Antique Roses: What You Need To Know

Antique roses are making a comeback in many rose gardens. Rose enthusiasts are rediscovering their ease of care, heady fragrances, and hardier nature. They are more resistant to many insects and diseases than their more sensitive, modern cousins. Just as with many aspects of “heritage”… Old is good!

“Old”, is ‘hip’, ‘with-it’, ‘cool’….’phat’, even. And although these terms may not be so ”in” – depending on your generation –, ”heritage”, ”antique”, or simply trusted, beloved and admired things of the past are again “in vogue”.

Clothes that mimic those we relinquished to the rag bag (and wouldn’t be caught dead in) have become the rage, and wind-storm-look hairdos and retro-look furniture have become as coveted as true antique heirlooms are by avid collectors.

Old-time vegetables and flowers are also making a comeback in many a garden, and among these are roses. “Antique/Old Garden/ Heritage” roses, –showing that “heritage” means something. Old is good.

Rose enthusiasts everywhere are turning again to antique roses for their gardens, for good reasons. The many advantages of these old garden roses are being rediscovered. Their general ease of care, as compared to some of their more sensitive, more “modern” cousins, is one of their prized winning attributes. Not all heritage varieties are immune to the dastardly black spot disease, but most suffer little from its effects, and this eliminates the regular spray programs required by more delicate cousins. Other diseases and insects aren’t usually major problems with this group…assuming you have provided them with proper nurture.

Old Garden roses are known for their gloriously abundant perfumes, and they need less major pruning. As more hardy shrubs or climbers, they lend themselves to many landscape uses, allowing them to socialize and adorn our yards with vertical bloom and graceful arches in various areas, as opposed to confinement to one rose bed or area.

Some of these ‘old’ standbys can tolerate light shade as well. They can demand less water and fertilizer than do the “newer” hybrid teas, for instance. And they can be rooted fairly easily for propagation, offering a pat to the pocketbook as well.

So why, with all these wonderful habits, did they pass into the shadows? As with fads in any area of consumerism, the “new” versions capture the tide. With the introduction of the Hybrid Tea, the excitement of a totally “new” look in roses, along with much larger blooms, and a nearly constant blooming ability lasting through the growing season, caused quite the stir. New colors were subsequently introduced as well, bringing delight and variety to the mostly pastel range of the Antiques.

The exquisite, high-pointed, high-center bloom of the Hybrid Tea came to be the darling of the twentieth century, and the most recognized form of rose yet today. The trade-off for all this beauty, charm, and grace was a loss of scent and the need for more maintenance. Like ladies of high fashion, many newer versions require more “polish” to keep them happy, they may have some robust genes of their parentage diluted, and demand more attention to maintain their most lovely qualities.

I enjoy and relish the personalities and various attributes of adornment of all my roses. The modern versions and the old garden. I can’t, however, imagine my hardscape without the perky, petite, sprays of pink blooms of my trusty fairy roses, that have staunchly held up to mounds of snow, provided cover too many a mother rabbit and babies, and staunchly faced some unhappy heat of summer, yet keep coming back for more to spread and adorn the drive. Nor can I imagine trading my Zepherine Drouhin, for a modern climber. This old garden rose lavishly drapes my walkway arbor with gorgeous, large, deep pink blooms and provides an exquisite perfume that literally makes my heart sing. Neighbors may wonder as I linger for minutes on end with my nose shoved between the lattice, inhaling blossom after blossom of heady, intoxicating perfume…with no worries about thorns! This wonderful Bourbon Rose is thornless!

So, the next time one of your progeny or loved ones implies that you are “out of it, old-fashioned, set in your ways, stuck in a rut”, –or whatever the phrase of the day maybe…tell them they’re” trippin’…chill out”.

And then tell them this story about antique roses. Old is good. And show them your roses. But hand them one with a thorn…