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Past Articles Library | The Types of English Roses Developed by David Austin

David Charles Henshaw Austin OBE (Order of the British Empire) is a rose breeder who is famed for developing roses that are disease free, fragrant, and repeat bloom.  He has introduced more than 190 different cultivars in roses since he started breeding roses in 1969.  He divides English roses into four different categories based on how they bloom and what their parent roses were.  All of these types of roses originally started by crossing Old Roses with Modern Hybrid Teas, even if that may be far back in their ancestry.  David Austin calls all of his cultivars English roses.  It takes eight years to develop a new rose cultivar.  It involves seventy thousand crosses and the production of one hundred and fifty thousand seedlings.  These plants are selected very carefully until the best two or three seedlings might be introduced as named varieties.  All of these varieties fall into one of four types of rose:

  1. English Old Rose Hybrids -- These have much the character of the true Old Roses, such as the Gallicas, Damasks, or other old roses.  However, they vary widely between one variety and another.  There colors are those of the old roses --pink, crimson, and purple.  They usually form small bushy shrubs and repeat flower regularly.  They also have a strong scent.  These roses make excellent garden roses and tend to do well when mingled with other plants.
  2. The Leander Group--This group leans more toward modern roses than the old hybrids, but their flowers still look like the typical old roses.  These roses form large, robust shrubs with elegantly arching growth.  The flowers are large and gracefully poised on the branch.  The colors are wide ranging, from yellow to some flame shades.  They have a strong scent that varies from old roses, sometimes more like tea roses or myrrh.  They also frequently have fruity undertones such as raspberry, lemon, or apple.
  3. English Musk Roses--These were bred by crossing the old rose hybrids with noisette roses.  These roses are dainty and charming.  Their colors have a softness and come in fresh pinks, blushes, soft yellow and shades of apricot and peach.  Musk roses do not have a musk rose scent, but do have the other fragrances of the rose, sometimes mixed with musk scent.
  4. Alba Rose Hybrids -- the newest contribution to the English rose group and a bit removed from the other groups.  They grow more like wild roses and this makes them suitable for formal planting, but also for other areas of the garden.  This group of cultivars originates from breeding alba roses to English roses.  Alba rose hybrids are light and airy in their flowers and their foliage.  They are predominately pink at this point.

In addition to the four groups of roses mentioned above, David Allen places some roses as climbers.  Not a true breed, these roses can be formed into a bush or a climbing rose.  Pruning the rose is what dictates whether the rose climbs or stays a bush.

English roses are comparatively young, first coming to prominence in the 1970s. They originated from crosses between the old roses and modern hybrid teas and floribundas; the object being to combine the wide color range and repeat flowering with the charm and fragrance of an old rose.  The main characteristics of the English rose are as follows:

  • The flower is more like an old rose in its beauty and form.  They are bred not so much for brilliance of color, but for the delicate charm and fragrance of their individual flowers.
  • English roses grow as a small shrub rather than a bedding plant like hybrid teas.  However, English roses are very versatile plants.  They may form plants of four to five feet or be small like a hybrid tea.  They may be bushy or gracefully arching.  Some of the taller ones make excellent repeat-flowering climbers.
  • Foliage -- the English rose has beautiful foliage that serves as a wonderful backdrop for the flowers.
  • Fragrance -- unlike many modern roses, English roses have strong fragrances.  They smell old rose fragrances as well as the fragrances of the tea rose.  They are fruity, smell of musk and myrrh, and combine other fragrances into unique fragrances that no other rose has.
  • Health --English roses are highly resistant to disease.  Even though beauty is very important in roses, David Austin also bred for disease resistance.  As a result, these roses have a greater survivability than many modern roses.

English roses are sold in the United States as well as in the UK.  David Austin suggests that these roses always be planted in groups of three.  Some other suggestions for using these roses are:

  • Mixed borders -- As shrub roses they work well in flowerbeds as part of the border.  The roses will continue to bloom right when most other flowers cease blooming and prepare for winter.
  • For a flashier border, use only roses.  You can use all colors or plant just one colors.  Roses will harmonize with each other even when other colors are present.
  • Formal rose beds --There are several varieties of English roses that, with hard pruning in the winter and pruning in the summer, grow only three to four feet and make wonderful bedding plants.  They are short and bushy and flower continuously.
  • Plant a rose garden with English roses of all colors and shapes.  The garden can be small, or it can be very large, depending on what you are willing to take care of.
  • Climbing English roses -- Roses can climb up to eight feet or so if they have some support. They are ideal to grow on a trellis or up the wall of a building.  They continue to bloom, too.
  • Tree roses -- English roses can be pruned into a tree and used as a specimen plant in the garden.
  • Hedge -- English roses make excellent hedges.  They are covered in flowers, so look nice, but have thorns to discourage visitors that are not wanted.

David Austin has had a large impact on roses and the people who grow them.  Try one out and see what it can do for your garden.


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