How to Grow Roses (1960) pp. 27-28

John Paul Edwards

WHICH ROSES ARE THE MOST FRAGRANT?

One of the most charming attributes that a rose may have is fragrance.

We say "may have" because many very beautiful roses have little or no discernible fragrance.

The sweet scent of a rose has an evanescent charm difficult to describe or classify. That of any variety may vary in strength and type at different hours of the day. It is affected by temperature and degrees of humidity, by sunlight, and by shade. These scents develop best in a warm, humid atmosphere and are retarded by cool, wet, or very dry conditions.

The odorous oils of roses are of a very complex nature, each variety being made up of many different alcohol esters and aldehydes of a volatile type. They are found chiefly in the flower and its component parts, but their fragrance can often be noted in the leaves, roots and bark.

Rose perfumes, being indefinite and variable, are most difficult to describe; hence, there is no practical or scientific basis for classifying them. Most rose fanciers define them by their resemblance to the real or imagined fragrance of other flowers, fruits, or shrubs.

More than fifty such name comparisons have been noted in book and catalog descriptions. For instance, rose scents are likened to the fragrance of apple, apricot, almond, peach, tangerine, orange, muscat grape, nuts, spices, tea, honey.

Are Old Roses More Fragrant Than New?

Are the old roses more fragrant than the new varieties of today? This query is always a subject for debate among rose growers, particularly those whose rose education started some time ago.

It is true that many of the best modern varieties have little or no fragrance; however, be assured that the same proportion of the old-time roses had a similar lack of perfume. In the spring of 1950, Dr. Walter Lammerts, an eminent hybridizer and rose authority, conducted an interesting experiment. He, with a group of other rose experts, made an organized test of the fragrance characteristics of a great many varieties in the Descanso Rose History Gardens in Southern California. This garden contains some 600 varieties of roses, including nearly every important variety introduced from about the year 1500 to the present time.

The most important varieties of each period of rose history were tested for fragrance by the different members of the committee of experts. The conclusions arrived at by the panel surprised even the authorities themselves. Their findings toppled the old belief that all old roses are fragrant. The test proved rather conclusively that since the beginning of rose history, only about one-third of the varieties introduced in each period could be classified as "fragrant" to "very-fragrant." About the same proportion would classify as "moderately fragrant," and a like proportion as having little or no fragrance.

The panel discovered that few of the more fragrant old-time roses equalled the intensity and variety of fragrance given off by such modern roses as MIRANDY, MISS CLIPPER, HEART'S DESIRE, SUTTER'S GOLD, SAN FERNANDO, or TALLYHO.

In one sense, it is remarkable that today's hybridizers are maintaining just as high a percentage of fragrant varieties as the breeders of the past, because modern hybridizers consider fragrance a desirable but not essential characteristic. When they are developing a new rose, they breed primarily for perfection of color, blossom form, and vigor of growth. Fragrance is rated as a recessive factor, a weak characteristic that is liable to disappear in the hybrids.

Intensely fragrant varieties, if crossed, will usually yield a high percentage of fragrant seedlings. The rich velvety crimsons such as MIRANDY, ETOILE DE HOLLANDE, CRIMSON GLORY, and CHARLES MALLERIN, can always be expected to emit a heady perfume inherited from a far-away damask ancestor. Roses of a pink blend can be expected to inherit fragrance from the same sources as the deep reds — the damasks and the centifolias — but to a lesser degree of intensity. Notably fragrant pinks DAME EDITH HELEN, HECTOR DEANE, LA FRANCE, and MISS CLIPPER. On the other hand, the brilliant scarlets, such as POINSETTIA and SOUTHPORT, do not seem to benefit from their inheritance. Likewise, the pure yellow varieties can rarely be rated as fragrant. When yellows are intensely fragrant, like SUTTER'S GOLD, they show some diffusion of red coloring.

Certain rose parents are favored because they consistently introduce fragrance into their seedlings and their offspring. Three such parents are OPHELIA, HOOSIER BEAUTY, and PREMIER.

If you desire to plant varieties of fine fragrance in your garden, here is a list to choose from:

HECTOR DEANE CAPISTRANO
GIRONA NEIGE PARFUM
MIRANDY TAWNY GOLD
(not for coastal areas) ETOILE DE HOLLANDE
HEART'S DESIRE POLLY
SUTTER'S GOLD SHOT SILK
SAN FERNANDO ANGEL'S MATEU
MISS CLIPPER CHARLES MALLERIN
TALLYHO TEXAS CENTENNIAL
CRIMSON GLORY IMPERIAL POTENTATE
PRES. HERBERT HOOVER THE DOCTOR
CHRYSLER IMPERIAL TIFFANY