“And the roses—the roses! —they came alive day by day, hour by hour.

There’s nothing quite like a freshly picked rose from the garden. Still stunning but not comparable are the perfect roses grown for the cut flower market that sit outside florists to entice customers. Almost appearing too good to be true, commercially grown roses often lack perfume, whereas garden roses are intoxicating visually and in their fragrance.

Roses belong to the family of plants called Rosaceae, and the name Rose is from the Latin word Rosa. Roses may appear romantic, soft and feminine, but the rose’s innate nature is hardy, tough and resilient.
The striking beauty of the rose is either loved or abhorred. Some cannot get past the thorns and prickles of certain species’ or the fact they are dormant for a good part of each year, leaving the garden bare. However, there is no denying the rose is a timeless garden plant, and its beauty holds them as the Queen of Flowers, even if one detests growing them. Roses have had an exceptionally long and remarkable history as symbols of war, politics, beauty and love that date back to 500 BC.

“Wild roses,” I said to them one morning. “Do you have the answers? And if you do, would you tell me?” The roses laughed softly. “Forgive us,” they said. “But as you can see, we are just now entirely busy being roses.”

Mary Oliver
Courtesy of Simply Feminine

The very nature of a rose is such that when it is hand-picked from the garden, one knows the rose was nurtured and cared for with diligence and love. Although, roses are strong and robust they can sometimes mean extra work with eco seaweed sprays, mulching, staking, deadheading and pruning, and will always require a regular watchful eye.

My rose garden this year, after all the work in relocating and removing troublesome roses has been transformed into more of a picking garden than the landscape initially planted. I refused to believe in the beginning that it was better to have an open rose garden, preferring instead the full and abundant typical cottage garden. Still, this style has almost gone, and many of the densely planted perennials that sometimes crowded out the roses have been replaced with a limited palette of companion plants. The restrained approach allows for more air circulation and easier inspection of the roses for healthy growth and disease prevention.

Roses at the Market in Sydney

The rural garden still holds an abundance of roses with Agastache, Autumn Joy, Nepeta, Thyme, Lavender, Stachys Lambs Ears, Euphorbia, Penstemon and Salvia patches. Alas, the errors of the past show up no matter how much they are pulled out and treated as weeds. In my case, the invasive nature of lemon balm and apple mint fills the gaps of their own accord, but I’ve learned from the mistakes.

The Flower Market in Aix en Provence

 “If a hybrid rose like ‘Fantin-Latour’ is a silk ball gown, then species roses are a cotton frock. There is no further reduction to be had from them. There is no clumsy trace of the breeder’s hand. If they tangle then that, dear gardener, is what they do. If they only flower for a few days, then that is as fixed as the weather. This imbues them with a freshness and wildness that I love.”

Monty Don


The rose today has stood the test of time and earned a place in the modern garden with the work of past rosarians and rose breeders like Meilland, Delbard, Poulsen, Kordes, Pemberton, Harkness and David Austin. These rose breeders have successfully hybridised Old Garden Roses with their striking bloom form, abundant perfume and hardiness with the modern techniques of increased disease resistance to mildew and blackspot and the ability to repeat bloom all season; called Modern Roses.

There are 3 types of Roses,

Old Garden Roses– known as antique roses that have been around since 1867. They are characterised by double-flower form, strong scent, and bloom only once a season. Old Garden roses are hardy and disease-resistant.

Wild Roses, sometimes called species roses, have a single bloom with petals and are nearly always pink.

Modern roses come in a vast array of colours and were bred after 1867. Modern Roses have continuous blooms, larger flowers, and a longer vase life, but they may lack a heady fragrance and be less hardy and disease-resistant. 

When David Austin began breeding his garden roses for the fresh flower market in the U.K., he focused on fragrance and the shape of old-fashioned roses and started to combine these traits with disease resistance and long vase life.

“Love is like the wild rose.”

Emily Bronte

In contemporary Garden design and garden trends, the emphasis is on naturalistic plantings and sustainable plant choices, non-use of chemicals and organic methods of disease control and prevention. With years of work in trial gardens and breeding techniques, today’s breeders provide gardeners with highly disease-resistant roses that may not require harsh chemicals to thrive. This will also depend on the climate, growing conditions and care the roses receive.

“It was Spring, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”  

Maud Hart Lovelace

The Australian rose breeders Bruce Brundrett, Paul Hains, Richard Walsh and Grahame Sargeant have spent decades producing roses that flourish in our warmer climates and include new roses that may be thornless, miniatures, perfumed, in striking Australian outback colouring and with a high resilience to disease.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gra’s Blue is one such rose bred by Grahame Sargeant from Silkies Rose Farm. This award-winning rose is a patio miniature rose with a beautiful fragrance and has terrific disease resistance. The bush produces tight buds of lavender mauve that open to masses of blooms that last a long time on the bush and in a vase. It is a gorgeous rose that is always in flower and extremely low maintenance. It grows low and prolifically and is well suited to a garden trough or container.

“If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

Therese of Lisieux

Whenever I buy a new rose for the garden, I don’t settle on a rose until I check with the health rating system on Treloar’s website. They have extensive trial gardens and assessments of the degree of health of hundreds of roses and their ability to resist fungal disease, black spot, and powdery mildew. They do not test for fragrance or other flower quality. I no longer plant new roses below the 4 to 5-star health rating in my climate. The other aspect I look for is the leathery nature of the foliage, which indicates the rose’s ability to be healthy and disease-free – usually. However, in my own way, the roses in the garden have had an assessment of sorts after the 2022 flood and the previous few years of drought, and the ones still growing are resilient and tough and can withstand the season extremes.

Princess Claire Of Belgium opened today.

Little by little, each day, the foliage fills out on the roses, and fresh buds are forming, especially this week as Spring has been very hot so far. This season, the first rose to bloom is the Princess Claire of Belgium, followed by Iceberg- the tried and true white rose varietal, a popular, prolific, disease-resistant and hardy rose that thrives in our hot, dry climate. Iceberg roses are the mainstay of any Central West of NSW garden and are brilliant white, fuss free, easy care roses to grow.

“Of all flowers, methinks a rose is best.”

William Shakespeare

Epsom salts can be sprinkled around the base of roses to speed up the growth of new-season roses and act as an accelerant. But a more interesting way to add magnesium, calcium and phosphates to the roses is to bury banana peel or a ripened banana around the roots. This will speed up the bloom time, too.

Fascinating Facts on Roses

  • Napoleon is said to have given his officers bags of rose petals to boil with white wine to cure themselves of lead poisoning from the shot or bullet wounds.
  • On 11th October 1492, the crew of Columbus pulled a branch of a rose from the ocean, which hinted that there may be land nearby. The next day, America was discovered.
  • 54% of the land in Ecuador is filled with roses.
  • Roses are mentioned in over 4,000 songs.
  • Fossils found in Colorado provide evidence that Archaeologists say roses have existed for over 35 million years.
  • A large rose bush has been growing for more than 1,000 years on the walls of the Cathedral of Hildesheim, Germany.
  • 85% of the world’s rose oil comes from The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, where roses have been cultivated for centuries.
  • There are about 150 species of roses and thousands of hybrids.  
  • Roses are timeless gifts for expressing love, joy and gratitude.
  • David Austin’s Juliet Rose is considered the most expensive rose in the world. He spent 15 years developing the rose and $4.37 million.
  • There is a miniature rose ‘ Overnight Scentsation” that was taken to space to see how gravity affected the rose’s perfume.

Title quote by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Content Di Baker September 2023

Images by Di Baker with one exception; the huge bunch of French Roses courtesy of Simply Feminine


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