Choosing Roses

So I’ve spent the last rose shopping. We just had some work done on the house to move an external door, and a plan to plant a climber where the door used to be has expanded into a project to cover up as much of the pebble-dash rendering as possible. We love a lot about our house, and it was a good compromise for us, but the external rendering isn’t one of the pluses.

My idea is to cut some holes for beds into the concrete driveway and then plant three climbing roses with smaller shrubby roses underneath for groundcover. I decided to go for roses because whatever covers up the rendering should be attractive, my wife wanted something scented, and I didn’t want anything likely to leave marks on the wall. Even climbing roses aren’t really true climbers, they’re sprawlers that need to be tied in place. It means more effort up front but less problems with removal or hacking them back.

The things I was looking for, the things the perfect rose for us would have, were:

  1. Thornless, or if thorned then flexible/trainable enough so family members and guests don’t get caught and shredded in passing
  2. Strongly scented
  3. Repeat flowering
  4. Single flowers and attractive to pollinators
  5. Good disease resistance, since I don’t plan on spraying
  6. For the climbers, growing big enough to cover most of a two storey wall (e.g. 4 – 5m), but not so vigorous that I need to be up a 5m ladder every month trying to stop it going over the top and engulfing the house
  7. Nice colour – white, pink, scarlet are good, yellow and orange are a much harder sell

Needless to say, it’s pretty hard to find any rose that meets all of those criteria. The harder ones are the thornlessness, which I basically gave up on, and the single flowers. Repeat flowering tends to be a property of highly bred roses, and many of those have also been selected for double flowers.

So, after much agonising I can now reveal the compromise to achieve something for both myself (wildlife friendly, nice colours) and the wife (scented, long flowering).


The roses below go in order from largest and wildest to smallest and least wild (double flowers). All of the climbers are supposed to be strongly scented.

Rosa moschata

Rosa moschata, source: Wikipedia, by Arashiyama

This one is very much my choice. It’s basically a wild rose that flowers late but over a period of 2 – 3 months. It’s supposed to be very strongly scented, as in you can smell it tens of feet away, and very attractive to bees. I’ve seen conflicting reports about size and David Austin claim it needs a warm wall to hit 4 or 5m, so we’ll just have to see how it works out. Hopefully it can cover 10 – 15 m2 of wall if it can get high enough and spread horizontally as well.

The Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake, source: David Austin

This one is is one we can both go for. It’s a highly bred, repeat flowering English rose, but the flowers are only semi-double so you can actually see the stamens and stigma. In the pictures it looks an attractive shade of pink. It should be a big less vigorous than r. moschata, and I thought we might train it around the bathroom window and over the door.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, source: David Austin

This is very much not a wild rose in terms of flower shape. A bit fluffy for me in shape and probably useless for wildlife, but chosen for scent, colour, and lack of vigour. It can go against the single storey utility room wall.

Groundcover / Shrub Roses

Centre Stage

Centre stage, source: David Austin

A low growing groundcover rose. Single flowers, supposed to flower continuously over a long period. Probably not strongly scented.


Cambridgeshire rose, source: David Austin

Another groundcover rose, repeat flowering. My wife loved the colours. I agree the mix of gold and orange looks really good, I just need to decide which climber to match it with. Supposedly not strongly scented.

Munstead Wood

Munstead Wood rose, source: David Austin

This one is more of a small shrub. Supposed to have a very strong scent, and it looks like a good colour match for Tess of the d’Urbervilles, or maybe it would look good under the pink Lady of the Lake. Double flowered.

So I guess the scores, based on available internet info, are:

Criteria Score
Thornless 0/6
Strongly scented 4/6
Repeat flowering 5/6
(Semi-)single flowering 3/6
Right size for the space 6/6
Nice colour 6/6

Which I guess means my priorities ended up being colour, size > repeating > scent > single flowering > thornlessness. I wish I’d been a bit more successful in finding single flowered varieties that also had the right size, repeat flowering and scent, but combining single flowers with repeat flowering in particular is pretty hard. For example, many ramblers, and especially the fairly common single flowering ones, do not repeat.

I’ll let you know in a year or two how it all works out…

3 thoughts on “Choosing Roses

  1. I don’t know anything about Roses, but a flower that can be pollinated and be open enough for various insects to feed and drink from would certainly be a good choice from my point of view.

    The more we do the more we have to maintain and I was allowing my front hedge to get bigger but I learnt this year that maintaining something where you need step ladders makes it into a far bigger job and far easier to put off

    • I don’t really understand the obsession with fluffy pompom flowers. I much prefer simple flowers myself, both in terms of appearance as well as wildlife friendliness. Unfortunately that’s the direction rose breeding has been going for the last two or three hundred years.

      Hedges are definitely a pain with ladders since you have to keep going down to move the ladder and then it takes ages. It can also be a bit intimidating waving around a bladed object or power tool with one hand on the ladder, or even worse with no hands on the lander.

  2. Pingback: Scent | Have Some Pi

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