Roses: A Short Guide

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Roses are a group of popular shrubs, climbers, and groundcover plants. Because of their variation in growth forms they can be grown as groundcover, in borders, containers, or over arches. They are relatively easy to grow and offer a wide range of colours and scents in the garden.  The word rosa comes from the Greek word rodon (red), and the rose of the ancients was of a deep crimson colour, which is why it was thought to spring from the blood of Adonis.

Three types of rose perfume are recognized; (i) those of the Cabbage Rose; (ii) the Damask Rose (iii) the Tea Rose, but there are many roses of intermediate character as regards perfume, and no precise classification of roses by their odour is possible. There are over 150 species of roses with tens of thousands of hybrids. A common way to categorise roses is into the three main categories of (i) Wild Roses, (ii) Old Garden Roses, and (iii) Modern Garden Roses. The table below shows how they are subdivided.

Rose Table

Wild Roses

a.k.a. Species Roses

Old Garden RosesModern Garden Roses
Dog Rose
Field Rose
Sweet Briar, or "Eglantine" Burnet Rose
Downy Rose
Musk rose
Lady Banks' Rose
Rosa foetida
Alba
Gallica
Damask
Centifolia or Provence Moss
Portland
China
Tea
Bourbons
Noisette
Hybrid Perpetual Hybrid Musk
Hybrid Rugosa Bermuda "Mystery" roses
Hybrid tea
Pernetiana
Polyantha
Floribunda
Grandiflora
Miniature
Climbing and rambling Shrub
English / David Austin Canadian Hardy Landscape (Ground Cover) Patio

Wild roses are low-maintenance shrubs in comparison to other garden roses, and they usually tolerate poor soil and some shade. They generally only bloom once per year. The origin of the cultivated Rose was probably Northern Persia, where it spread across Asia Minor to Greece. Greek colonists brought it to Southern Italy. Roses used in ancient days were the Old Garden cultivated varieties we see today. The original varieties were limited in number, but it would appear that the Romans knew and cultivated the red Provins Rose (Rosa gallica). Numerous selections or cultivars of the China rose were in cultivation in China in the first millennium AD. Modern Roses are those varieties bred after 1867. The Old Garden Roses bloom once a year, but Modern Roses have been bred to bloom continuously. Classification of Modern Roses can be complicated by the fact many have Old Garden Roses in their ancestry, but they generally have a larger bloom size, a longer vase life, less fragrance, and are less hardy and resistant to diseases.


Roses tend to flower in summer and autumn. They are best planted from late autumn to early spring. Roses are not too fussy about soil, as long as it is well-drained, but they are hungry plants. Applying well-rotted barnyard manure to rose beds in early spring is one of the best methods of fertilizing roses. This rotted manure adds both nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Dehydrated manure, bonemeal, and soybean meal also are good fertilizers. I used to have a neighbour who would eagerly wait for the horses to pass by on the road outside his house, and would run out gleefully with a shovel to collect their manure, for his roses. And they were actually very impressive plants.

Ideally roses need a minimum of four-to-six hours of direct sunlight daily, and a regular moderate moisture supply is vital to successful rose culture, although wet foliage is susceptible to diseases. Rose pests include brown scale, rose aphids, leafhoppers, sawflys, and slugworms. Common diseases or disorders of rose include rose dieback, powdery mildew, blackspot and rust. Pruning of roses in spring time is recommended to keep the plants vigorous and blooming regularly. Remove all deadwood. Cutting back tall canes to maintain a uniform height is advisable. Always prune at a 45 degree angle. Prune to insure that the plant will be well shaped.