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English Roses

If you love roses, but aren’t familiar with English Roses, you’re about to step into a whole new world!  Their lovely shapes, scents, and names evoke a romantic, historical time period – like something from a Jane Austen novel.  

Keep reading because the more you learn about them, the greater the likelihood that you’ll fall in love with English Roses!

Pink Olivia Rose Austin English Roses.
The ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ English rose was named for David Austin’s daughter.

History of the English Rose

“English Roses” refers to a group of roses introduced by English rose hybridizer David Austin in 1969.  While Austin wasn’t the first rose breeder to create “English-style” roses, he was the most successful breeder and he trademarked the term English Roses.

Austin’s goal was to create a rose with the best of Old Roses (roses introduced before 1867) and the best of Modern Roses (Hybrid teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras).  He wanted roses with the shape and fragrance of Old Roses, but with the disease resistance, wide range of colors (yellow, for instance), and repeat blooming behavior of Modern Roses.

He selected 18th and 19th century Old Roses like Gallicas, Damasks, Portlands, and Bourbons and crossed them with Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and Modern Climbing Roses.

His first successful variety was the ‘Constance Spry’ and most non-red English roses Austin created came from this rose.  It even created the ‘Chianti,’ the red rose most of Austin’s red English roses come from.

English roses are also called “David Austin roses,” “Austin roses,” or even just “DA” or “ER.”

Closeup of pink Constance Spry English Roses.
The ‘Constance Spry’ English Rose.

Characteristics of the English Rose

Most English Roses are shrub roses that can be pruned as bedding plants or allowed to grow as shrubs.  Austin roses also come in rambler, climber, and tree forms.

All English roses are repeat bloomers with vigorous growth rates.  In the US they tend to grow twice as large as they do in England.  For instance, most shrub forms grow 2-5 feet tall in England, but are twice that size in warm parts of the US.

What Is Significant About This Flower?

They’re not like the modern roses most gardeners plant.  English Roses have an old-fashioned feeling to them, reminiscent of a bygone era.

If you don’t use chemicals, some rose’s petals (like those of the ‘Mary English’) are edible as garnishes or for making things like rose-infused honey or rose jams.

These roses are well-known for their romantic, poetic names.  Austin took inspiration from literature, music, historical figures, places, or even his own family members for the names of his roses.  He always selected a name that best fit a rose’s character.

Closeup of yellow Graham Thomas English Roses.
The ‘Graham Thomas’ English rose.

When Does It Bloom?

Spring, summer, and fall – depends on the variety.

Bloom Description

  • Old Rose flower shapes – rosettes, cup-shapes
  • Often double flowers with numerous petals
  • Pastel colors of pink, peach, apricot, but also yellow, white, and dark red
  • Highly fragrant
Closeup of pale orange English Roses.

Can You Grow an English Rose At Home?

Yes, and there are LOTS to choose from!

Why Would You Want To Grow It At Home?

Gardeners choose English roses for several reasons: for a unique look in their gardens, for fragrance gardens, and for cut-flower gardens (select the best varieties for cut flowers).

The different forms serve a variety of uses:

  • Shrub – create borders or hedges
  • Climbers – cover trellises or climb overhead structures
  • Tree – create a formal garden setting
  • Ramblers – cover fences or walls
  • Bedding – use as erosion control measures.
A hedge border created using English Roses.

How To Grow an English Rose

When To Plant It

Plant roses in spring.

Where Should You Plant It?

Zones 4-11 – depends on the variety.  A winter protection method called the “Minnesota tip” lets you grow English Roses in zones past what they’re rated for.

English Roses need 4-8 hours of sunlight, depending on the variety.  Plant them where they’ll receive morning sunlight (never shade in the morning with sun in the afternoon).

Shrub forms look best in group plantings, if garden space allows – odd numbers look more natural then even.  Be aware that group plantings present risk of fungal diseases and pose access problems for pruning, spraying, and deadheading spent blooms.

Smaller varieties are good for containers on patios or balconies.

Red English-style roses.

Soil

Plant these roses in rich, loamy, well-draining soil amended with compost.

Watering

In the spring, water every 2-3 days after planting until the plant becomes established, at which time you switch to deep watering once a week.

In the summer, water often enough to keep the soil moist – when roses start wilting, they need more water.

In the fall, water normally until the plant goes dormant.

English Rose Bush Care

English Roses only need two feedings a year – at the start of the growing season and after the first bloom has finished.

Most English Roses are hardy and resistant to disease like blackspot.  Red varieties are the exception as they’re prone to blackspot and are the weakest of the English Roses.

Yellow varieties need additional winter protection in colder climates.

Gardener tending red English-style roses.

Pruning the English Rose

Prune English Roses in late winter before new growth emerges.  You can prune them like a hybrid tea or prune lightly to let the shrub’s natural shape form (upright, arching, bushy, etc).

During the bloom season, deadhead spent blooms to encourage repeat blooming.

Using English Roses For Bouquets/Decor

There are disadvantages to using English Roses as cut flowers.  Most English roses don’t last long once cut because their petals are delicate and tend to fall quickly.  Stems are also short, unlike hybrid tea stems.  But there are varieties that do well as cut flowers.

Refer to this article for best cutting practices for English Roses.

A wedding bouquet made with English-style roses.

Where To Buy English Rose Shrubs

David Austin’s roses are so popular his company provides a listing of the US retailers who stock them.  You can also order directly from David Austin Roses.

For cut-flower gardens, the company recommends the following varieties:

  • ‘Bishop’s Castle’
  • ‘Biscobel’
  • ‘Charlotte’
  • ‘Darcy Bussel’
  • ‘Golden Celebration’
  • ‘Graham Thomas’
  • ‘Jubilee Celebration’
  • ‘Lady of Shallot’
  • ‘Molineux’
  • ‘Munstead Wood’
  • ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’
  • ‘Queen of Sweden’
  • ‘Teasing Georgia’
  • ‘The Alnwick Rose’
  • ‘Windermere’

Where To Buy English Rose Cut Flowers

English Roses aren’t widely available as cut flowers.  To find florists that offer David Austin roses, use this online resource.

Wrapping Up the English Rose

An Olivia Rose Austin English rose shrub with pink blooms.

David Austin bred over 900 varieties of roses in Albrighton, in Shropshire, England, before his death in 2018.  Rose enthusiasts everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to a man who dedicated his life’s work to creating roses like few the world had seen before.

Today there are over 200 different varieties of English roses created by David Austin – with so many colors, fragrances, sizes, and forms there’s sure to be an English Rose for your garden.

Do you have romantic looking and smelling English roses in your garden? If so, tell us about your experiences in the comments section below! To read about other roses, click here for our rose blog posts.