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Ten English Roses with Most Bewitching Fragrance

English Rose ‘Gabriel Oak’

The fragrance of a fine rose beguiles, much like that of a fine wine or perfume. It teases and entrances both the nose and the mind. Among roses, those most synonymous with evocative fragrance are the sumptuous English Roses bred by the team at David Austin Roses in Shropshire, England.

“Fragrance is bred into all English Roses — it’s an essential trait,” says horticulturist Rebecca Koraytem, senior U.S. sales executive for David Austin Roses. “In fact, the quest to reintroduce the lost fragrance of antique roses is where David Austin’s romance with roses began some 60 years ago now.” Today, more than 100 English Rose varieties are available to U.S. and Canadian gardeners coast-to-coast at davidaustinroses.com. Many are also available at fine garden centers that carry Austin roses, with varieties selected for best regional performance.

While English Roses are known for fragrance, it is just one of the key traits they’re bred to deliver. “What gardeners want are roses worth sniffing,” says Koraytem, “that also check off boxes for nice bush, good health, and awesome bloom all season long.”

There’s a Bit of Mystery Involved

Nearly all David Austin English Roses are fragrant, each with a distinct and delicious perfume all its own. However, some scents are more intense and some more subtle. “This just adds to the fun of choosing which varieties to grow,” says Koraytem.

In hybridizing, both rose parents contribute signature genes for scent. The resulting offspring have signature scents of their own, carrying elements drawn, variously and in different configurations, from the five primary rose scent characterizations: Old Rose, fruity, myrrh, musk, Tea — or any mixtures of these scents.  “Ultimately, there’s a bit of mystery involved,” says Koraytem, “and fragrance mixes can be quite complex.”     

Ten Bewitchingly Fragrant English Roses

For U.S. and Canadian gardeners with a nose for fragrance, Ms. Koraytem has compiled a list of bewitchingly fragrant English Roses for North American gardens. Each has a delightfully strong and delicious perfume. For reference, she provides descriptions of the primary rose fragrance groups, as outlined by David Austin Roses in its annual Handbook of Roses/USA Edition.

  • Old Rose: traditional, warm, heady, slightly sweet
  • Fruity: zesty citrus, rich berry, exotic fruits
  • Myrrh: distinctive, spicy, sweet anise, medicinal
  • Musk: warm, rich, spicy, clove, sweet
  • Tea: fresh tea, slightly spicy, fruity, sweet
  • Mixed: featuring any mixture of the five primary elements

‘Bathsheba (Myrrh): an apricot-colored English Climbing Rose, it has a superb floral myrrh fragrance, with hints of honey and tea, very warm in character. Details: the shallow-cupped flowers are dense with petals in a delicious apricot color that subtly blends shades of apricot-pink and soft yellow. The outer petals are creamy, framing the flower to create a halo effect. Bloom size is large, with 170 petals per flower. A short climber that grows to 10 feet. USDA Zones 5-11.

‘Charles Darwin’ (Tea): a yellow English Rose with strong, delicious fragrance that varies between soft floral Tea and pure lemon. In breeding, yellow roses with a beautiful flower, natural strength and also strong fragrance are difficult to achieve, thus uncommon and highly prized. Details: the lush, cupped flowers are a lovely earthy shade of yellow, with a nod toward mustard. Bloom size is large, with 140 petals. Grows 4.5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. USDA Zones 5-11.

‘Desdemona’ (Old Rose): a beautiful white English Rose with a strong Old Rose fragrance carrying hints of almond blossom, cucumber and lemon zest. Details: the buds are peachy pink, the chalice-shaped flowers with incurved petals are white with a breath of palest pink. Bloom size is medium, with 52 petals. Grows 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. USDA Zones 5-11.

‘Emily Brontë’ (Tea/Old Rose): a pink-apricot flower with a strong Tea/Old Rose fragrance with an interesting twist. The flowers open with a heady Tea scent. In mid bloom, the Tea scent wanes and becomes Old Rose, with delicious hints of lemon and grapefruit. Details: A distinctive neat, flat bloom and a button eye. The open rosette is blush pink with an apricot center and a subtle shimmer of palest apricot throughout, quickly fading to cream color. Bloom size is large, with 106 petals. Grows 4 feet tall by 3.5 feet wide. USDA Zones 5-11.

‘Gabriel Oak’ (Fruity): a magnificent, deep-pink English Rose with beautiful petal-packed flowers and a wonderful strong fruity fragrance. Details: beautifully-formed flowers in a striking shade of deep pink, with a romantic look that is very much in the style of the Old Roses. The flowers are held on mulberry purple stems and framed by dark green foliage. ‘Gabriel Oak’ is an exemplary repeat bloomer, nearly covered with flowers from early summer till frost. Bloom size is large. Grows 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide. USDA Zones 4-11.

‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Old Rose): a pink English Rose with a strong, beautifully-rounded perfume considered by many to be the quintessential Old Rose fragrance. It is rich, complex and perfectly balanced. Details: rosette-shaped flowers in bright, pink. Begins blooming very early in summer, well before other varieties. Bloom size is large, with 80 petals. The bushy shrub grows 5 feet tall by 3.5 feet wide. As a short climber, grows 10 feet. USDA Zones 4-11.

‘Harlow Carr’ (Old Rose): a mid-pink rose imbued with a strong, pure Old Rose scent that perfectly fits its classic, lush Old Rose flower form. Its fragrance has been described as a “true rose” floral scent. Details: perfectly-formed, shallow-cup flowers. An exceptionally free flowering English Rose that is nearly covered in blooms from early summer till fall. Performs well in both hotter and colder areas. Bloom size is medium, with 120 petals. Grows 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. USDA Zones 4-11.

‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ (Tea): a bright pink English Rose with a delightful fresh Tea fragrance that changes to lemon, ultimately adding hints of blackcurrants. Details: the unusually large flower has a full, many-petalled cup and rich glowing-pink coloration. Bloom size is large, with 130 petals. The well-rounded shrub grows 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. USDA Zones 4-11.

‘Scepter’d Isle’ (Myrrh): a blush pink English Rose that flaunts a distinctive, award-winning fragrance described as a powerful English myrrh. Details: the soft-pink flowers with yellow stamens are beautifully cupped, and held gracefully above the foliage. Winner of Royal National Rose Society’s Henry Edland Award for fragrance. Bloom size is medium large, with 45 petals. Grows 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. USDA Zones 4-11.

‘The Poet’s Wife’ (Fruity): a lovely, rich-yellow English Rose with an Old Rose scent that has strong hints of lemon rind, peach and mango that become stronger and sweeter with age. Details: fully-double, yellow flowers that are unusually rich in color. Bloom size is large, with 77 petals. Bush shrub with arching branches and glossy leaves. Grows 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide. USDA Zones 4-11.