No cottage garden would be complete without roses; not the high maintenance, leggy, hybrid teas that most people visualize as the typical rose but the more easy going kind that are usually called old garden roses. This is a varied group but many are fragrant and have double or cabbage type flowers. These were important characteristics to early cottagers along with being easy to grow and propagate. Some are quite large and lanky but fit comfortably into to the cottage garden. Some only bloom once but that one bloom can be spectacular.

The roses in a cottage garden were planted with all the other garden plants, not in a separate rose garden. Here are some old garden roses that graced cottage gardens in the past and are still available today and well worth growing.

‘Celestial’: The strong sweet fragrance and delicate nature of ‘Celestial’s’ flowers belie the toughness of this healthy rose. Introduced in about 1759 in France, ‘Celestial’ has gray-green leaves and can tolerate some shade.

Group: Alba
Flower Color: Light pink
Flowering: Once
Bush Size: 6.6’ H x 4.9’W
Hardiness: Zone 5

‘Zephirine Drouhin’: Want a thornless rose? Here’s one! But lack of thorns is certainly not its only virtues. The semi double 3-4” flowers have a strong sweet fragrance and are borne in clusters of 3-5. Unfortunately, it is prone to mildew.

Group: Bourbon climber
Flower Color: Medium pink
Flowering: Continuous
Bush Size: 9.8 H x 6.6’W
Hardiness: Zone 5

‘Felicite Perpetue’: The crimson buds of this large climber open to pale rose pink, to cream, and finally white flowers. The small flowers are loaded with petals around a button eye and have a strong musky fragrance. They are borne in clusters of 20-40 above small dark healthy leaves. The lax habit of the bush makes it easy to train on arches and arbors.

Group: Sempervirens Hybrid
Flower Color: White
Flowering: Once, mid season
Bush Size: 16’H x 9’ W
Hardiness: Zone 5

‘Felicia’: Sorry, but this one is a relative new comer to cottage gardens. Introduced in 1928, it has been recommended by Christopher Lloyd, the renowned English gardener, for cottage gardens, and it is certainly in keeping with “the look”. The 2” wide flowers have a strong, sweet, musky fragrance, and are borne in loose, open clusters of 5-15 blooms at first, up to 50 later in the season. And it is a good cut flower too.

Group: Hybrid Musk
Flower Color: Pink blend
Flowering: Continuous
Bush Size: 5’ H x 6’ W
Hardiness: Zone 6

Perle d’Or: This is not an old garden rose but does date back to 1875 or 1883 (depending on your source) which just goes to show that cottage gardeners are not stuck on ridged rules. The vermilion buds open to deep apricot pink, and then to white mother of pearl, with the petal back sides a bit darker. The 1½” flowers are borne in clusters of 5-25 and have a sweet and fruity fragrance.  This rose has been given the designation of ‘Earth Kind’ indicating its ability to grow with very little care.

Group: Polyantha
Flower Color: Yellow blend
Flowering: repeats well
Bush Size: 3’ H x 3’ W
Hardiness: Zone 6

'Lilian Austin'

If you want a modern rose that is easier to find in the trade and has “the look” of old garden roses consider the David Austin roses. They are breath taking in beauty and preserve the flower form and often the fragrance of old garden roses. In my hot humid weather they grow much larger than the sizes given in the promotions and are prone to black spot. In spite of these faults, I love them, and have grown several, my favorites being ‘Ambridge’ and ‘Lillian Cottage gardens pointerAustin’ neither of which have had disease problems.

By Karen