David Austin was a renowned, highly respected British rosarian dedicated to breeding a remarkable collection of vigorous, healthy, gorgeous roses of character and distinction. He blended the charm and fragrance of much beloved old roses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the wider color range and repeat blooming of more recently introduced cultivars. His focus on combining the very best characteristics of antique cabbage rose (Rosa × centifolia, Zones 4–9), Damask rose (Rosa × damascena, Zones 4–8), French rose (Rosa gallica, Zones 3–8), and white rose of York (Rosa × alba, Zones 3–9) with those of modern hybrid teas and floribundas resulted in the introduction of over 240 exceptional, award-winning, captivating English roses to gardeners all over the world.
Robust, graceful, colorful, deliciously fragrant, and with a particularly recognizable flower form, many of these beauties have been bred with disease resistance in mind and are well suited to the wide range of microclimates found in Northern California gardens. Because they’re available in such an array of growth habits—from rounded shrubs like the well-behaved, golden-flowered ‘Molineaux’ (R. ‘Molineaux’, Zones 5–11) all the way up to the 15-foot exuberance of the pink and fragrant ‘The Generous Gardener’ (R. ‘The Generous Gardener’, Zones 4–11), there’s at least one perfect English rose for every garden. Many of the mid-size growers such as ‘Charlotte’ (R. ‘Charlotte’, Zones 5–11) or ‘Carding Mill’ (R. ‘Carding Mill’, Zones 5–11) make outstanding additions to your rose garden or mixed border, while ‘Darcey Bussel’ (R. ‘Darcey Bussel’, Zones 5–11) and ‘Roald Dahl’ (R. ‘Roald Dahl’, Zones 5–11), with their tidy, more compact growth habits, are perfect for container growing.
The tallest, most vigorous, long-arching cultivars bred by David Austin are among the best climbing roses available to gardeners today. Easy to manage, exceptionally long blooming, and clothed with the most beautifully formed and delightfully fragrant flowers from top to bottom, the following David Austin roses are my top recommendations for the Northern Californian gardener in search of the perfect climber. Grow them in full sun (though some varieties are actually quite shade tolerant) in rich, well-amended soil, and be sure to give them regular irrigation—at least until established—for best and highly floriferous results.
Palest yellow buds open up to beautifully old-fashioned, large, and rounded creamy white blooms. Said to be one of David Austin’s favorite white roses, this exceptionally disease-resistant variety is a vigorous grower, quickly reaching 12 feet tall with elegant, arching canes clothed top to bottom in glossy green foliage and generous showers of snowy blooms from late spring through fall. The fragrance is sweet myrrh with added hints of vanilla, heliotrope, and meadowsweet. One of the taller English roses, this charming 2007 introduction is perfect for arching over an arbor or training on a tall obelisk.
‘Lady of Shalott’
Introduced in 2009, ‘Lady of Shalott’ bears the most lusciously hued, deliciously fragrant, peachy-apricot flowers and is almost constantly in bloom all season long. Highly disease resistant and a very reliable grower even in difficult soils, it’s a good choice for the beginning rose gardener. Rich, deep orange buds open to reveal a cupped chalice of coral and golden petals graced with the fragrance of warm tea, with added hints of spiced apple and cloves. The vigorous and bushy stems quickly reach 8 feet tall, making ‘Lady of Shalott’ look absolutely delightful fanned out over a short picket fence or trained on a pillar. Great for back of the border too!
‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’
An introduction from 1998, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ is breathtaking in full bloom, with large deep green leaves making the perfect backdrop for the multitude of huge, bright crimson, deeply cupped blooms. Growing 10 feet tall and with long, slightly arching canes, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ looks fantastic trained against a gray stone wall but is almost as lovely grown on a pillar or obelisk. Be sure to plant this beauty where the heavy blooms (nodding from their weight) and the sweet old rose fragrance can be enjoyed up close.
First brought to the public eye in 2006, ‘Strawberry Hill’ quickly became popular for its tall, arching growth habit and its outstanding repeat blooming habit. Producing abundant clusters of pure pink, nicely cupped rosettes all along the arching canes, it captivates from its earliest, deep pink, tight bud phase all the way through the fully mature, paler pink, and fluffy open blooms. Intensely fragrant, with the scent of myrrh and heather honey, this vigorous, highly disease-resistant climber will reach 10 feet tall and looks impressive growing over an arbor where the deliciously scented blooms can be admired from below.
Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.