent a rose will hold, setting the miniature roses at an immediate disadvantage. The handicap of relative size is not universal, however. The ‘Double White Lady Banks Rose’ (Rosa banksiae banksiae), the early Noisette Roses, and the dwarf Centifolias ‘Petite de Hollande’ and ‘De Meaux’, are all highly scented, though their flowers are no larger than many of today’s miniatures.
The relative lack of fragrance in miniatures also has a basis in genetics. It so happens that the vast majority of our modern miniature roses inherit their stature from one original ancestor, a dwarf China Rose known as ‘Rouletii’. ‘Rouletii’ was discovered growing in the Swiss village of Onnens in 1918 and introduced to the nursery trade in 1922. It is a double flowered pink rose with glossy foliage and truly miniature dimensions. It is also completely devoid of scent. While it is the breeder’s good fortune that Rouletii’s dwarf characteristic behaves as a Mendelian dominant, it seems that the lack of scent is almost as persistent among Rouletii’s offspring.
In the recent past, fashion too has played a role in limiting the number of fragrant modern miniatures. Miniature roses surged in popularity in the decades following World War II, when breeding standards for full-sized roses were being set by hardy, reliable, but scentless new varieties like ‘Peace’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’. At the same time, the new colors of ‘Sterling Silver’ and ‘Tropicana’ turned the rose world on its ear. Vigor and dazzling, novel color became the principal objectives of many breeding programs, scent being treated as a happy bonus, when and if it occurred. Mind you, plenty of roses with excellent scent were introduced during the ’50s and ’60s, but many of the varieties that really captured the public imagination – roses like ‘Fashion’ and ‘Frensham’, ‘Circus’ and ‘Masquerade’, ‘Montezuma’ and ‘Mojave’ (not to mention the “flagship” varieties Peace and Queen Elizabeth,) – were minimally scented, if at all. * Early postwar work in miniatures apparently concentrated on duplicating the color range and flower forms of the popular Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, with much less regard for scent.
Of the early postwar miniatures, only the famous ‘Cinderella’ has any fragrance to speak of. A seedling of the enduringly popular Polyantha-Tea ‘Cecile Brunner’, Cinderella bears a multitude of fluffy ½ in. flowers. Their color is variable, ranging from creamy white to blush with deeper pink highlights on the outer petals.
At 1 ft. or under, Cinderella remains smaller in plant and flower than many scented minis of more recent origin, making it handy for very small containers or intimate spaces. Though it has often been used to breed other miniatures, Cinderella hasn’t been generous in passing fragrance on to its descendants.
Luckily for those who value scent in their roses, the ever-growing demand for miniatures eventually sent breeders in search of genetic diversity. Among miniature rose breeders, none has searched farther and more imaginatively than the untiring Ralph Moore. Over his long career this master hybridizer has made many unique and wonderful contributions, from yellow Rugosa Hybrids to roses with contrasting “halos” of color on their petals. One of his outstanding breeding triumphs was the creation of miniature Moss Roses. After decades of experimentation, Moore introduced the first commercially viable mossy miniature, ‘Dresden Doll’, in 1975. As a legacy of the Old Garden Roses from which it in part descends Dresden Doll inherits a healthy share of fragrance. And though its many younger cousins may not all equal Dresden Doll in floral fragrance, the glandular “moss” on their buds always contributes a distinct and refreshing balsamic tang.
Fragrant miniatures began to appear in greater numbers during the 1980s, as resurgent interest in OldGarden Roses rekindled the gardening public’s enthusiasm for fragrance. ‘Sweet Chariot’ (MORchari), another Ralph Moore introduction from 1984, is a casein point. Its dainty 1 in. flowers exhibit an open rosette form and a purplish color reminiscent of Old Garden Roses. They are also very strongly fragrant, with a cherry-candy scent that carries some distancefrom the blooming plant. Sweet Chariot has a broad, spreading habit and lax stems, making it ideal for usein hanging baskets and window boxes. It is also at home in the border, where it will sprawl attractively among herbaceous perennials or at the feet of larger-growing roses. Not among the smallest of miniatures, Sweet Chariot can easily reach 2 ft. in height and 3 ft. in breadth.
Interestingly enough, many of today’s most fragrant miniatures come in shades of purple or lavender. One fine example is ‘Lavender Crystal’ (ASAlav), introduced from Japan in 1985. This rose’s scalloped petals show a remarkably clear, cool lavender color – perhaps closer to blue than any rose to date.
At nearly 2 in., the flowers are on the large side for a miniature, but their unique coloration, full rosette form and penetrating fragrance will endear them to gardeners nonetheless.
More subtle in color are the blooms of ‘Winter Magic’ (FOUmagic), which appeared one year later in 1986. With its pointed buds, elegant, high-centered form and long stems, Winter Magic has become the darling of exhibitors. Its silvery-lilac blooms dominated the show table at a national ARS convention in Seattle. Winter Magic is a fine garden rose as well. It makes an upright, but bushy plant up to 2 ft. tall. The foliage is dense and attractively glossy, with excellent resistance to fungal diseases. ‘Cafe Ole’ (MORole), a recent sport of Winter Magic, is even more peculiarly colored. Its flowers are an odd, brownish-parchment color fading after a few days to creamy gray. In all other respects it is identical to its lavender parent.
Don’t imagine that the lavender miniatures have a monopoly on fragrance. ‘Apricot Twist’ (MORbrown) is a brand new miniature from Ralph Moore, and it equals any of the roses mentioned so far for strength of fragrance. Though its breeder describes it as “brownish”, Apricot Twist is a clear, soft apricot in my garden, fading to a pale creamy shade around the edges. Its buds are exceptionally beautiful. Long and pointed in the Hybrid Tea fashion, they spiral open slowly into high-centered blooms up to 1-••• in. in diameter. The flower stems are much shorter than in Winter Magic, and thus less suited to cutting and exhibition, but the blossoms are profuse and exceptionally long lived on the plant. Apricot Twist blooms in one of those colors that seem to go well with everything, which makes it an ideal rose for container gardens or the front of a perennial border. The dainty 18 in. plants are delightful when mingled with Nepta x fassenii or Veronica austriaca ‘Crater Lake Blue’. Or try them in a window box with annual blue lobelia.
New introductions like Apricot Twist spur hopes that today’s breeders will remain committed to the pursuit of scent in miniature roses. Indeed, the well-publicized new Scentsation breeding program at Nor’East Miniature Roses Inc. bodes well for the immediate future. Ideally, gardeners and exhibitors will soon be able to choose fragrant miniatures from a full range of colors, flower forms, growth habit and stature. While most of the fragrant varieties on the market right now are on the large end of the miniature spectrum, persistent breeding efforts may soon extend fragrance into the realm of “micro-miniatures” – perhaps by way of the relatively small Dresden Doll and Cinderella. So long as rose lovers demonstrate an interest in fragrance, hybridizers will be motivated to improve what has been a flaw in the fastest-growing of all rose classes.
*Red and lavender roses of this period are the great exceptions. Popular postwar reds such as ‘Chrysler Imperial’ and ‘Mr. Lincoln’ are, of course, marvelously scented, as are ‘Sterling Silver’ and many of its descendants.
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