The English Roses: Classic Favorites and New Selections

The English Roses: Classic Favorites and New Selections

by David Austin

Hardcover(Third Edition)



Includes 22 new varieties released from 2011 to 2016.

David Austin is one of the world's leading rose hybridizers. He has spent decades creating and perfecting his roses, which combine the charm and fragrance of the Old Roses with the repeat-flowering and wide color range of the traditional tea roses, also called Modern Roses.

David Austin English Roses are vigorous, hardy, heat-resistant and disease-free. The bushes have a pleasant rounded habit and bear large, delicately scented blooms throughout the summer. The relative ease of growing a David Austin English Rose has inspired gardeners everywhere to try their hand. Interest in North America was so overwhelming that in 1999, the company opened an office in Tyler, Texas, which ships to the USA and Canada.

The roses are organized into seven classification groups. Each rose profile features a description and cultivation techniques opposite a stunning full-page photograph. There are 32 new photographs, 22 of them of the new varieties released between 2011 and 2016. They are:

  • Old Rose Hybrids - Sir Walter Scott, The Poet's Wife, The Lady Gardener, Lady Salisbury, Queen Anne
  • The Leander Group - Bathsheba, The Ancient Mariner, Olivia Rose Austin, Fighting Temperaire, Carolyn Knight, Boscobel
  • The English Musk Roses - Roald Dahl, Desdemona, The Lark Ascending, Tranquility, William and Catherine
  • The English Alba Hybrids - Royal Jubilee
  • Some Other English Roses - Imogen, Thomas À Becket
  • The Climbing English Rose - The Lady of the Lake, The Albrighton Rambler, Wollerton Old Hall
  • The English Cut-flower Roses.

David also recounts how he set out to create the English roses, beginning with his first, the fragrant Constance Spry, released in 1961. In eloquent prose he reveals his passion for these roses and his lifelong dedication to their improvement. He describes their growth habits, flower form, foliage and name origin, and provides valuable cultivation tips and instruction on how to cut and arrange roses.

This book displays beautifully why David Austin English Roses are beloved by gardeners everywhere. It is an essential selection for every rose lover and gardener. Artists will enjoy it for the glorious photographs.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770853263
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 02/01/2017
Edition description: Third Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

David Austin has been breeding and hybridizing roses for more than 60 years. His English Roses have achieved international recognition and are sought by gardeners around the world. He and his son, David J.C. Austin, operate David Austin Roses, one of the world's largest rose nurseries. David Austin's books include the best-selling David Austin Roses, which won a Garden Writer's Guild Award. He has been awarded numerous medals for his contribution to horticulture.

Read an Excerpt

The rose in its numerous forms has many talents — although no group of roses has all of them. The Old Roses have beauty, charm, fragrance and pleasing, shrubby growth. The Modern Roses have a wide range of colour and the ability to flower throughout the summer. My aim has been, insofar as is possible, to combine all these virtues in one group of roses and, indeed, in one rose.

Every plant breeder has to have a clear idea of what he wants to achieve for his chosen flower. The first question I had to ask myself was: 'What should this be?' The second was: 'How can I achieve it?' I consider practical points, such as disease-resistance, freedom of flower and hardiness, to be as important in the development of English Roses as aesthetic factors, which may include broadening the range of flower colour, bringing in greater fragrance and so on. There is, however, one goal that I believe to be more important than all the others. This is, quite simply, that we should strive to develop the rose's beauty in flower, growth and leaf. This might seem an obvious objective, for do not all flower breeders have this aim in view? They may search for brighter and more intense colours; they might try to produce a larger flower and all manner of other measurable characteristics — but not many of them search for anything so abstract and elusive as the simple beauty of the flower and its growth which, of course, in the gardener's eyes, is the only reason for growing it. It seems to be assumed that all plants are beautiful whatever we do to them, and there is a certain truth in this. But it is quite possible, indeed almost usual, for the plant breeder to reduce this beauty while improving the more practical aspects of the plant. We need only look back down the ages to when man first started to adapt plants to his wishes, to see that in the end he nearly always degrades the very thing he loves.

Nature, left to her own devices, finds it hard to produce anything that is ugly. But the garden rose is not by any means entirely a product of nature. The hand of man has played a decisive part. The same is true of other highly developed flowers: dahlias, chrysanthemums, rhododendrons, daffodils, irises, lilies and peonies, to name but a few. In many cases, the work of the plant breeders has been beneficial and the subject has been enhanced as a garden plant. In many other instances, the effect has been damaging. We have only to walk around the average garden centre to see how true this is: giant, over-sized polyanthus and pansies, two plants that once had simple charm and beauty — and what have we done to them?

The result has been that many discerning gardeners (with somewhat highbrow inclinations) have preferred to confine their planting to flowers of nature, or at least to close relatives of species plants. I think this is a shame: the 'garden' flower can be developed to have its own kind of beauty, different from that of the simple child of nature. The garden is not the 'wild'; it is a man-made creation and should, with certain exceptions, be treated as such. The garden requires bolder statements than we would find in the wild.

With the above principles in mind, I describe below the various wishes I have for the English Roses, taking one aspect at a time, but always remembering that the breeder's skill is to capture the beauty of a rose at all stages. The crowning glory of the rose — its fragrance — is a characteristic I regard as being so important that I give it a separate chapter.

The Form of the Flower

The form of the flower is, perhaps, the most important feature in defining the rose's beauty and is also the aspect that differentiates more than any other the English Roses from other contemporary roses.

A quirk of nature allows the doubling up of petals in garden roses. What happens is this: the stamens of the flower mutate into petals over many years so that eventually, by means of selection, we have a 'double-flowered' rose. The wild species roses are undoubtedly beautiful, but it is the multiplication of their petals that has made possible the great wealth of beauty we now find in garden roses. It is by the reflection of the light between the petals and through the petals — and the many effects thereby produced — that all the beauty of the garden rose becomes possible. There are, in fact, no double roses in nature.

No variety of English Rose fits exactly into any one form but there are six basic shapes, with endless gradations, which come from the Old Roses, and a seventh which has the bud shape of Hybrid Teas.

Single Flowers

The rose is naturally single-flowered. In this form it charms us with its simplicity, delicacy and apparent frailty — to which must be added the airy beauty of its yellow, gold or red stamens. The beauty of the single rose, more than any other, depends upon the manner in which the flowers are poised upon the stem. Its growth should not be too heavy but light, open and graceful. We have only a few single-flowered English Roses: in fact, rather surprisingly, they are not the easiest to breed — perhaps because the garden rose has been double for too many generations; also, we have not many single varieties to breed from. Examples of single-flowered English Roses include 'Ann' — with particularly daintily poised flowers — and 'The Alexandra Rose' which forms a large, spreading shrub with typical wild-rose flowers. Single roses are generally not so fragrant as double roses, because they have fewer petals to make the fragrance. We have a number of very beautiful single-flowered English Roses in our trial grounds.

Semi-Double Flowers

It is only a small step from the single to the semi-double flower: add a few petals and we have a rose which will last longer but is, in many ways, similar. Semi-double roses retain much of the light, dainty effect of a single rose and usually have attractive stamens. The flowers vary considerably: they may be cup-shaped or flat, formal or more loosely petalled; they may be produced in sprays of many flowers or few. They offer quite a large variety of rose beauty. Examples are 'Windflower', 'Scarborough Fair' and 'Cordelia'.

The Rosette-Shaped Flower

The rosette-shaped flower could be described as the quintessential English Rose. The rosette is also the main flower shape of the Old Roses. It is the intertwining of the petals that offers us the opportunity of a great variety of beauty. Such flowers may be either loosely or closely packed with petals. Where there are fewer petals, it may be possible to detect just a few stamens. In some varieties the centre petals of the flower may be clustered together in the form of a button. Again, the petals may be incurved or flat — or they may reflex at the edges. In fact, a great variety of forms and effects become possible, so that it is almost impossible to find two flowers, between one variety and another that are the same.

Varieties of English Rose with rosette-shaped flowers are too numerous to list in full but include 'Eglantyne', 'Mary Rose', 'Teasing Georgia' and 'The Countryman'.

The Deep Cup

Perhaps the most impressive flowers are those that are deeply cupped. These may be filled with petals, as in 'Brother Cadfael', or they may be, to a greater or lesser degree, open and goblet-like, as in 'Golden Celebration'. With the open-cupped flower, it is particularly pleasing to peer inside and see the intertwining petals — and perhaps sniff the flower's rich perfume.

Not many cup-shaped English Roses are completely open: often there are a few petals just hiding the stamens and in the full cup there are no stamens to be seen at all. Cup-shaped English Roses include some very large flowers that we might expect to be clumsy, but this is seldom the case. On a sufficiently large shrub they hold their heads gracefully on the branch which counteracts any impression of heaviness. Examples are 'Heritage', 'Jude the Obscure', 'Scepter'd Isle' and 'The Ingenious Mr Fairchild'.

The Shallow Cup

Between the rosette and the deep cup lies the shallow cup, which can be equally attractive and often offers some of the most perfect of all flowers, the outer, incurved petals forming a kind of frame for the numerous petals within. 'Crown Princess Margareta' and 'Teasing Georgia' are examples.

The Recurved Flower

A number of English Roses have blooms in which the petals reflex to form a recurved or dome-shaped flower. This type of flower often starts its life as a rosette or even as a shallow cup. It then develops into a flat flower and finally the petals turn back — sometimes to the point where they almost form a ball. The flowers of all double roses have the advantage that they are always changing. This is particularly true of the recurved flower — it is as though we have a new bloom at each stage. Examples are 'Grace' and 'Jubilee Celebration'.

The Bud Flower

English Roses were seen as something of a revolution when they first appeared in the 1960s — which, at that time, they were — though they were in fact a return to what the garden rose had always been. But what of the Hybrid Tea, with its long, pointed bud? While the growth of the Hybrid Tea, as we know it at present, tends to be short and almost entirely lacking in grace, I am strongly in favour of the Hybrid Tea bud, so long as it eventually develops into a beautiful open flower and is held nicely upon attractive, shrubby growth. Indeed, we already have such roses among the English Roses. The variety 'Janet', for example, often has attractive Hybrid Tea buds which open to a rosette-shaped flower, both bud and open flower hanging elegantly on quite long branches on a sizeable shrub.

Texture, Light and Size of Flower
It is not simply the shape of the flower in an English Rose that sets it apart from other modern roses; the texture of the petals and the manner in which the petals interplay within the flower also contribute much to its beauty. A variation in the texture of the petals inevitably changes the whole character of a flower. Most English Roses are softer and more transparent of petal than other contemporary roses. This enables them to produce a more gentle, glowing, ever-changing effect as the light reflects through and between the petals.

There is also the question of the way in which the bloom of a rose is put together. Some are strictly formal, while others are more loosely arranged. The petals within some flowers are displayed in neat swirls as they progress towards the centre, whereas others twine and intertwine in the most fascinating manner. All forms have their beauty, even the apparently random arrangement of petals on loosely formed flowers having an appeal.

Size of flower is not important — a rose can be beautiful in all sizes. There is no doubt that a large flower produces a dramatic effect, but if all roses were large, this would be lost. I am always sorry when I see one of our customers choosing a rose simply for its size and brilliance of colour. Each size has its own particular beauty and variation in size offers us the chance to bring diversity to roses.


If form is the most important characteristic of the flowers of a rose, colour is not far behind. Here we are looking not simply for variety of colour, but for good colours and those that are suitable for the rose. A colour that is entirely appropriate for an iris may be less than ideal for a rose — particularly an English Rose. Dress up the rose in gaudy colours and she sometimes does not look right.

Shades of Pink

Above all others, pink is the colour of roses and most wild species are pink. When I began breeding the English Roses in the early 1950s, pure rose pink had almost disappeared from the Hybrid Teas, the pink nearly always being mixed with other colours. These were not necessarily bad colours, although some of them were rather muddy. Consequently, my first aim was to produce roses with flowers of purest glowing pink — the pink that we find in the Damask Roses and the Centifolias.

'Constance Spry', the first variety introduced by David Austin Roses, is a fine example of a glowing pure rose pink. Others followed, such as 'Cottage Rose', 'Gertrude Jekyll' and 'Sharifa Asma'. Soon we started to produce English Roses of delicate blush pinks, often with a Noisette Rose background, such as 'Eglantyne', 'Heritage' and 'Perdita'. More recently we have bred roses in blush shades tinged with apricot, peach and orange. Indeed, there is no colour in roses that offers us the possibility of so much variation as do the various shades of pink. Put a bunch of red roses together and they tend to look rather similar. Much the same could be said of the stronger yellows. This may be because these two colours are often very intense and do not always mix easily with other shades. But the many shades of pink among roses seem to be unlimited and each shade is surprisingly well defined. Pink roses — particularly soft pinks and blushes — are often used as symbols of femininity and childhood. They have a gentleness that we do not find in other colours.

Crimson and Other Shades of Red

A deep crimson rose is so special that it seems to be a flower apart from roses of other colours. Red is a symbol of passion and is often the most popular colour with men. However, crimsons and other reds tend to be something of a challenge for the rose breeder. There are almost no deep red roses in nature, except for the beautiful species Rosa moyesii. Examples of this rose found in gardens usually have flowers of the clearest deep crimson imaginable, but these are the result of selection. In the wild they are normally deep pink in colour. The colour crimson came to the garden rose via a China Rose, probably 'Slater's Crimson China'. This is a rather puny variety and it seems to have handed its weakness down to its descendants. In spite of this, there are some red Floribundas that are both strong and healthy — and also, more recently, a few Hybrid Tea Roses.

We have gone to great lengths to produce good, clear crimson varieties, but still they are not plentiful among the English Roses. However, 'L.D. Braithwaite' is a good example of bright crimson colouring, while 'Benjamin Britten' is closer to scarlet.

Lilac, Purple and Mauve

These shades are some of the most evocative, having associations with royalty, majesty and power, as well as with emotions allied to grief and melancholy.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Origins and Nature of an English Rose
  1. The Rose
  2. The Idea of the English Rose
  3. The Ancestors of the English Rose
  4. The Qualities of the English Rose
  5. The Art of Fragrance
  6. The First English Roses
Part Two: A Gallery of English Roses
  1. The Old Rose Hybrids
  2. The Leander Group
  3. The English Musk Roses
  4. The English Alba Hybrids
  5. The Climbing English Roses
  6. The English Cut-Flower Roses
    Some Earlier English Roses
Part Three: English Roses in the Garden
  1. The English Rose as a Garden Plant
  2. English Climbers in the Garden
  3. Rose Gardens
  4. English Roses in the House
  5. The Future of English Roses
  6. Growing English Roses

Trade mark rights of English Roses
Acknowledgements and credits



English roses have developed considerably since I wrote my previous book in 1993. Many new varieties have been introduced while others — now considered to be inferior — have been dropped. As a result, the beauty of English Roses, both in flower and in growth, has been greatly enhanced. Health and vigour has also been improved.

Not only have English Roses developed in beauty; they have also broadened widely in the range of their beauty, so that as we walk around a garden of English Roses we can always come across something different. As a result of all this, it has become necessary to divide them into six sub-groups, each with its own particular character, so that gardeners may better understand them and enjoy them more completely. These six groups are described for the first time in this book. The new Climbing English Roses are among the most interesting.

With all these developments, it is only natural that we have had new insights into the way in which English Roses can be used in the garden. The greater range opens up further possibilities, all of which are discussed in Part III.

Creating a book of this kind is inevitably a team effort and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who have made a contribution: Andrew Lawson, Howard Rice, Ron Dakin and others, for their magnificent photographs; Erica Hunningher, not only for editing the book, but for providing so much wise advice; Ken Wilson for his elegant design; and not least, Diane Ratcliff for her work, patience and skill in typing the manuscript and helping me generally in my task.

Finally, I would like to thank my son David J. Austin, without whom English Roses, as we know them today, would not have been possible.

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