Chairman’s Top 10

You might like to choose some of the once flowering old roses, both shrub and rambling, that will give several weeks of colour as well as having a wonderful fragrance.

All images © Howard Rice, except Rosa spinosissima 'Double White', which is © Peter Beales Roses.

1. 'Ispahan'

Certainly the best of the Damask roses and arguably the best of all once-flowering roses. While it does not repeat flower it has all the other characters one would wish for in a rose. The blooms are classic old rose in form, with many petals arranged in a rosette formation, and the fragrance is both glorious and strong. It is the first to start flowering and the last to stop. A very healthy rose and, uniquely for a Damask, semi evergreen. It is normally seen as a shrub 5-6ft/1.5-2m tall and about the same across, but it also makes a wonderful climber over an arch or obelisk, which helps to keep it a neater state. Introduced c.1832.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 5

2. 'Celsiana'

Not a classic old rose in that the flowers are semi double with about 10-12 petals, but nonetheless a particularly beautiful one. Along with its excellent health and fragrance, it is a very worthwhile variety. One of the most pleasing characters is the colour gradation between the unopened buds, which are pale red, through soft pink in the newly opened bloom to the palest pink when the petals are ready to drop. The large boss of golden yellow stamens adds to the beauty. Flowering starts before most others and continues over several weeks. It has a lovely relaxed, arching habit and will reach a height and spread of about 5ft/1.5m. Introduced c.1750.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 5

3. 'Queen of Denmark'

With its very full flowers and very strong fragrance, this is an absolutely classical old rose. It is classified as an Alba but in fact is probably a hybrid with a Damask. The petals are the purest pink, almost sugary pink in the middle, paling towards the outside. The form of the flower is particularly beautiful, often quartered, sometimes with a button eye, and the fragrance is one of the very best – strong and sweet. It is particularly tough and healthy with fairly upright bushy growth, and the leaves have the greyish tint typical of the Albas.  Introduced 1826.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 4

4. 'Mme Plantier'

While the youngest flowers are pale pink, they very quickly pale, so the overall effect is very much of a pure white rose. The flowers, which are medium sized and very full petalled with a button eye, are produced generously in good-sized clusters. The fragrance is delicious and strong. The thornless stems are very lax, making, with light pruning, a lovely rounded shrub. It can also be trained to make an excellent short climber. It is very healthy and particularly winter hardy. Introduced 1835.

Hardiness: H6, USDA zone 4

5. 'William Lobb'

Arguably the best of the moss roses and, with its very large purple blooms, almost certainly the easiest to recognise. As a group the amount of mossiness varies considerably between varieties, but William Lobb is generously endowed, stretching from the sepals to some way down the stems. The moss, like the glandular hairs below the flowers in the gallicas, has a strong resinous smell. It will send up very long stems, often over 6ft/2m in a year, which can be allowed to flop over and so encourage side shoots and so more flowers, or trained in as a climber. Introduced 1855.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 5

6. Rosa spinosissima 'Double White'

The Scots Roses, hybrids and forms of Rosa spinosissima, include some very beautiful and worthwhile varieties. With their small leaflets and very thorny stems, they are easy to recognise. They are also particularly tough, growing well even in very tough conditions. Uniquely the species and some of its offspring have black hips. 'Double White' is one of the very best with small, rounded, loosely double flowers that are freely produced 3-4 weeks earlier than most other roses. The fragrance is particularly delicious – strongly reminiscent of lily-of-the-valley. C.1800. Height about 5ft/1.5m by a little less across.

Hardiness: H6, USDA zone 4

7. 'Adélaide d’Orléans'

Despite it not repeat flowering, having only a light fragrance and setting no hips, this, with its very generous flowering, very beautiful individual blooms and lax growth, is one of the very best of the ramblers. The tight buds are crimson but are pure white when open, the yellow stamens nicely visible in the middle. With its lax stems the whole effect is one of charm and beauty. Being a hybrid of R. sempervirens it is more less evergreen in the UK and is especially healthy. It is a vigorous variety, able to reach a height of 16ft/5m and so needs something substantial to grow over. Introduced 1826.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 6

8. 'Cécile Brunner' Climbing

'Cécile Brunner' Climbing must be a strong contender for the most free flowering of all climbers. It can reach great heights – as much as 25ft/8m – and will be a mass of soft pink at its peak, with hardly a leaf visible. It is a result of a sport from the repeat flowering shrub – 'Cécile Brunner', otherwise known as the Sweetheart rose. The climbing form only repeats a little if at all. Each bloom is like a perfectly formed miniature hybrid tea, with scrolled petals in the early stage but then opening to a fairly full petalled bloom sometimes with a button eye. The fragrance is sweet and of medium strength. Introduced 1894.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 6

9. Rosa californica 'Plena'

As the name suggests, R. californica is a species rose native to the western side of North America. It has single rich pink flowers and is particular tough, able to grow in a wide range of conditions, even in permanently wet soils. It was bred by Rudolf Geschwind (1829-1910), who was a very original and prolific rose breeder from Hungary. He employed many different species to try to develop roses that were hardy, healthy and repeat flowering. While it does not repeat flower, it is very beautiful and very fragrant too. It looks quite species-like with wiry, vigorous growth, and the flowers are like those of its parent but semi double. Introduced 1894. Height 8ft/2.5m by 6ft/2m.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 5

10. 'Francis E. Lester'

This is a vigorous rambler with single, soft pink flowers that look quite dog-rose-like, although it is not thought to be related to R. canina. In fact it came as a seedling from the hybrid musk 'Kathleen'. The individual flowers are about 2”/5cm across and produced in large heads of up to 30 blooms. They are followed by an equal number of small orange hips that, if not taken by the birds first, will last well into the winter. With so many flowers the strong fruity, musky fragrance is detectable from some distance away. Height 15ft/5m. Introduced 1946.

Hardiness: H5, USDA zone 6