Reviving Grandmother’s Roses: Bringing Back Yesterday’s Treasures

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During the centuries, the rose has reigned as the queen of flowers. Several distinct types have attained popularity, each, in its turn, considered the acme of rose perfection. 

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Yet, many of the original species of roses and old favorites possess desirable attributes not found in the modern varieties. 

If their assets were more widely known, Grandmother’s roses would rival the new in popularity.

Using Our Present-day Rose Favorites

Even the most ardent admirer of old-fashioned roses realizes that they are not equipped to replace our present-day favorites. But they can be used advantageously with hybrid teas, floribundas, and climbers

What is more, they take part with considerable poise in an overall landscape scheme where the finest hybrid tea would be at a loss. 

Collectors’ items though the species roses may be, and joy as such to the hobbyist, they have the true aristocrat’s ability to mix companionably with more common garden inhabitants. 

Fortunately, garden designers and commercial rose growers are beginning to appreciate their qualities, and the better of the species and old roses will soon be more readily obtainable.

Primitive Roses Classed As Shrubs

These more primitive roses should be classed as shrubs rather than bedding plants; their worth becomes apparent when compared with other shrubs. 

In addition to possessing certain sentimental and genealogical value, they are, as a whole, dependably, hardy, disease resistant, tolerant of soil and environment – and downright attractive, too.

Accent Points in Shrub Border or Foundation

Since they differ considerably in stature, habit, and blossom color, many have utilitarian and esthetic traits. 

Some are ideal subjects for accent points in the shrub border or foundation planting and individual specimens. 

Others may be used to conceal an unsightly view, to form an impregnable hedge, to prevent erosion, or for naturalizing. 

Against a picket fence, along a drive, grouped in the center of a turnabout, as a pair of slightly bristly sentinels at the entrance gate, wherever there is sun, these roses will hold their own as stars or sturdy supporters in the garden scheme. 

Some of the taller kinds make an ideal background for a birdbath; smaller ones complement a sundial.

Still, the flowering period is long and profuse. The blossoms are often followed by brightly colored fruits or hips that add greatly to the autumn beauty of the garden and contribute to indoor bouquets. 

Planting these roses invariably increases the bird population in a garden, as they find the thorny branches a safe and desirable nesting place. Birds are also fond of fruits.

Old Fashioned Roses Require More Attention

Old-fashioned roses require no more attention than other shrubs. An annual springtime removal of dead and exceedingly old wood and cutting back too rampant growth will suffice. 

More severe pruning of roses may increase the size of individual blooms, but there will be fewer flowers, and, in many instances, an unpruned plant is far more attractive than a tailored one.

Heavy Feeding

Heavy feeding for roses is usually unnecessary, but occasional fertilization of the old horticultural varieties increases growth and flower production. 

The species of roses seemingly prefer a not-too-rich soil; excess feeding often produces too rampant growth and fewer blossoms. The wild roses of various parts of the world are not accustomed to the highly fertile soil.

Appreciating Their Value

Interest in these wildings, once enjoyed only by botanists, is now being increasingly shared by home gardeners who are learning to appreciate their sturdiness, dependability, and decorative value. 

Available Old And Specific Roses

The following are old and specific roses available from one or more commercial growers, constitute a representative but a brief list of desirable sorts. 

There are many others. (Species are distinguished from horticultural varieties by the letter R., an abbreviation for Rosa, that precedes the species name.)

R. Alba

R. ALBA is vigorous but occasionally leggy, with semi-double white blooms and large scarlet fruits. It is a fine 6-foot accent or specimen plant.

R. Centifolia

R. CENTIFOLIA, or “hundred-leaf rose.” was a favorite in Grandmother’s garden and merits equal popularity now. The basic color is pink with numerous hybrids of other hues. It rarely sets fruit. A few of these six-footers will screen a compost heap or utility yard.

Crested Moss

CRESTED MOSS, one of our most neglected roses, grows and produces annually a crop of the most attractive buds in rosedom.

Fragrant and deep pink, they are surrounded by a mossy fringe. For best results, fertilize and prune sparingly—and add a few to the informal shrub border.

Harison’s Yellow

HARISON’S YELLOW is a truly American rose discovered in New York City in about 1830. The pale yellow, double flowers are produced on a 5’ to 8-foot plant that dislikes pruning. A pair at the entrance of the rose garden marks the grower as a rose connoisseur.


HERMOSA, an everblooming, semi-hardy rose that grows about 2’ feet tall, has Luther small blossoms, quite double, fragrant, and blush pink in color. It would make a low hedge along a sunny terrace.

R. Hugonis

R. HUGONIS, the “golden rose of China” bears single yellow flowers profusely in early spring. In poor soil, which it prefers. T

he bush frequently exceeds 8’ feet. The small, round fruits fall early. One specimen will conceal the blank wall of a small tool sited.

Maiden’s Blush

MAIDEN’S BLUSH is a hybrid of R. alba, from which it differs mainly in the color of the bloom. This soft pink variety is less vigorous than its parent.

Maman Cochet

MAMAN COCHET, an everblooming Tea rose, is a definite aristocrat with large, well-formed, fragrant, pale pink blossoms. 

Be sure to find a spot for it in the rose garden if you live where winter protection is unnecessary or easily accomplished. A white form is also available at most nurseries.

R. Moyesi

R. MOYESI may be somewhat temperamental in growth, but it frequently attains 10’ feet or more in height if grown in poor soil and not pruned. 

The striking two-and-a-half-inch single flowers are blood red followed by 2-inch long deep orange-red fruits.


MULTIFLORA is far too vigorous for the small garden. However, if properly pruned, it may be used as a tall hedge, screen, or game cover on a large property. 

The small white blossoms resemble those of the blackberry and are hallowed by small, round, red fruits that are persistent and attractive. It is not particular about soil.

R. Mundi

R. MUNDI makes a charming 2 to 3-foot hedge. The large, semi-double flowers never fail to attract attention, as they are broadly striped red or dark roses on white or pale pink ground.

Old Bush

OLD BLUSH is similar to Hermosa, but blossoms are single and larger in diameter. The fruits are persistent.

R. Roxburghi

R. ROXBURGHI, the “burr rose.” is available in single or double form. The former blooms but once and is dependably hardy, while the latter repeat but suffers winter injury in the North. 

The bark of both is sycamore-like in appearance, and the foliage is attractive. The common name is derived from the prickly fruits which fall early. 

Where climate permits, the double form often grows to 6’ feet, while the single form is even more vigorous. The Blossom color is white to pale pink. It’s a fine specimen.

R. Rubrifolia

R. RUBRIFOLIA, the “red-leaf rose,” has small pink, starlike blossoms of minor importance. The foliage is attractive outdoors and in arrangements.

R. Spinosissima Altaica

R. SPINOSISSIMA ALTAICA, one of the most attractive and hardy of all species roses, grows to about 6’ feet and bears large, single white blooms succeeded by large black fruits. The compact growth makes it a fine specimen or accent plant.


SALET, undoubtedly the best of the available everblooming moss roses, has rosy pink double flowers that are well missed. 

It stands about 5’ feet tall and is handsome in a mass planting.

R. Willmottiae

R. WILLMOTTIAE, a treelike species from China, often grows to 10’ feet or more and produces myriads of one-and-a-quarter-inch single, rose-purple flowers, then half-inch long, orange-red fruits. 

A handsome alternative for a lilac bush, his graceful species rose should be pruned sparingly to reveal its beauty.

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