Old Garden Roses in
Santa Barbara –

They Bloom 24 - 7

by Jeri Jennings, Consulting Rosarian
Camarillo, California

Two recent requests for information led me to
consider anew the question: 

“What Old Roses Work Well In Santa Barbara Gardens?”

Most rose books are written by people who garden in conditions far different from ours.  Consequently, the Old Roses that get the most “press” are the ancient European once-bloomers – the graceful Damasks and Albas, the quirky Mosses, and the “Mad” Gallica Roses, with their deeply saturated colors, and blooms often striped and stippled with contrasting shades.  These are great roses.  Because we bought and studied all of the “right” rose books, such roses were the first plantings in our coastal garden.  They were, however, the wrong roses for our conditions, and so lived only a few years.

In our land of long days, little rain, and mild winters, we look instead to the “ever-blooming” (“Yuejihua,” or perpetual-flowering) roses of Asian background. 
The tale is quickly told:  China Roses, Tea Roses and Noisette Roses.  In Coastal Southern California, and in Santa Barbara’s golden weather pattern, the garden based upon these three rose families will be filled with color throughout the year.  Moreover, once established, such roses can thrive, bloom, and survive on far less water than their European and Modern cousins.  And they combine happily with native Salvias, lavenders, and even Plumeria.  The avid gardener can tend them, but they’ll show off quite happily for the busy or lazy rose-lover.

China Roses:
China Roses, twiggy and informal, are long-lived plants which build size slowly, in time becoming large, dense bushes. Their foliage is smooth, long, and pointed.  New growth may have touches of purple, dark red, or bronze.  Blooms, often single or semi-double, are clear red and soft pink, warm yellow, saffron, salmon, and soft orange – often darkening as they age.  These heat-tolerant, drought-resistant plants can fill almost any landscaping niche, and can do the job without fertilizers, sprays, or deadheading. 

China Roses do not go dormant in the winter; they are inspired by winter rains to bloom in generous masses.  In a hot, dry summer, particularly where irrigation is reduced, the China will slip into a quiet period of semi-dormancy, waiting for the cool of fall and winter.  Chinas prefer not to be pruned, or to be pruned only minimally.  They prefer that you NOT remove twiggy or crossing growth.  The old red Chinas, in particular, are unbeatable in our coastal region.

A few good Chinas to consider are:
‘White Pearl in Red Dragon’s Mouth’ (Chi Long Han Zhu) – This ancient garden rose illustrates an old Chinese tale of the red Imperial Dragon.  Long naturalized in the Sierra Foothills of California, it is tough as nails, and blooms cheerfully through rain, heat, and the occasional winter freeze. 
‘Mutabilis’ (The Butterfly Rose) Known in the West since 1894 or earlier, this big, buxom rose is a bush – but it can climb a tree if it’s planted close to one.  It’s officially a Tea Rose, but it acts like a very large China.  Plant it where you can let it grow large, and enjoy the year-round display of color-shifting blooms.
‘Hermosa’ (Int. 1834, France, Marcheseau) This compact, twiggy rose will remain between 2.5 and 3.5 feet.  Bloom is continuous, and disease-resistance is excellent.  ‘Hermosa’ is a common discovery in old California cemeteries, where it survives well with no help at all.
‘Louis Phillipe’ (Guerin, France, 1894)Globular blooms of a deep, rich red gain extra depth from paler inner petals.  Bloom producction is continuous.  This is a rose that can tolerate heat, or enjoy some cool weather.  In maturity, ‘Louis Phillipe’ is a generous arching shrub of some 5 to 6 feet.

Tea Roses:

Tea Roses, descended from the Asian species R. gigantea, are generally upright bushes, well-clothed in handsome foliage, and blooming anywhere from repeatedly to continuously, through the year.  Teas may be fragrant, generally inclining to a scent reminiscent of China Tea, or to a sweet scent usually described as “Sweet Tea”. Some may lack fragrance but make up for it in color.  Many Tea Roses have a reasonable vase life, and make graceful bouquets with a “Victorian” look.
The spiraling form demanded for the modern Hybrid Tea Rose derives from its Tea Rose ancestors, but that “half-open” stage is not desired for Teas.  Bloom colors range throughout the rose palette:  Reds, Pinks, Whites, Blushes, Yellows, Oranges – Most special to Teas are the colors of dawn: Golds, Warm Pinks, and Rose shading into each other, with delicate tints and highlights.

A few great Tea Roses are:

‘Mme. Berkeley’ (Introduced France, 1898, Pierre [fils] Bernaix, parentage is

This lady is unbeatable for continuity of bloom and disease-resistance.  With very little attention ‘Mme. Berkeley’ will become a handsome shrub of some 5-ft x 5-ft., covered in dark green leaves and studded with handsome blooms.  The rather small blooms, a delicious swirl of pink, amber, and cream, have an admirable vase life.
‘Mrs. B.R. Cant’  (Cant, England, 1901)  This is a BIG, buxom Tea Rose is as notable for its disease-resistance and fragrance as it is for its impressive size.  Don’t try to keep this rose small by pruning heavily.   Allow her to achieve some real size (easily 8 ft or more) and she’ll reward you with masses of fragrant, silvery-pink blooms.  This lady blooms early and late, making her a garden all in herself, and requiring little care and fuss.  In fact, she is listed among Texas A&M’s “Earthkind Roses” which survive (once established) in their heat and humidity without supplemental water or spray of any kind.
‘Niles Cochet’
(Sport of ‘Maman Cochet,’ 1906, Calif. Nursery Co., Niles, CA)  Long known as one of the finest roses for Southern California gardens, this is a big handsome bush, never out of bloom.  The nominal bloom color is red, edging to pink toward the center.  But this undecided beauty may bloom in ‘Maman Cochet’s’ solid pink, or in the opalescent white blend of ‘White Maman Cochet.’ Old plants of this cultivar are found across California, their survival attesting to the toughness of the Tea family.  A handsome ‘Niles Cochet’ is one of the principal showpieces of the Stagecoach Inn Heritage Rose Garden, off the 101 Freeway, in Newbury Park.
‘Rosette Delizy’  (France, 1922, Gilbert Nabonnand, ‘General Gallieni’ x ‘Comtesse Bardi’)  The changeable colors of ‘Rosette Delizy’ are a link between the old color-shifting China Roses, and modern roses like the well-loved ‘Joseph’s Coat.’  Slowly, over a period of years, this completely disease-free bush can reach a height of 7-8 feet.  ‘Rosette Delizy’ is continuous-blooming in all but the coldest periods of winter. 

Noisette Roses:

No one can be too thin, too rich, or grow too many Noisettes.
This is the only “family” of garden roses to have originated in the United States.  Sometime after 1800, South Carolina planter John Champneys crossed ‘Old Blush’with the species, Rosa moschata, producing a rose he named ‘Champneys' Pink Cluster.’   Champneys gave his friend Philippe Noisette a number of seedlings.  Philippe, in turn, developed ‘Blush Noisette,’ which he sent to his brother Louis in France.  There, these first “Noisettes” were inevitably crossed with Tea Roses, creating a race of “Tea/Noisettes.” 

Noisette Roses may be bushes or climbers.  Flowers vary in size from small and almost single to very double.  “Immensely clustering” bloom is a distinguishing feature.  Disease resistance is usually high.  Colors range commonly from white, through all shades of pink to buffs and yellows – colors introduced through Tea crosses. 

Consider These Fine Noisette Roses:

‘Blush Noisette’  (Seedling of ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster,’ date unclear, perhaps 1814)  This graceful, arching, bushy plant will grow to perhaps 4 ft tall, and 5 ft. across.  In our mild coastal climate, bloom is continuous in all seasons of the year.  The fragrance is musk and quite intense – carry it into the house in a bouquet stuffed with blush-to-white blooms, perhaps 1.5 inches across when fully opened.  One large spray, as much as 8 inches across, can make a nosegay.  For greatest beauty, deadhead lightly.  Pruning should be confined to removal of dead growth.
‘Reve d’Or’(Noisette, France, or 1869, Claude Ducher.)   This graceful Noisette, of climbing habit, blooms bountifully in the spring, lightly in summer’s heat, and generously again in the fall.  Softly-shaded blooms are full enough to be impressive, but open in almost any climate — AND THE FRAGRANCE!  Oh, MY!  This beauty was planted widely in 19th-Century California gardens.  It’s hardly surprising that many plants survived into the 20th Century.  Take a hint from the perceptive gardeners of the 1800’s, and add this treasure to your garden.
“Setzer Noisette” (Found Noisette Rose, of the ‘Blush Noisette’ “Family” — “With a Twist”) One of many wonderful, cluster-flowering, Noisettes — but this one is different!  No rounded arching Shrub — “Setzer Noisette” is a definite Climber.  Well mannered vigor characterizes this beauty.  It will quickly grow up and over a garden arch, without trying to spread sideways.  It is disease-free, and continuous-blooming; its small, full, white blooms possess in generous measure the musk fragrance for which Noisette Roses are famous.  “Setzer” can bloom right through winter, but cold weather may turn the blooms to a distinct, clear shade of pink. “Setzer Noisette” is said to have been grown by a Virginia family since the early 19th Century.  A Setzer carried the rose to Arkansas, where it was eventually shared forward to California Rosarian Joyce Demits.  This is the essence of a “Passalong Plant.”  It’s not in commerce (though I hope it will be, one day.)  Instead, for two centuries it has been shared from the hand of one gardener to the hand of another.   For the present, this treasure is grown by only a fortunate few. 
‘Lamarque’ (1830,Marechal) One of the great “Tea/Noisettes,” this rose has been in commerce in California since the mid-1800’s.  A ‘Lamarque’ still flourishing in Santa Paula is known to have been brought there from Placerville in 1869.  In a mild climate such as ours, ‘Lamarque’ can grow as a vigorous but controllable climbing rose.  The light green foliage is glossy, ample, and disease-free.  Blooms, carried in large trusses, are white, shading pale lemon toward the center, and scented a mix of citrus and musk.  This is a GREAT rose for Coastal Southern California.

© Jeri Jennings, 2010, including photos.  Please do not reproduce without specific permission of author.

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