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Missionary Work: Taking Old Roses from the Garden to the Show Table

There I was again – at a rose show – proselytizing. That’s what another exhibitor called it, with a laugh, but he was right. That IS what I do at Rose Shows. That’s why I’m there. That’s why my roses are there.

Part I – Becoming A Missionary

Many people who grow and love Old Roses refuse to show them. Some think their roses aren’t perfect enough. Some sneer at the whole idea of exhibiting. Others think rose shows are only for Modern Roses. That last thought could, in fact become the truth. If those who know, love, and grow Old Roses don’t show them, there’ll be nothing to see at rose shows except Modern Roses.

“Exhibiting.” Perhaps it’s the WORD that’s at fault. It’s a big, ‘snooty’ sort of word. Suppose we eliminate the offending term, and replace it with something less pompous. How about “SHARING?” Would you be willing to SHARE your roses? Many of you grow roses that are virtually unknown to the general public. A rose show is a pretty effective vehicle for sharing such roses with a large number of people. Unless they stumble into your garden, it may be the ONLY place the average person can see the rarest and loveliest Old Roses.

I call it “Missionary Work.”

When I enter a rose show, I’m using my roses as ‘bait,’ to attract potential converts. I’m promoting my ‘Gospel.’ I’m sharing ‘The Good Word’ about Old Roses.

Won’t you please join me?

Getting Started

If you’ve planted your roses well — tended, fed, and watered them, you’ve already taken a step toward the exhibition table. With an abundance of blooms and few disease problems, you’re ready to become an exhibitor of Old Roses.

Selecting The Right Roses

NOT EVERY OLD ROSE IS A GOOD ROSE. Moreover not every GOOD rose (old OR new) is right for your garden. The roses that ‘show’ best in your garden will probably also ‘show’ best for judges.

As much as I love their look and fragrance, Gallica, Alba, and most Damask roses perform poorly in most of Southern California. Those old once-bloomers need a cold winter and a period of dormancy to thrive. In our mild climate, they NEVER go dormant. As a result, they bloom sparingly, grow poorly, and, within a few years, begin to decline in vigor.

Tea Roses and Noisettes, however, along with some of the Chinas, Bourbons and a few of the Hybrid Perpetuals, flourish in our area. Many of them grow ‘clean’, and most are generous repeat bloomers.

We no longer use chemical sprays, so in our garden, we’ve tried to eliminate roses that suffer unduly from disease. Roses with foliage defaced by rust or mildew don’t look very pretty in a vase on my antique washstand, won’t win ribbons at rose shows, and won’t make the hearts of those who see them beat faster. Rose judges don’t want to look at them, and neither do I.

So – What Works For Us?

  • ‘Sombreuil,’ (Cl T, 1850) – or rather, the rose that has for many years been in commerce as ‘Sombreuil,’ is almost always a top-contender for Dowager Queen — A mediocre ‘Sombreuil’ can (often does) beat a superior specimen of some lesser-known rose. It’s a fine rose, (what ever it is) and most of us DO grow it. But some of our judges need their horizons expanded, eh?

  • ‘Irene Watts’ (Ch, 1869) grows well in our microclimate, and shows well, too. In Camarillo, it can mildew slightly under the worst of conditions – but a little light horticultural oil, such as Eco-Erase is enough to keep it show-table-clean. With its large blooms, often held in large clusters, ‘Irene Watts’ is sufficiently similar to the Modern Floribunda to seem familiar to the least-enlightened rose show judge. That being so, it’s fast becoming the ‘Sombreuil-Of-The-Victorian-Class,’ often placed on the trophy table over better blooms of lesser-known roses.

I note with some irony that both of these ‘Top-Winning OGR’s’ may in fact be Modern Roses. The rose in commerce, and commonly recognized as ‘Sombreuil’ is probably NOT the original ‘Mlle. de Sombreuil.’ It may be ‘Colonial White,’ (LCl, 1959) or ‘W. Freeland Kendrick,’ (LCl, 1920). Similarly, the rose in commerce, and commonly recognized as ‘Irene Watts’ may actually be ‘Pink Gruss an Aachen,’ a Floribunda, introduced in 1929. In growth habit and bloom, it DOES look more Floribunda than China.

What we NEED to see at rose shows is a larger assembly of real Old Roses. These roses SHOULD be shown. And shown, and shown, and shown again – until both the public, and those who judge rose shows, begin to recognize, and understand, and perhaps to love them.

Some of these include:


As garden roses, Noisettes are hard to beat in California. For the most part, they offer terrific bloom production, coupled with disease-resistance. Noisettes are some of the best roses in my garden. Given the chance – they can perform just as effectively in a rose show.

‘Blush Noisette,’ (Int. bef. 1817) is among the earliest of its race – bred by Mons. Noisette, from ‘Champney?s Pink Cluster.’ A shrubby rose of moderate size, it’s a winner in the garden, covering itself repeatedly with beautifully-formed sprays of small blush-white, fragrant blooms. It is also a fine show rose.

Picked fresh, its well-formed sprays and clean foliage make it a good contender for the Dowager Queen award. YES! It can, and has, beaten ‘Sombreuil!’ Do you grow it? If not, why not? If you DO grow it, share it with the world. Please show it.

There are some wonderful found ‘Mystery Noisettes.’ Quite a few are of the orignal Noisette type. Many are listed in commerce, and so can be shown at rose shows. Do you grow ‘Frazer’s Pink Musk,’ Haynesville Pink Cluster,’ ‘Jeanne d’Arc,’ ‘Lingo Musk,’ ‘Mary Washington,’ ‘Mrs. Woods’ ‘Lavender-Pink Noisette,’ ‘Natchitoches Noisette,’ ‘Placerville White Noisette,’ ‘Ruth’s Pink Musk,’ ‘Tuta’s Pink Noisette,’ or ‘Georgetown Noisette’? Without traveling to the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, or Vintage Gardens Rose Nursery, most people will never see these roses – unless you take them to a rose show. I enter such roses whenever I can. I urge you to do the same thing.

A later group of Noisettes were derived from crosses with Tea Roses. Many of these grow as graceful climbers, some as mannerly shrubs. Do you grow them? If you don’t, you SHOULD! They’re stars in Southern California gardens, AND they can hold their own on a show table. Turn to page 39 in the Vintage Gardens Rose Nursery (Sebastopol, CA) catalog for a tempting offering. Three good ones to start with are:

  • -’Mme. Alfred Carriere,’ (Schwartz,1879) This is always a good contender for the Victorian Rose award, and it can also win the ‘Most Fragrant’ category. Ours grows freestanding, like a good-sized tree. It’s pruned very lightly, and it blooms continuously.

  • –’Lamarque’ (Marechale, 1830) This prolific, disease-free rose has been available in California since Gold Rush days. Surprisingly, it’s seldom shown. We need to remedy that! Bring it to a rose show. Share it.

  • –’Reve d’Or’ (Ducher, 1869) The spring bloom is a marvelous, fragrant mass of gold, apricot, and amber, set off by clean, light green leaves – and ‘Reve d’Or’ will flower continuously, unless or until it’s pruned. Grow it up a piller, or over an arbor, so the blooms can nod gracefully down. Rose judges don’t appreciate its ruffled form OR its nodding blooms, but this rose deserves to be much better known.

I enter Noisettes in rose shows often. I hope you will begin to do the same thing. (Sometimes, I even win!)

Chinas, Teas, Bourbons, Portlands – and Mysterious Ladies . . .

‘Eugene de Beauharnais’ (Ch / HCh, 1838) Its hybridizer, Mons. Hardy, called this rose a China. Certainly, it’s not one of the very real group of once-blooming roses historically called ‘Hybrid Chinas.’ Nevertheless, ARS has recently changed its classification from China to Hybrid China. In MY garden, it’s still called a China (Hardy would approve) but I’ll show it as an HCh to appease the ARS-godlings. Admittedly, this small rose is remarkably ‘un-China-like’ in bloom form, color, foliage, and fragrance. To increase judgely confusion, its color changes with climactic conditions. In warm weather, blooms may be a rich mauve-pink., but cool temperatures call forth a glowing garnet, with almost black points and rich, firey depths. Though he blooms with China-like regularity, the blooms also fade with China-like haste.

Much as I love him, I must admit that Eugene’s vase life registers somewhere between slight and none. I enter him in a rose show at every opportunity. I urge you to do so, as well.

‘Rosette Delizy’ (Tea, Nabonnand, 1922) Any list of roses MOST likely to confuse judges must include the creations of Nabonnand. Like many Tea Roses, they are loveliest when fully opened. Their ruffled petals and shifting colors may not win the hearts of judges, but everyone ELSE who sees them, falls in love. Perfect foliage adds a finishing touch to these ‘essential’ roses. I enter ‘Rosette Delizy,’ and her deeper-colored parent, ‘General Gallieni’ (Tea, Nabonnand, 1899) in rose shows whenever I can. They’ve never won anything, and probably never will — but people have bought and planted them, after seeing them at rose shows, so I’ll continue to share them in this way.

Other Tea Roses that work for us include ‘Etoile de Lyon,’ ‘Niles Cochet,’ ‘Marie van Houtte,’ ‘Mons. Tillier,’ and the delicious ‘Mme. Berkeley.’

  • ‘Marbree’ (Portland, 1858, Moreau et Robert) Like most of the Portland Roses, ‘Marbree’ is compact of habit, and an excellent repeat bloomer. Deep pink, semi-double blooms open to reveal bright yellow stamens. It even tolerates refrigeration, so it can be held a couple of days for a show. ‘Marbree’s’ thin, delicate, pink petals CORRECTLY have a crepe-like texture, and each petal is individually and whimsically strewn with small white dots. Judges often mistake this correct texture and color for evidence of age and damage. We must keep placing ‘Marbree’ in front of them, so they can come to understand its unique beauty. I’ve entered it in rose shows at every opportunity. Buy it! Grow it! Show it! You may not win, but you’ll intrigue the spectators, and amaze and unsettle the judges. That’s ALMOST as much fun as winning.

  • ‘Louise Odier’ (Bourbon, 1851, Margottin) I’d bet that ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’ is the best-known of the Bourbons – but its tendency to rust and mildew in our climate led to its banishment from our foggy garden. Little-known, rarely-shown ‘Louise Odier’ is a MUCH better rose for coastal areas. Upright of habit, with smooth, lithe canes and few prickles, this is a lovely garden plant, and a generous bloomer, with clean foliage. The pretty pink blooms have a bright glow, and a formal shape that reminds me of a formal double camellia. I urge you to grow it. AND to show it.

  • ‘Barbara Worl’ (Listed as a Hybrid Perpetual. Found by B. Worl, re-int. 1991) Most Old Rose people know it, love it, value it, and wouldn’t be without it in the garden. Blooms are often (but not always) subtly streaked and splotched with palest blush. The form may be a pleasant muddle, or a generous open cup, heavy with fragrance and centered by golden stamens. The petal texture resembles the thinnest, most delicate silk crepe. This rose is sold under multiple names. It may be listed as ‘Barbara Worl’ (honoring the woman who found it), or as ‘Mrs. R.G. Sharman-Crawford,’ or as ‘Cornet.’ ALL of its possible identities are listed in Modern Roses XI, and it is commonly entered in rose shows under all of them, often at the same time! Theoretically, this rose could win both the Dowager and Victorian Awards at the same rose show. A solid-blush sport, in commerce as ‘Larry Daniels,’ sometimes sports back to the original. No Southern California garden should be without this rose. Judges find it confusing – but that’s not important. EVERYONE needs to get to know this rose, so if you grow it (no matter under which name or names) – share it. SHOW it! Go ahead – irritate the judges. It’s good for them.

R. roxburghii (‘Chestnut Rose’ Species, 1814) is one of the few remontant Species roses, and at ARS rose shows, it’s shown in the Genesis Class. In the absence of the Genesis Class, it’s eligible for the Dowager Queen award. R. roxburghii offers beauty, bloom production, and disease-resistance. The tiny fern-like foliage is a perfect foil for glowing pink blooms that look like thin, crumpled silk. I love ‘Chestnut Rose,’ but even its greatest fan can’t claim that it has a vase life. Just getting it to a show in one piece is a challenge. Winning with it???? Pffft!! But, hey! ENTER IT! Give people a chance to see it! Provide the judges with an educational opportunity! (We actually HAVE won with it!)

These, of course, are only a few suggestions. I’m sure there are roses in YOUR garden that I haven’t thought of.

And that, of course, is the point I wanted to make. This coming spring, and in the springs and falls to follow, won’t YOU bring your rarities out to a local rose show? Please let me, and others, see and enjoy them? For my part, I’ll try to have some things you may not have seen. Between us, let’s fill the tables with these beauties, and crowd out the ‘Austins,’ and even a few of the ubiquitous Hybrid Teas.

When this year’s rose show season begins, PLEASE give the show thing a try. Join us in that dark parking lot. Let’s gather together, and have a good time. We can enter our roses, and then enjoy the day, and the rose show, together.

Let’s fill the show tables with the REAL Queens of The Garden!

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