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“A rose, isn’t quite as beautiful as it once was, when after its thorn pricks you.” 

All rose blooms are beautiful, and some are so stunning they can catch your breath and bring feelings of awe. In contrast, the prickles can be irritating and a menace. When you least expect it, you can get a severe reaction from the mildest contact with particular roses. After a nasty encounter with a rose prickle, it is hard to feel the same way about a rose; a sense of quiet respect and let’s leave that one alone pervades.

A rose’s rarest essence lives in the thorn. 


There have only been two occasions when a rose has caused me any genuine concern, although I’ve had numerous scratches and holes in my gardening gear. Shirley’s Rose, Monsieur Tillier Rose and I have forged a respectful distance relationship.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn. Should never crave the rose. 

Anne Bronte

I had actually forgotten Monsieur Tillier’s rose was even in the garden bed of charming, and friendly Fire Opal roses that run along the verandah’s edge. But as I walked past, early this week I adjusted a branch that had fallen onto the passageway and felt a tiny prickle but thought nothing of it. After looking down, I found my hand covered in blood and a whopping balloon of a blood blister because the rose thorn (prickle) had caught the vein on top of my hand. Since then my hand is deeply bruised and needless to say Monsieur Tillier is to be moved in winter to a safer position.

There are many roses in the garden that pride themselves on magnificent thorns like La Jago, Bengali, Carmagnole, Westerland, Joseph’s Coat and New Dawn but they are so prominent and easy to avoid. Roses like these have been planted out on their own or at least are growing where there is no passing traffic. It’s the roses that don’t look prickly that are the real hazard and snag clothing, fingertips or any exposed skin so watch out.

Truths and roses have thorns about them. 

Henry David Thoreau

Being at home quite a lot lately has meant I’ve been able to observe more closely the subtle and sometimes dramatic changes that occur in the garden. Watching as transplanted roses take hold and start to reshoot, new buds after deadheading begin to open, the praying mantis gorging on any aphids, butterflies and bees, the foliage returning on some roses after blackspot, and large rose hips form to herald winter dormancy.

The garden is a constant source of, unique material to photograph and taking photographs each morning has been a surprising bonus to the work in the garden. It is very satisfying to capture the morning light through the colours of rose petals as they unfold. A camera captures their fleeting beauty, and Smartphones have made it easy to dabble in this art and at the same time, be able to share roses with you.

A rose dreams of enjoying the company of bees, but none appears. The sun asks: Aren’t you tired of waiting? Yes, answers the rose, but if I close my petals, I will wither and die. 

Paulo Coelho

Taking photos is where I usually get caught by rose thorns because it’s easy to think you can walk in and snap that rose pic when not geared up to work in the garden with long protective gloves on. Imagine roses with no thorns! Although not completely thornless, there are “nearly thornless roses”, and a brand of supposedly, Smooth thorn free roses. In some ways, the roses with huge thorns or prickles are mostly easy to see and signal to be careful and not take the risk as one might with more delicate looking roses.

Harvey Davidson a rose enthusiast from California developed the range of thornless roses in 1962. He discovered a gene that inhibits the growth of rose thorns and called the range “All Smooth Touch® Thornless Roses”, which are said to be 95-100% free of thorns. They are available from Rosesalesonline, Rankins Roses, Swanes, Magic Garden Roses, Garden Express. Evidently, some thorns may appear on the bottom of the branches but disappear as the plant grows. – extraordinary. Apart from Smooth touch roses, there are many nearly thornless varieties including some old roses that have few thorns and are great for verandah edges, walkways, paths and pots near outdoor seating.

I’ve planted many “near thornless roses” as an added bonus to the garden, such as The Children’s Rose, Nahema, Twilight Zone, Renae, Souvenir Louise Amade, Sweet Intoxication, Pinkie, Paul Cezanne, Reine des Violettes, Pink Intuition, Heaven Scent, Iceberg, France Libre, Dioressence, Crepuscule, Anna Oliver, Camille Pisarro, Couer de Neige, Alfred Sisley, Gold Medal, Heritage, Perfume Passion, Shropshire Lad, Brother Cadfael, Cecile Brunner, Sally Holmes, Pierre de Ronsard, Lady Banksiae, Valencia and Magma. There are many more varieties to choose from available at Wagner’s rose nursery and Treloar’s roses.

Zephirine Drouhin is an heirloom Bourbon rose the oldest known thornless rose bred in France by Bizot in 1868. Reine des Violettes and Paul Neyron are other almost thornless old Hybrid Perpetual roses, Marie-Pavie is a nearly thornless Polyantha rose. There are no totally thornless wild roses and the smooth varieties are hybrids or cultivars.

The garden archway roses will be replaced with a nearly thornless variety called Kathleen Harrop this coming season. A sport of Zephirine Drouhin but in a softer shell pink colouring. Discovered by Alexander Dickson II in the UK in 1919. It is a Bourbon climbing rose, complete with fragrance and recurrent blooming. The front archway has been a disappointment to date, with several choices of plants and roses not working out as planned. The drought, sheep and wallabies didn’t help either, so I’ve struggled to get full coverage across the top of the archway despite several attempts.

Kathleen Harrop is a low climber and will eventually blend with Cécile Brunner roses coming up the other archway inside the gate. Cécile Brunner is a delightful, fast-growing light pink Polyantha rose bred in France by Marie Ducher and introduced by her son-in-law, Joseph Pernet-Ducher, in 1881. Cécile Brünner features few thorns, small double flowers that open from high centred buds into pom-pom like flowers.

The sharp thorn often produces delicate roses.


The garden is where roses belong. I don’t cut many blooms except for guests preferring to see them bloom for longer outside and to enjoy the perfume walking past. Occasionally I’ll have roses inside, especially before heavy rain, when I pick as many as possible to enjoy and give away. The thorns are just part of it; one learns to work with them and keep away unless needed.

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” 

Abraham Lincoln

We would not have the gorgeous rose blooms without the thorns as they protect plants from animals and other predators. The thorn has been an ancient symbol of hardship, adversary and distress throughout history. On the other hand, the rose bloom symbolises beauty, love, perfection, and the unique combination of thorns and flowers is so often used to express life; a fusion of good and evil, a journey of joy and suffering, love and pain. Perhaps also, the symbolism of the rose is a reward for tackling the difficulties that we encounter in life, and by appreciating the thorns, we can enjoy the beauty of living with a heightened sense of achievement.

Content and images Di Baker 2022

Title quote by Anthony Liccione

Images of Kathleen Harrop and Cecile Brunner roses courtesy of

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