Advances in hardiness, bloom size, habit and disease resistance through breeding often come at the expense of fragrance. This is very true among roses. However, fragrance has always been important to the hybridizers who create David Austin English roses. These shrubby varieties combine the vigor and health of contemporary introductions with the delightful scents of older roses.
“Rose perfumes entrance us,” says Michael Marriott, the company's senior rosarian. “One whiff can excite instant memory recall. Fragrance is so vivid a sensation that it summons up a specific rose variety with remarkable precision, often including recall of the exact time and place when one first encountered it.”
Here are Marriot's top 10 David Austin varieties, chosen for their fragrance:
'Gertrude Jekyll' (top) has a powerful and beautifully rounded perfume considered by many to be the quintessential old rose fragrance: strong, rich, complex and perfectly balanced. Repeat-flowering, with large rosette-shaped flowers in rich glowing pink. USDA Zones 4–8.
'Munstead Wood' (above) features a strong old-rose scent highlighted by warm, fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry and damson. It’s a classic rose perfume described by floral-fragrance expert Robert Calkin as “a real red-rose fragrance.” Repeat-flowering, with large shallowly cupped roses in deep velvety crimson. Zones 5–9.
'Lady Emma Hamilton' (above) has a fragrance that’s strong and deliciously fruity with hints of pear, grape and citrus. The scent perfectly complements the rose’s tangerine-orange and yellow coloring. Repeat-flowering, best in drier conditions. Zones 5–9.
'Scepter’d Isle' (above) offers a distinctive fragrance that can be described as powerful English myrrh. Winner of Royal National Rose Society’s Henry Edland Award for fragrance. Repeat-flowering, with cupped flowers in soft blush pink. Zones 5–10.
'Harlow Carr' (above) boasts a heady old-rose scent that fits perfectly with its classic old-rose form. The fragrance has been described as “true rose.” Repeat-flowering, with perfectly-formed medium-size flowers of purest rose pink. Performs well in both hotter and colder areas. Zones 5–9.
'The Generous Gardener' (above) is known for an award-winning fragrance that’s a delicious mix of old rose, musk and myrrh. When trained as a climbing rose, its scent hangs beautifully in the air. Repeat-flowering, with large flowers reminiscent of water lilies in palest pink. Zones 5–9.
'Princess Alexandra of Kent' (above) has a delightful fresh tea fragrance that over time takes on a lemony scent, ultimately with hints of black currant. Repeat-flowering, unusually large flower with full cupped shape and rich warm glowing pink coloration. Zones 5–9.
'Jubilee Celebration' (above) features a wonderfully bold fruity fragrance. The scent of the young flower is almost pure lemon zest, later becoming a delicious fruity rose fragrance with hints of fresh lemon and raspberry. Repeat-flowering, with large domed flowers in rich pink tinged with gold on the petal undersides. Zones 5–9.
'Golden Celebration' (above) is known for its magnificent tea-scented blooms, often featuring hints of sauterne wine splashed with strawberry notes. Repeat-flowering, with exceptionally large cupped flowers in a rich, golden-yellow color. Zones 4–9.
'Port Sunlight' (above) has a bold, rich apricot coloring that provides a charming contrast to its classic pure-tea fragrance. Repeat-flowering, with bronze-red stems and leaves in the early season that later darken to deep green. Zones 5–9.
Images courtesy David Austin Roses.