Single-flowered roses: choosing and growing the best
The modest blooms of single-flowered roses have a simplicity and perfection all of their own, and are highly attractive to pollinators. Head gardener Mat Reese chooses 13 of the best. Photographs Jason Ingram.
It is wonderful to grow roses in all their infinite forms and shapes but the natural-looking, single (as opposed to the more blowsy double) cultivars are a particular favourite.
All roses originally had a single-flowered parentage, and are found across the northern temperate and subtropical world. The pale-blush flowers of the native dog rose (Rosa canina), for example, which decorate the hedgerows in June, are simple yet exquisitely beautiful. They may be fleeting, but perhaps because of this we tend to appreciate their delicate beauty more sincerely.
A wonderful trait of single roses is the way they shed their petals, and in doing so, eliminate the need for deadheading. This is greatly appreciated with the taller climbing and rambling forms where the task is incredibly inconvenient, if not impossible. The petals may also change colour and give a pleasing, two-tone effect before shattering, as with Rosa ‘Francis E Lester’, whose petals fade to white with age. As with cherry blossom, so too the fallen petals from the floriferous, single ramblers eventually become petal confetti, concluding the flower display with a beautiful, thick carpet of white.
Single-flowered roses are more hospitable for bees and other pollinating insects than the double forms, where the nectar and pollen – if present at all – can be difficult for the insects to access. Having viable flowers also increases the likelihood of rosehip production, the fruits often having ornamental value of their own. Discover the best roses for hips. Having fewer petals per flower may also mean more flowers at a time and for a longer period.
Nowadays there is quite a large selection of single-flowered roses to choose from and they can be found across all sections of the genus Rosa. Indeed, some of the cultivars included here might be classified as semi- double by aficionados. However, the lines are fairly blurred and I have mentioned them because they look, to all intents and purposes, like singles.
WhatWoody perennials from the Rosa genus in the Rosaceae family. Some are shrubs, some are climbers or ramblers. Those featured here are single-flowered.
Origins All roses originally had a single-flowered parentage, and are found across the northern temperate and subtropical world.
Season From late spring into autumn.
Size Many of the hybrid roses make plants around 1m tall, shrub roses can reach 2-3m. The climbing and rambling fraternity will grow 2m upwards. With these it’s worth making sure the host – whether it be a tree or wall – is strong enough to cope with the marriage as some of the most vigorous ramblers will easily reach 8m.
Conditions Although roses do well on most sites, where feasible, providing shelter will help protect the flowers and foliage from possible wind damage. There is a rose for every soil, and most do well in heavy clay once established. The rugosas can cope with exceptionally light soils.
Hardiness Generally hardy in most parts of the UK. Most have a hardiness rating of RHS H5-H6 and are suitable for gardens in USDA zones 5a to 9b. The China roses grow best in a warm, sheltered site.
Single roses: how to grow
In the right conditions, roses can be very long-lived plants, and can even become coveted heirlooms, passed from one generation of gardener to the next. When planting a new rose, it is important to remember that it needs a chance to find its feet. Plants will often take a few years to build up a good foundation of roots before they show signs of vigour above ground and begin producing quantities of new wood and flower.
When to plant single-flowered roses
Roses are normally bought and planted in winter, when they are dormant and bareroot, or at any time of the year as a container plant (although an early winter planting is best for all but the most tender types).
Where to plant single-flowered roses
It is much nicer to grow roses in a mixed border, rather than corralled into a bed with their own kind where diseases can spread like wildfire. Roses are often quite shapeless plants, and allowing them the support from a surrounding sea of herbaceous plants is much kinder. Most of the growth is concentrated on the upper part of the plant, leaving bare legs towards the base, but this can be disguised by planting roses with perennials, such as hardy geraniums or phlox. Rose roots tend to descend quickly and deeply and are not particularly spreading, making them ideal bedfellows for shallow-rooting perennials.
How to plant single-flowered roses
It is vital when planting to add compost to the planting hole and mix it properly with the surrounding soil. Make the hole ample enough to sensibly accommodate the roots without having to bend them to position the plant at proper depth. Firm the soil around the roots so the plant does not rock or sit too wet. During this formative period, it is important the rose is given space to breathe and is not swamped by neighbouring plants. Once established, the strong, forked rose roots are extremely competitive against those of other plants.
The best single roses to buy for your garden
Rosa 'Dortmund' produces large, red flowers with a conspicuous white eye in succession throughout the summer – they are so big it takes only a few to make an impression. It can be grown as a climber or shrub – at Malverleys we are growing it through a golden yew. Height: 3m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
This Rosa moyesii hybrid is a large shrub with catchy, red flowers that have a central, green-eyed, gold stamen boss. Blooms appear in early summer on arching stems, followed by decorative, flask-shaped, orange-red hips. Remove old-flowered wood in late winter to maintain vigour. Height: 2.5m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa For Your Eyes Only (= ‘Cheweyesup’)
Derived from the unusual Rosa persica, which is a native of central Asia, this hybrid has proven to be a successful, easy-to-grow garden shrub. The striking flowers have a dark, central, claret blotch bleeding into the pink petals, and it will flower all summer. Height: 1.2m. RHS H6.
A charming climbing rose with large, flat, semi-double flowers in flamingo pink, each bloom with an apricot-yellow eye and conspicuous red stamens. Scented flowers in June are followed by large, fat, dark-ginger hips that persist all winter. Good for cutting, but prone to blackspot. Height: 3m. RHS H5.
Rosa ‘Francis E Lester’
A beautiful, climbing, hybrid musk rose that flowers in early summer. It produces large trusses of scented, overlapping, pale-pink flowers with showy yellow stamens. Flowers fade to white with age. It is good for cutting and makes small orange hips in winter. Height: 4-5m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa Summer Breeze (= ‘Korelasting’)
An easy-to-grow climber that throws hot-pink, medium-sized flowers all summer atop a foil of apple-green foliage. It can be trained against a wall or grown up through a small tree. Prune the oldest wood in late winter to encourage vigour. Height: 4m. RHS H6.
Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’
This hard-working China rose, if deadheaded, will flower from spring into late autumn (throughout winter in mild locations). It produces peach-yellow flowers from sharp-pink buds, ageing to a dirty pink. The colours intensify in hot weather. It will grow as a shrub but given help from another rose or sturdy climber (Virginia creeper, for example), it will ascend to lofty heights of four metres or more. Height: 2.5m+. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.
Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’
A large, free-flowering shrub that produces sumptuous panicles of blush-white flowers all summer. Deadheading will speed up repeat flowering and keep the display tidy. Generally trouble free, and with little scent – more a feast for the eyes than the nose. Height: 2m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’
A decades-old specimen at Great Dixter was given to Christopher Lloyd by Vita Sackville-West. It survived the cull when the former rose garden there was transformed into the Exotic Garden. It is a hybrid tea shrub rose, with dark foliage that sets off upturned, apricot flowers. Height: 1.5m. RHS H6.
Rosa ‘Helen Knight’
This pretty and vigorous Rosa ecae hybrid rose makes a substantial, prickly shrub with delicate, pinnate foliage. The gleaming, shyly scented, canary-yellow blooms are held in small clusters and are produced along with the new apple-green foliage. Height: 2.5m. RHS H6.
Rosa Kew Gardens (= ‘Ausfence’)
A well-behaved shrub rose that holds its flowers in small, neat clusters just proud of the foliage. Flowers open a clotted-cream colour, with a central fuzz of golden stamens, and fade to pure white. Will bloom all summer. Height: 1.2m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa Jacqueline du Pré (= ‘Harwanna’)
Named for the famous cellist, this shrub rose produces clear-white, semi-double, scented flowers on strong, prickly stems. At the centre of each bloom is a cluster of delicate-pink filaments and gold anthers that stand out against the white petals. Height: 1.5m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa The Compass Rose (= ‘Korwisco’)
This shrub rose makes an initial flush of white, wavy-petalled flowers in midsummer. The blooms have a rich, spicy scent and are held in loose trusses. If deadheaded, it will continue to flower intermittently into the autumn. Height: 1.2m. RHS H6.
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Where to buy and see single roses
• David Austin Roses, Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Shropshire WV7 3HB. Tel 0800 111 4699, davidaustinroses.co.uk
• Peter Beales Roses, London Road, Attleborough, Norwich, Norfolk NR17 1AY. Tel 01953 454707, classicroses.co.uk
• Thompson & Morgan, Poplar Lane, Ipswich, Suffolk IP8 3BU. Tel 0333 400 0033, thompson-morgan.com
• Dower House Garden, Morville Hall, nr Bridgnorth, Shropshire WV16 5NB. Tel 01746 714407, nationaltrust.org.uk
• Iford Manor, nr Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 2BA. Tel 01225 863146, ifordmanor.co.uk
• Malverleys Gardens, East End, Hampshire RG20 0AA. malverleys.co.uk. Open by on selected dates or by appointment for groups only. See website for details
• Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, nr Dorking, Surrey RH5 6BD. Tel 01372 452048, nationaltrust.org.uk
• Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Biddenden Road, nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB. Tel 01580710700, nationaltrust.org.uk
Mat Reese is head gardener at Malverleys Gardens
Jason Ingram is an award winning garden photographer based in Bristol, UK. He travels widely shooting for magazines, book publishers and advertising agencies. He also works with top international garden designers and Landscape Architects on private projects worldwide.
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