Roads Less Traveled

May 11, 2019

Let’s hop in a time machine and journey back 200 years to see what was the “bee’s knees” then in the rose world.


Burnet roses were quite popular back then. Also known as Scotch Roses, they are hybrids of the wild Scotch Briar Rose, Rosa spinossima. The Latin name means “most spiny”, and in fact they are quite thorny! The shrubs are compact, typically about three feet tall. They reproduce from suckers and have almost black hips, which are useful in dried arrangements. Their fragrance and frequent re-bloom made them, in 1824, as popular as floribundas are today.  


All the double Burnets are descendants of one mutant found growing wild near Perth, Scotland, around 1800. These were so popular that there were 100 varieties available by 1814.


One of the few Burnet roses still widely available is a cross between Autumn Damask and the double Scotch Briar. Named Stanwell Perpetual, it is the first rose to bloom in spring and the last to quit in autumn. Small and thorny, it has very fragrant, very double, quartered light pink flowers. 


Some Burnet roses, like the original parent, only bloom in the spring. A popular example is Harrison’s Yellow which was bred by an amateur rose breeder in Manhattan around 1830. He sold it to an enterprising nurseryman who made it a commercial success. It can be found across America because pioneers brought it with them as they moved west. Some think that it might be the original Yellow Rose of Texas; however, it fares poorly in the hot, southern parts of that state. These are the very areas where Yellow Lady Banks thrives. Could both of these abundant spring bloomers be that famous Texas rose?  


The Burnets were eclipsed by the Hybrid Perpetuals and most were lost in the turning tide. It is interesting to note that Wilhelm Kordes (of the great Kordes rose-growing dynasty) bred many Burnet roses between 1930 and the mid-1950s in his effort to develop more cold-hardy roses. His tend to be larger shrubs and many are still in the trade.


Let’s hop back in our time machine and journey to 1913 when another amateur rose breeder, Joseph Pemberton, introduced two new roses, Danae and Moonlight. These are the first in a new class, the hybrid musks. Like polyanthas they are cluster bloomers but  bloom on long branches. Many are considered small climbers. In fact these roses perform best without severe pruning, making them easy to maintain. They are all fragrant re-bloomers that tolerate partial shade.


Mike Shoup of The Antique Rose Emporium calls them “Balloon Skirted Ladies” because the arching branches covered in flowers remind him of hoop skirts. Many of Pemberton’s roses are named for women in Greek mythology. Penelope is the most popular of the class today. Almost all of Pemberton’s roses are still available.



When Mr. Pemberton died in 1926, he left his seedlings to his gardeners, John and Ann Bentall. They continued his work, bringing more members of the class onto the market. Bentall himself proved to be an able rose breeder. He introduced The Fairy, a polyantha, in 1932, and the hybrid musks Ballerina and Buff Beauty. All remain popular. (All the photos in today's article are of various views of your narrator's Buff Beauty.)


Kordes worked with hybrid musks at the same time he was working with Burnets. Lavender Lassie, a 1960 introduction, continues to enjoy some popularity.


If anyone is looking for a gift suggestion, Empress of the Garden by G. Michael Shoup is a terrific coffee table masterpiece.  The photos feature the display gardens of The Antique Rose Emporium.  The text is entertaining as well as informative.  Any rose

lover would enjoy it.


Master gardener is Ann Bartlett is crazy for and knowledgeable about many flowers, but when she writes about roses it's clear she's on her subject. You can email Ann at

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