Saturday, February 13, 2021

The greatest roses you never heard of


Not knocking 'Knock Out' but...

Ask most people to name an “easy care” rose and the most likely answer you’ll hear is ‘Knock Out’.

Introduced to the gardening world in 2000, this humble shrub is highly touted for its disease resistance, hardiness and drought tolerance. I‘ve nicknamed it the Lazy Gardener’s Rose because it even tidies itself up, eliminating the need for extensive pruning.

'Double Red Knock Out'

Fact is, when you visit a big box garden center or nursery these days, 'Knock Out' and the members of its extended family are about the only varieties of roses you’ll find. And although these shrubs definitely have their place in the landscape, it is a shame other varieties are overlooked. Especially one largely unknown and underused class of antique roses that can give modern shrubs a run for their money.

These unheralded superstars are Polyanthas.  They made their debut in France in late 1800’s, originally the result of crosses between China roses and sprawling Multifloras.  This new class of rose was disease resistant, hardy and everblooming. And because they tended to be compact growers, polyanthas were ideal for mass plantings, containers and low borders. 

'Cl. Cecile Brunner

As a rule these roses are only available through mail order. Two exceptions are ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Cecile Brunner’, (also known as the Sweetheart Rose). You may just stumble upon these in your area. But there are dozens of other varieties in a palette of colors ranging from white to cherry red to purple just waiting to be discovered by gardeners. 

 Cydney Wade, owner of RosePetals Nursery in Newberry, Florida, declares polyanthas to be the “rosarians’s secret” because of their versatility, bloom power and history. “It may be a small class, but it includes some highly rated varieties that have survived over 100 years.” 

She recommends ‘Pink Pet’ and ‘Marie Pavie’ for containers.


"Marie Pavie' courtesy David Austin Roses

Consulting Rosarian and American Rose Society judge Bill Blevins is also a polyantha enthusiast. “ They offer ease of growth, quick repeat bloom and the charm of a bygone era.”  He notes ‘Lullaby’ remains a favorite from 1953 with its heavily petaled white to blush pink blooms and dark leathery foliage.
'Lullaby' courtesy Rogue Valley
 But Polyanthas aren’t all antique. Along with ‘La Marne’ (1915) and ‘Marie Pavie ‘(1888) Bill gives high marks to two modern additions to the class: red ‘Wing-Ding’ (2006) and orange-red ‘Zeniatta’ (1991). 

'Wing Ding'

 Even more recently, a gorgeous polyantha called ‘Pookah’ bred by James Delahanty, won The Honorable John Cecil Award for Open Group at the Biltmore International Rose Trials.  I was one of the judges there and would love to add this robust beauty to my garden.

'Pookah' was a head-turning winner at Biltmore

 I grew ‘Zeniatta’ in Maryland and like ‘Pookah’ it was very robust throwing out spray after spray of traffic- stopping blooms.


 'Zeniatta', 'Marie Pavie', 'White Pet, "La Marne' and many others are available via mail order from Roses Unlimited in Laurens, South Carolina. Their plants are vigorous and gorgeous. I highly recommend them.

'Zeniatta' is perfect in beds and containers

I also planted ‘The Fairy’ in the small garden we started at our cottage on the Eastern Shore. When we decided to tear the house down and rebuild, we planned to dig up the roses and keep them in pots during construction.


Unfortunately, the backhoe showed up a day earlier than expected and my plants, including ‘The Fairy’ were buried under a mountain of broken concrete blocks. I was devastated, because my late mother-in-law had given me the rose as a housewarming gift. I vowed to replace it one day.


Six months later while clearing construction trash to start my new patch, I noticed something green emerging from the debris. When I looked closer I spied the unmistakable 7-leaf leaflet of ‘The Fairy’. She’d survived, and within a short time was once again waving her cheery pink blossoms at me from the front garden.


'Lovely Fairy' is a sport of the legendary original

So next time you think about buying a rose, choose one that combines a rich history with dependable performance and spunk.

Pass up the ‘Knock Out’ and pick a polyantha.




Beth at PlantPostings said...

Wow, these are beautiful! Thanks for the information. My favorite rose is the one my great-grandfather hybridized--a cross of a wild rose and a tea rose. I'll have to look into the Pollyanthas. 'Lullaby' and 'Lovely Fairy' are gorgeous!

TheGardenDiaries said...

Great, pst, will look for Pookah!

Anonymous said...

Such a plethora of information and such beautiful photos! The Fairy part made me cry but in a good way. So glad she survived! ❤️��

Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, I was very glad to read that your "The Fairy" rose had survived the construction work and is now thriving again. With so many rose varieties, I wonder where the "next-nearest" rose to the same ones we have is. Like, where is the next nearest Banksiae Rose, the next-nearest Kiftsgate and so on. I much prefer to buy roses from specialists because there is much more variety with some hidden gems if you know what to look for.

Lynn Hunt said...

Spring is coming Sunil, slowly but surely! And I know we'll enjoy our roses even more this year.

Lynn Hunt said...

Beth at PlantPostings, I think you will like the polyanthas! How exciting you still have a rose your great-grandfather hybridized. What a family gem!

Lynn Hunt said...

TheGardenDiaries, I think you will love Pookah! Check Help Me Find to see who is selling it. Thanks for stopping by!

Lynn Hunt said...

Anonymous, thank you for the lovely comments. So glad you enjoyed the posting!!

Joe Lie said...

When exploring the world of gardening, one must recognize the remarkable attributes of the 'Knock Out' rose and its extended family. These disease-resistant and low-maintenance shrubs have become a staple at garden centers, leaving other rose varieties in the shadows. However, it is unfortunate that one such overlooked class of roses, the Polyanthas, remains largely unknown and underused. Their exceptional disease resistance, hardiness, and everblooming nature offer formidable competition to modern shrubs. In addition, their versatility makes them perfect for mass plantings, low borders, and container gardening. Consider discovering the hidden charm of Polyanthas while also seeking assistance from a reputable brand management assignment writing service to excel in your horticultural studies.

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