Scented Roses and Scented Rose Foliage

Perfume in Roses

For many people, one of the keenest pleasures of growing roses comes from their fragrance. Nothing gives me greater joy than the scent of the leaves of the sweet briar, which can be particularly strong on a warm summer evening, especially after a shower of ram. The scent of its hybrids, the Penzance briars, is also very pleasing, although not quite so rich in quality. Rosa primula is well known as the incense rose from the strongly aromatic perfume not only of its leaves but of its wood. R. setipoda is also worth growing for the scent of its leaves, and it has passed this quality on to the hybrid R. x wintoniensis. Noteworthy also for their scent are the moss roses, and the flower stalks of some of the old garden roses, especially when crushed lightly in the hand.

Most appealing generally, however, is the perfume of the flowers themselves, a quality looked for first by many people. Having visited a large public rose garden under many times for several years, this fact became very obvious to me. On entering the garden many visitors stopped to smell the rose blooms before making any attempt to take in the visual effect of the flowers, and generally moved on quickly to another variety in search of an even finer fragrance. It is often asserted that modern roses do not have the scent of the older varieties. In fact, many modern roses, particularly hybrid teas, are superbly fragrant, whereas some older roses have little, if any scent. Furthermore, some modern floribunda roses now have a fragrance that is even sweeter than that of many hybrid teas.

Fragrance in roses is a very elusive quality, particularly when one tries to describe it. It depends to a certain extent on individual appreciation, which can and does differ considerably. Sensitivity to scents varies greatly amongst individuals. Tobacco smokers and sufferers from nasal catarrh are generally considered to be handicapped in their ability to enjoy scent.

Blindness concentrates sensitivity on the other faculties, and blind people often have an enhanced sense of smell. For this reason they are sometimes asked to judge roses for fragrance. Some blind people have developed this talent to such an extent that they can instantly recognise individual varieties.

Climatic conditions, temperature, and general humidity cause variations in the fragrance of flowers, while individual varieties diffuse their scent at different stages in the life of the flower — some early, others when fully open.

I have always found that scent is elusive when the temperature is low. Despite this, I think morning is the best time for rose scents, especially after a damp night when the sun has not yet raised the temperature but has dried the flowers. Perhaps the most pleasurable fragrance is that known as damask. This has long been associated with some of the old garden roses but is also to be found in several more modern varieties.

Most rosarians, while admitting the importance of fragrance, lay greater stress on form and colour when assessing a variety. The late Harry Wheat-croft, one of the world’s most renowned rosarians, put it most succinctly when he insisted that ‘the eye comes before the nose’. Nevertheless, fragrance undoubtedly plays a large part in the average rose grower’s choice of varieties. The following are brief selections of fragrant roses of different types; those marked with an asterisk * are the most strongly (although not necessarily the most attractively) scented.

Hybrid Tea Roses:

‘Adolph Horstmann’

‘Alec’s Red’

‘Alpine Sunset’


‘Blue Moon’




‘Elizabeth Harkness’

‘Ella Harkness’

‘Ernest H. Morse’

‘Fragrant Cloud’

‘Helen Traubel’

‘Josephine Bruce’

‘Just Joey’

‘Lady Sylvia’

‘Maki Rubinstein’


‘Mullard Jubilee’

‘My Choice’

‘Northern Lights’


‘Papa Meilland’

‘Precious Platinum’

‘Prima Ballerina’

‘Super Star’

‘Susan Hampshire’

‘Sutter’s Gold’



‘Typhoo Tea’

‘Wendy Cussons’

‘Whisky Mac’


Floribunda Roses:

‘Apricot Nectar’

‘Arthur Bell’

‘Burma Star’



‘Elizabeth of Glamis’


‘Harry Edland’




Lilac Charm’

‘Margaret Merril’



‘Moon Maiden’

‘Orange Sensation’

‘Orange Silk’

‘Pernille Poulsen’

‘Pineapple Poll’

‘Rob Roy’

‘Sea Pearl’

‘Sugar Sweet’



Scented Foliage

scented rose - Rosa eglanteria Rosa eglanteria, the sweet briar, is a native of Britain and Europe; its dense, prickly stems are frequently found in hedges, producing a spicy fragrance that emanates from glands on the underside of the leaves. It is especially noticeable in wet weather or on a warm summer evening. The single flowers in shades of pink are also scented and are followed by bright red hips. Sometimes it is recommended as a hedge in smaller gardens, but a single plant placed discreetly in the background will be sufficient to provide its perfume without disclosing the inelegance of the mature plant, especially as it is susceptible to black spot.

The hybrids usually known as the Penzance briars (they were sent out by Lord Penzance in 1894 and 1895) have become more popular than R. eglanteria because they are more robust in growth and more colourful in flower — although the scent of their foliage is usually less striking. The following are typical examples.

‘Amy Robsart’, up to 3 m (10 ft). Deep, clear-pink, semi-double flowers, followed by attractive scarlet hips.

‘Anne of Geierstein’. Dark-crimson, single flowers succeeded by good hips. Medium-strong scent.

‘Lady Penzance’, 2 m (6 ft). Not as vigorous as other varieties, but has most attractive single, coppery salmon-pink flowers. Must be watched for black spot on its scented foliage.

‘Lord Penzance’. Much like Lady Penzance in vigour; the single flowers are soft, rosy yellow, paler than those of Lady Penzance and less attractive. Foliage quite strongly scented.

‘Meg Merrilees’, 3 m (10 ft). Semi-double, crimson flowers are produced freely. One of the best of the hybrids, with both flowers and leaves nicely scented, and followed by bright-red hips. Makes a tall hedge, but somewhat liable to black spot.

Rosa glutinosa. An uncommon dwarf, which in fact I have never seen planted as an ornamental shrub. It has pine-scented foliage.

R. primula, 2.1 m (7 ft) and more. Produces its attractive creamy yellow, single flowers generally in May. The slight fragrance of the flowers is overshadowed by the strong scent, reminiscent of incense, that emanates from both the brown wood and the decorative ferny leaves of this fine shrub. This scent is readily carried on the slightest puff of wind, and one plant strategically placed near the garden door will provide much pleasure.

R. setipoda, up to 3 m (10 ft). A fine shrub worth growing where there is room for its handsome foliage, which is glandular underneath and scented as a sweet briar. The strength of the fragrance is greatly increased if the leaves are crushed in the hand. The beautifully formed pink flowers are followed by orange-red hips.

R. x wintoniensis. A hybrid more akin to R. setipoda than to its female parent, R. moyesii. The clusters of deep rose-pink flowers are followed by bristly orange-red hips. The scent of its foliage is similar in quality and strength to that of the sweet briar.


11. March 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Roses | Tags: , | Comments Off on Scented Roses and Scented Rose Foliage


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