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The Charm of Single Roses

Joan Shaw

As Graham Stuart Thomas writes in  his Rose Book, there is no denying that single roses are the most beautiful in the rose world. He quotes a line written by the rosarian E.A. Bunyard in the Royal Horticultural Society's Journal of 1916 that reads, "[S]ingles are God-made, doubles are man-made."

As Thomas points out, all roses were originally single, and stayed that way for many thousands of years. These wild roses would have been composed of five petals
except for Rosa sericea, which has four. This latter rose is a fascinating plant, described in Peter Beales' Classic Roses. The canes are armed with large red translucent hooked thorns that run together down the canes like spines and are especially striking with the sun behind them. Shockingly vicious looking, I've got to tell you, though the flowers are charming – the four white petals are heart shaped, with a gold boss of stamens in the middle.

We have quite a few single roses in the garden here at DragonGoose Farm, some of them species or near-species. The ancient Rosa eglanteria, for instance, the pink apple-scented rose. R. xanthina a pale yellow single that is the first to bloom here. R. foetida bicolor (Austrian Copper) which blooms after R. xanthina. R. hugonis (Father Hugo). And, of course, our native R. woodsii, which stays at a manageable three to four feet on our hillside, but suckers for many feet in all directions and would take over the entire slope without constant mowing.

All of these roses are fragrant, especially the R. woodsii, whose fragrant small pink flowers in spring send waves of perfume up to our place here from its spot on the cut bank below us; but also the four big plants of R. eglanteria which are scattered in three different spots around the garden. They fill the air with fragrance from the glands on their canes and leaves in early morning and after rain storms, and even early in the spring and late in the fall when there are no leaves, let alone blossoms on the plants.

The roses mentioned above also reproduce, not only by suckering, but by seeds. And they naturally hybridize as the old single roses did in the wild. The ones we have here have twice hybridized with other, double roses nearby with no help from us. We've kept a rose that seems to be a cross between the R. eglanteria and a high-centered, soft rose colored double, Griffith Buck's 'Earth  Song'. I think a serious hybrizer would have grubbed it out by now because, though the blossom shape is fully double, the petals are an almost colorless pink and the blossoms droop downward. Another one, with many characteristics of our R. eglanteria, is more compact, promises to be much less tall, and the flowers are slightly smaller.

Aside from these species and near-species roses, we also have a nice collection of more or less modern singles.


Introduced by the Breeder, Mathias Tantau, in 1961, 'Hanseat' is a single rose of light carmine petals with a dark magenta flush at the base. The anthers are an olive green, the stamens cerise. An unusual combination of colors! And from a distance, a truly striking sight.
I have two plants of 'Hanseat' growing up poles across from my study window and feel grateful that they hold their petals for so long. What's more, they bloom continually during the growing season, and perfume the air for yards around. Certainly their large three-inch wide blossoms are are a sight to warm the heart, especially since they cascade in long trusses.

 This is another modern rose, introduced by Kordes in 1955 (shown right). The two plants I have here, also growing up poles, rise to about 10 feet, with brilliant red blossoms, a rather wide and startling near-white eye in the center, and a charmingly delicate boss of stamens in the center.  As fragrant as 'Hanseat' with blossoms about the same size and as continually blooming, it also affords a breathtaking sight from a distance.  Both 'Hanseat' and 'Dortmund' have dark, glossy foliage.

There are indeed a surprising number of modern singles bred and introduced in the past century, in spite of the interest in breeding doubles upon doubles
although, in truth, I love doubles myself. Doubles are produced in a rose, incidentally,  by replacing the stamens and styles by petals. Of course, this  slows down the natural reproduction that had occurred among roses for the last many thousands of years.

Dainty Bess
Dainty BessDuring the 1920s, single roses enjoyed a decided popularity among both breeders and the gardeners they supplied. The vogue of single roses was eventually overshadowed by the new cluster roses, but not before a fine group of singles were produced. Among these are the superb shrub 'Nevada' introduced in 1927 by Pedro DOT, the legendary Spanish breeder. This dense, quite vigorous, but well-behaved shrub is covered all over in late May and early June with huge, blowsy white blossoms, then sporadically during the season.  Our 'Nevada' is still young, a bare three years old, but we expect it to threaten the surrounding lilies and peonies in the not too distant future.

The 1920s is the period, also, in which 'Dainty Bess' was bred by William Archer of the United Kingdom. It was introduced in 1925. 'Dainty Bess' (at left) is one of my favorite roses. It is classed as a hybrid tea but is very hardy here in our Zone 4 to Zone 5 garden. It grew to about four feet in the quite shady spot in which I first planted it and about the same now that it's enjoying full sun.

Not only are the 'Dainty Bess' blossoms a huge four-inch wide, but they keep their petals for several days and flower repeatedly during the season. The blossoms are a gentle shell pink, blushed with darker rose at the ends, and with a boss of very long maroon stamens around a gold cluster of pistils. The blossoms have a sweet fragrance of  rose touched with lavender.

Golden Wings Golden Wings

'Golden Wings' is not so accomodating as 'Dainty Bess' in holding on to its petals! In order to capture the blossom for the photo on the right I had to be ready with my camera just as the long-centered buds first opened.  Lovely, though, with bright yellow anthers rising out of a boss of red pistils, and the plant is always surrounded by a golden carpet of petals. The petals run from five to seven, close enough to single, and very close to the number on the light pink blossoms of its neighboring, very floriferous, 'Marguerite Hilling'. 'Golden Wings' is another rather young plant here, now in its third year at DragonGoose Farm. Last year, it bloomed from June to October. The blossoms have a mildly sweet scent and it grows to about four feet.


Morning MistThis rose, 'Morning Mist' (to the left), is our newest baby, planted two springs ago, sorely tried by our long drought, and so only last summer finding her legs in our Cache Valley climate.  This is a David Austin rose, bred and raised by him in England and introduced in 1996. Mr. Austin's rose catalog describes the parentage of 'Morning Mist' as drawn from the albas, and the foliage does have the mid-green look of the albas, though more glossy, The blossoms have a scent much like our pinks and petunias.

The plant is described as
free flowering and of good healthy growth to five feet high and four feet wide. Our plants here have yet to reach that height, but I have hope for them now that our newly installed sprinklers can give them a bit more water. Of course, that's always subject to a good supply of the stuff.

The pumps were cut off not long after August last year, but this spring so far has been very, very wet. I didn't think I'd ever complain about too much rain, being a native of the wet, mid Atlantic and often despairing of Cache Valley's semi-arid climate, but these past few weeks have been very trying. Just getting the beds raked of leaves has taken three weeks of delays
– first by the persistent state of the snow cover, then by almost daily rain, rain mixed with snow, or sleet mixed with rain. The beds are being raked off right now, but it's a fairly heavy job, heaving the the wet leaves up into the pickup with the pitchfork, then dragging it down again onto the compost heap!

More later,

Joan Katherine Shaw
March 2005

Photos - Joan Katherine Shaw

Sources for Books mentioned in this essay:
The Rose Book of Graham Stuart Thomas
Classic Roses by Peter Beales

Some on-line sources for roses:
Arena Rose Company
High Country Roses
Jackson and Perkins
Roses of Yesterday and Today
Vintage Gardens (a source of more than 3,000 different varieties of roses)
Wayside Gardens, South Carolina
White Flower Farm 
More on roses:
A Miniature Rose Garden in Utah
Cascading Roses
Old White Roses
Prolific Climbing Roses for the North
Roses of the Middle East
Some Tough but Elegant Roses
Three Favorite Roses
Dreaming of Roses
Cottage Gardens with Roses

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