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Sumptuous English Rose Fragrances Explained

For those who feel a rose is not a rose without fine fragrance, the perfumed English Roses bred by David Austin Roses must seem sent from heaven. Add their romantic, many-petalled blossoms, luscious color and robust good health and you have what many consider the ultimate garden rose.

While all Austin roses have sumptuous fragrance, no two are exactly alike. Each of the more than 100 English Rose varieties available to U.S. and Canadian gardeners has a distinct signature scent all its own, and each embraces elements drawn from one or more of the five basic rose fragrance groups: Old Rose, fruity, myrrh, musk and Tea.

This walk through of the basic rose fragrance groups, with examples of English Rose varieties that embody them, is provided by horticulturist Rebecca Koraytem, U.S. sales executive for David Austin Roses Ltd. English Roses are available by mail order at davidaustinroses.com. Many are also available at fine garden centers that carry Austin roses. All are top performers in the garden, with abundant repeat bloom, early summer through fall. 

English Rose ‘Desdemona’

Old Rose:  traditional, warm, heady, slightly sweet – This was David Austin’s own favorite rose fragrance: the classic Old Rose scent that will be immediately familiar to all leaning in for a sniff. To him, it was the most alluring of all rose perfumes. It is almost exclusively found in pink and red roses. Of course, there are many variations, as each English Rose variety’s fragrance has its own character, and the pool of differentiating minor character scents can range as far apart as “oak” to “strawberry.” Excellent examples include: ‘Desdemona’, ‘Susan Williams-Ellis’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Munstead Wood’ and ‘Harlow Carr’.

English Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’

Tea: fresh tea, slightly spicy, fruity, sweet – Often compared to the aroma of a freshly-opened packet of fine China tea, initially this scent may overwhelm softer notes in a variety’s fragrance such as honey or citrus, which become apparent a day or two later. In English Roses, the Tea scent most frequently appears in the yellow and apricot roses. Excellent examples include: ‘Vanessa Bell’, ‘Charles Darwin’, ‘Princess Anne’, ‘Graham Thomas’, ‘Golden Celebration’, ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’, ‘The Lady Gardener’, ‘Roald Dahl‘ and ‘Lady of Shalott‘.

English Rose ‘Boscobel’

Myrrh: distinctive, spicy, sweet anise, medicinal – This intriguing scent has an aromatic, earthy warmth related to sweet anise. Among roses, it is now found almost exclusively in English Roses, primarily among pinks and apricots. Other plants with an element of myrrh in their fragrances are lilac and hawthorn. The name is believed to derive from Myrrhis odorata (sweet cicely), which has sweet anise-scented leaves. Myrrh is especially delicious when layered with Tea, Old Rose or fruity elements. Often there are delicious hints of citrus, pear, almond, vanilla, honey, clove and more. Excellent examples include: ‘Bathsheba’, ‘Boscobel’, ‘Wollerton Old Hall’, ‘Strawberry Hill’, ‘Gentle Hermione’, ‘Scepter’d Isle’, ‘Claire Austin’, ‘Constance Spry’ and ‘The Ancient Mariner’.

English Rose ‘The Albrighton Rambler’

Musk: warm, rich, spicy, clove, sweet – Even a small amount of musk scents the air. Unlike other rose scents which emanate from the petals, musk comes from the flower stamens. Human noses are particularly sensitive to musk. Even tiny quantities of musk are perceived, as they shake or waft off stamens on soft breezes. Musk is most often found in the rambler roses, where single flowers with prominent stamens are abundant. Excellent examples include: English Rose Ramblers ‘Snow Goose’, ‘The Albrighton Rambler’ and ‘Malvern Hills’; and English Shrub Roses ‘Lichfield Angel‘ and ‘Tottering-by-Gently‘.

English Rose ‘The Poet’s Wife’

Fruity: zesty citrus, rich berry, exotic fruits – The rose is related to many fruits, including apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries and apricots. This intriguing family connection is evident in the fragrances of English Roses of all colors. Fruity notes may include apple, raspberry, strawberry, pear and lemon and even more exotic lychee and guava. Excellent examples include: ‘Estacia Vye’, ‘Gabriel Oak’, ‘The Poet’s Wife’, ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ , ‘Jubilee Celebration’ and‘ Jude the Obscure’.

English Rose ‘The Generous Gardener’

 Mixed: Some English Roses may feature two of more of the five basic fragrances, combined variously and in distinct configurations. Excellent examples include: ‘Emily Bronte‘ (Tea/Old Rose),’The Generous Gardener‘ (Old Rose/musk/myrrh), Young Lycidas‘ (Tea/Old Rose) andThe Lark Ascending‘ (Tea/myrrh).

English Roses are available to U.S. and Canadian gardeners coast-to-coast at davidaustinroses.com and at fine garden centers that carry David Austin roses. To request a copy of the Handbook of Roses visit davidaustinroses.com , email , or call 800-328-8893.