Roses are perhaps the most beloved of all flowers, esteemed throughout history for their form, color, and fragrance. Until fairly recently, gardeners tended to focus on hybrid teas, elegant modern roses featuring a stylish bud on a long stem. Lately, though, old roses ― historic classes such as alba and damask, Bourbon and China ― have made a strong comeback. Popular, too, are the shrub roses developed by modern breeders, rugged plants that function as shrubs in the landscape and offer the bonus of beautiful, long-lasting bloom.
Of course, you don't need to study the history of roses or distinguish between the many forms to appreciate these marvelous flowers. To enjoy them to the full, though, do aim to include an assortment of types in your garden. The choices shown below ― just seven varieties out of the thousands available! ― give a hint of what you'll find at nurseries and in catalogs. Most nurseries carry a fair selection of hybrid teas and other modern roses. Old roses, too, are being offered ever more frequently; if your local nursery doesn't stock them, ask for the names of mail-order suppliers.
Seven popular shrub rose varieties
This is a mounded shrub to 4 feet high and wide (sometimes larger in warmer climates), covered throughout the growing season in single, white-centered pink blossoms. The glossy, elongated leaflets are disease resistant. Classed as a hybrid musk, 'Ballerina' is considered by many to be just the type of rose more and more gardeners are looking for today ― a plant with an attractive shrubby shape as well as profuse bloom.
'Graham Thomas' (1983)
This is one of the first ― and still one of the most popular ― of the group called English roses, plants bred to combine modern rose colors and repeat bloom with old rose floral style. Some feature globular, ultra-double blossoms, while others have single flowers reminiscent of wild roses. 'Graham Thomas' has plump, red-tinted yellow buds that open to large, cupped blossoms filled with butter yellow petals. Blooms are carried at the ends of arching canes that can reach 10 feet or longer.
If you think you can't grow roses, try easy-to-grow 'Iceberg'. It's a vigorous, sparsely thorned plant that is rarely bothered by pests and diseases. It belongs to the floribunda class, a complex group of roses that typically range in height from 2 ½ to 4 feet; some bear large clusters of single or semidouble, rather informal blossoms, while many have blooms resembling small hybrid tea flowers. 'Iceberg' is also available in a climbing form.
Small (2- to 2 ½-inch-wide), double flowers transform from orangy tan with a yellow center to mauve pink as they age. Classed as a shrub rose, this 2- to 4-foot tall plant is easy care, and blooms over a long season without fuss. Doesn't require spraying to stay healthy, and needs little or no pruning to remain shapely.
For many, a long-stemmed red rose is the one rose to have. 'Mister Lincoln' is among the best, boasting perfectly formed buds, beautiful open blossoms, and a wonderful fragrance. And although many hybrid teas form rather ungainly bushes, this one is an attractive urn-shaped shrub.
This rose is so well known it hardly needs description. Full, ovoid buds of yellow touched with pink or red slowly unfurl to glorious extra-large blossoms with pink-rimmed yellow petals. A vigorous hybrid tea, 'Peace' has large, strong-growing canes; it can reach 4 feet tall and wide (even taller if pruned only lightly each year). Leaves are large, glossy, and disease resistant.
'Sunset Celebration' (1998)
This is a lovely chameleonlike hybrid tea, whose colors vary from rich peach to apricot-umber burnished with cream. It is the result of a cross between an unnamed seedling and medium-yellow 'Pot O' Gold'. The bushy, 4-foot tall plants have deep-green foliage and excellent disease resistance. The flowers are 4 ½ to 5 ½ inches in diameter with 25 to 30 petals in a formal spiral.