Quite often in rec.gardens.roses, someone will make a reference to David Austin Roses, Austin Roses, English Roses, or just DA or ER. These terms all refer to a group of roses first introduced in 1969 by the English rose hybridizer David Austin. These roses have created quite a bit of interest recently from some rose gardeners. This document tries to be an introduction for those unfamiliar with English Roses.
English Roses, often called David Austin Roses, are a group of roses first introduced in 1969 by the English rose hybridizer David Austin.
David Austin has tried to create roses that combine the best elements of both Old Roses (roses introduced before 1867) and Modern Roses (Hybrid Teas, Floribundas and Grandifloras). He wanted to create roses that produced flowers with many of the forms of the Old Roses, such as cupped and rosette-shaped flowers, usually with many petals. He wanted English Roses to repeat flower well, like the Hybrid Teas and other Modern Roses. He wished to bring forth English Roses in a wide variety of colors, such as yellows which are not common among the Old Roses. He also sought to include the strong fragrances of some of the Old Roses.
This was accomplished by crossing Old Roses, particularly those from the 18th and 19th centuries, with Modern Roses from the 20th century. David Austin crossed the Gallicas, Damasks, Portlands, and Bourbons with the Floribundas, Hybrid Teas, and Modern Climbers.
2. What is causing the interest in English Roses?
Interest in English Roses might be attributed to several of their attributes.
Most varieties of English Roses have the old-fashioned flower forms of the Old Roses. This includes rosette-shaped flowers, lightly-cupped, deeply-cupped, etc. Some gardeners prefer the forms of the Old Roses to the high-centered form of the Hybrid Teas. English Roses usually produce fully double flowers with many petals.
Many gardeners would not grow a rose that blooms once a year as many Old Roses do. Many English Roses produce Old Rose type blooms several times a year. How often they repeat bloom depends on the variety and local climate.
English Roses come in a variety of colors. The majority of English Roses come in soft pastel shades: pinks, peaches, apricots, etc. There are also some excellent yellow English Roses and some popular white and dark red varieties.
As a group, English Roses are very fragrant. English Roses have a variety of rose fragrances, such as damask, tea scent, citrus, etc. Many English Roses, notably 'Constance Spry' the first English Rose, have an unusual scent described as "myrrh". Some of the more fragrant varieties of English Roses are 'Gertrude Jekyll', 'Othello', 'St. Cecilia', 'Evelyn', 'Abraham Darby'.
English Roses are often classified as Shrub Roses and some make good overall landscape plants. Although sometimes pruned hard and treated as bedding plants, many English Roses can be allowed to grow out and become excellent shrub roses.
Another reason for planting English Roses is that they are new and different, and some gardeners like to plant something that is not found in anyone else's garden in the neighborhood.
Those who haven't planted English Roses before may want to try one of the popular varieties below. Beside the name of each variety is listed the year of introduction and the plant's mature size in England. Many varieties will grow twice as large in warm climates.
(1984, 4'x4') is "perhaps the most beautiful English Rose" according to David Austin himself. It is certainly one of the best all-around English Roses. Heritage produces small clusters of beautiful medium to large, clear shell pink blooms. The flowers have delicate petals arranged in perfect form. Heritage is well-known for its strong, lemony scent. It has dark green leaves and very few thorns. The major flaw of Heritage is that the flowers don't last well as cut flowers (or on the plant.) However, it is a very good bloomer so there are usually new flowers to replace the old ones. Heritage is quite winter hardy (to USDA Zone 5.) Heritage is a descendant of the popular white floribunda 'Iceberg'.
(1985, 5'x4') is an interesting English rose in that it is the offspring of two Modern Roses, the Floribunda 'Yellow Cushion' and the Modern Climber 'Aloha'. Its large heavy flowers have the Old Rose shape, deeply-cupped, fully double, with many petals. The flowers are a lovely warm pink-peach-apricot color, fading to light pink on the edges, with some yellow on the back of the flower. The colors can fade in hot climates. Often the large flowers hang down on the relatively weak stems. It has glossy medium-green foliage and good disease resistance. It is a vigorous wide plant with an arching growth habit. Abraham Darby has a very strong "fruity" scent.
(1983, 5'x4') is the most popular English Rose. It produces clusters of medium-size cup-shaped flowers that are a beautiful rich butter yellow when first opening, later fading to a lighter yellow. The foliage is light-green. The plant has a bushy, upright growth habit with rather slender canes that may require staking. It has a nice strong tea scent. Graham Thomas may try to be a climber in warm climates. It is reportedly disease-resistant. It was named after one of the great experts of Old Roses. Warning: In hot climates Graham Thomas can grow to be a huge bush (8'x6') and may be a stingy bloomer during the heat of summer. Graham Thomas seems to gets rave reviews from gardeners in cool climates but complaints from those in very hot climates (Southern California and Texas) where it can be a stingy bloomer and the color fades more quickly.
(1983, 4'x4') is an excellent all-around bush that produces rose-pink flowers. It is an excellent repeat bloomer, flowering from early to late in the season. It has good disease resistance and is one of the hardiest English Roses (to USDA Zone 5). The bush is vigorous and has many thorns. Mary Rose has two significant shortcomings: the flowers are only slightly fragrant, and the individual blooms are rather unspectacular. Mary Rose has produced many sports, including the white 'Winchester Cathedral' and the light pink 'Redoute'. Mary Rose is a parent to many other English Roses.
(1986, 4'x4') has beautiful large spiral blooms of a rich, glowing pink. Its Damask scent is one of the strongest scents of the English Roses or any rose. Although the individual flowers are beautiful and fragrant, the plant has many problems. Many who buy Gertrude Jekyll for the flowers are disappointed with the plant in their garden. The bush itself is often unattractive with very thorny long stiff canes. It is stingy to repeat bloom. To encourage better repeat bloom, either prune back the canes after the first bloom, train the canes horizontally, or peg the canes.
Here are some of the recently introduced varieties of English Roses that "may" turn out to be popular. David Austin has given them very good ratings, and each of the varieties listed below seems to have at least one trait that distinguishes it from other English roses.
These varieties have been introduced in England, but some are not easily available in the United States, yet. There is usually a delay of a few years from the time an English Rose is first introduced until it is available in the US.
'Evelyn' (1991, 3.5'x3', 'Graham Thomas' x 'Tamora') is known for its beautiful flowers and strong fragrance. Evelyn has a strong sweet scent that is a combination of tea and fruit scents. It produces small clusters of large beautiful rosette-shaped or cupped flowers which are full of petals. Its coloring is apricot or peach mixed with yellow, sometimes looking rather pink. It is lighter than Abraham Darby and can fade in sunlight and heat. It has medium green foliage and rather stiff straight canes. It may grow quite large in hot climates.
'St. Cecilia' (1987, 'Wife of Bath' x seedling') has beautiful cream-colored, almost white, heavy flowers that give off a heavy myrrh fragrance.
'Charles Austin' x 'Abraham Darby')
has coppery yellow flowers. It is quite fragrant.
David Austin has had mixed success breeding red roses. Most older red English Roses (such as 'Fisherman's Friend', 'Prospero', 'The Squire' and 'William Shakespeare') have produced beautiful fragrant dark red flowers on weak plants that are disease-prone (especially to blackspot). Recent crosses, especially with the vigorous and disease-resistant Mary Rose, have attempted to improve on those weaknesses and seem to have produced some better red English Roses, 'The Prince', 'L.D. Braithwaite' and 'The Dark Lady'. It may be misleading to think of these as red roses, since many varieties of "red" English Roses can be quite purple in many climates.
'The Prince' (1990, 2.5'x3', 'Lilian Austin' x 'The Squire') has some of the darkest flowers of any rose, described as either dark red or purple-red. It is very fragrant, though its flowers may be much less fragrant during hot summer weather. The flowers have a short vase life. It is a good repeat bloomer, but it may take a break from blooming during the hot summer. 'The Prince' is at its best in the autumn. Its glossy modern-like foliage may have problems with blackspot. It is a very small bush, even in the warm climates, so it is probably best planted in groups of three (or more). It may be a good candidate for planting in a half-whiskey barrel.
'L.D. Braithwaite' (1988, 3.5'x3.5', 'Mary Rose' x 'The Squire') is usually a clearer red than most English Roses which are often a darker red or purple color. However, some gardeners report that 'L.D. Braithwaite' is often purple in their garden. The flowers are better in cooler weather. It is "very" thorny and has little fragrance.
'The Dark Lady'
'Mary Rose' x 'Prospero')
has flowers that have been described as
dusky crimson or dark pink, not red.
It has a strong Old Rose fragrance.
It is a good repeat bloomer.
The care of English Roses is similar to that of Modern Roses with some exceptions.
Most English Roses can be grown in Zone 5 or warmer. 'Constance Spry', 'Mary Rose', 'Charles Rennie Mackintosh', and 'Heritage' are some of the hardier English Roses. 'Graham Thomas' and other yellow varieties may need some winter protection in cold climates.
Many of the better varieties of English Roses seem to be rather resistant to blackspot and other diseases. However, this depends greatly on the particular variety and climate. In particular, many of the older red English Roses have been rather susceptible to blackspot and other diseases and have been weak growers.
While English Roses can be grown as individual plants, group plantings of two or three plants of one variety planted closely together are often recommended if there is room in the garden. A group planting will produce a fuller looking growth and more flowers in an area than a single planting. An odd number of rose bushes planted in a particular location usually looks more natural than an even number of bushes.
Group plantings have some disadvantages. Since the plants are placed closely together, there is less air circulation and increased problems with fungal diseases such as blackspot. Access to group plantings is usually worse, making tasks such as pruning, spraying, and deadheading more difficult.
Much of the beauty of English Roses is not in just the flower, but also in the plant.
Each variety is different, so before pruning, understand the natural shape of the bush: upright, bushy, arching, etc.
There are two main philosophies to pruning English Roses: prune like a Hybrid Tea, or prune like an Old Rose. Of course, many people's methods fall somewhere in between these two methods.
I do not wish to give the impression that all English roses are beautiful disease-resistant shrubs with large long-lasting old-fashioned flowers. Here are some of the problems that some or many varieties of English Roses have.
English Roses can make beautiful cut flowers, but most have two disadvantages when used as cut flowers. First, most of them have rather narrow short stems when cut, not nearly as long or stiff as the long-stemmed Hybrid Teas. Second, the petals are usually more delicate than those of Hybrid Teas, and some varieties don't last long when cut.
'Heritage' blooms are famous for losing their petals if disturbed slightly. 'Graham Thomas' doesn't last very well either and the beautiful yellow color fades to a light yellow. However, both 'Abraham Darby' and 'Evelyn' both have many petals and perform well as cut flowers.
Some English Roses that are medium-size plants in England, where they were bred, grow very large (often twice as large or larger) in warm climates, such as the Southern part of the United States. Examples of large plants in warm climates are 'Graham Thomas', 'Abraham Darby', 'Othello' and 'Evelyn'. This should be taken in mind when purchasing English Roses.
When he was an amateur hybridizer, David Austin crossed the Gallica 'Belle Isis' with the Floribunda 'Dainty Maid'. 'Belle Isis' has small, light pink, very double flowers and is a once bloomer. 'Dainty Maid' produces single flowers and is a repeat bloomer. Among the seedlings of 'Belle Isis' x 'Dainty Maid', one, in particular, was outstanding. 'Constance Spry', as it was named, produced surprisingly large, beautiful, pink flowers. The flowers were deeply cupped in the Old Rose tradition. In addition, 'Constance Spry' has a strong fragrance described as 'myrrh'. It was introduced in 1961.
'Constance Spry' had nearly all of the qualities David Austin was trying to achieve, excellent Old Rose flowers with good color and fragrance, all on a vigorous bush, but it was once blooming. Since the repeat blooming gene in roses is recessive, a cross between a once blooming old rose and a repeat blooming rose almost always produces once blooming seedlings, so 'Constance Spry' was once blooming. However, 'Constance Spry' was crossed with a repeat blooming rose, and some of the seedlings were repeat blooming. With these seedlings, David Austin had what he desired, repeat blooming roses with Old Rose style flowers and good fragrance. So far, David Austin only had pink roses.
After creating 'Constance Spry', David Austin wished to breed some red roses, so he crossed another Gallica, 'Tuscany' with the Floribunda 'Dusky Maiden'. 'Tuscany' has deep crimson flowers. 'Dusky Maiden' x 'Tuscany' produced 'Chianti'. 'Chianti' is in many ways the red counterpart to 'Constance Spry'. 'Chianti' is a once blooming rose with red flowers. It has a strong Old Rose fragrance. It was introduced in 1967. Like 'Constance Spry', 'Chianti' was crossed with a repeat blooming rose, producing some repeat blooming red English Roses.
With his pool of pink English Roses, David Austin went to work to add variety to the English Roses. He crossed his roses with other varieties of roses, both old and modern. Here are a few examples. Crosses with the white Floribunda 'Iceberg' led to a strain of roses including 'Heritage'. Crosses with the Modern Climber 'Aloha' led to the yellow English Roses. Crosses with the Hybrid Rugosa 'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer' led to 'Evelyn' and some other popular recent introductions.
Most English Roses descend from 'Constance Spry',
the white, pink, yellow, peach and apricot varieties.
Most of the red English Roses descend from 'Chianti'.
Here are a couple of books written about English Roses.
'David Austin's English Roses'
is a beautiful hardback book written by David Austin. It has beautiful large pictures of his roses. It is worth getting the book just for the pictures! David Austin discusses 84 varieties, describing the size and shape of the bush and rating his roses for overall assessment and fragrance. There are several other interesting chapters about English Roses, such as the following:
The book is listed at about $39.95 US. Published: 1993, by Little, Brown and Company (United States) ISBN 0-316-05975-7.
'Old and English Roses'.
is a paperback with information about the major classes of Old Roses as well as English Roses. It contains information on Old Roses and English Roses from the more comprehensive 'History of the Rose'($80 US). This book contains a chapter each on Gallicas, Damasks, up through Tea Roses and Hybrid Perpetuals. Each chapter describes the class and then gives descriptions of many varieties in the class. There are many photographs, though they are not of the size or quality as those in 'David Austin's English Roses'. 'Old and English Roses' is listed at about $25 US.