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History makers

22 May 2024
Cecile brunner
‘Cecile Brunner’: Sometimes referred to as the buttonhole rose, the exquisite shell-pink scented blooms are buttonhole sized. It’s almost always in flower and very healthy, with few thorns, and is available in bush and climbing forms. There is also a white-flowering sport available.

Put on your rose-tinted glasses and learn all about growing these beloved vintage beauties.

Words & Photos Hayden Foulds

Heritage roses, sometimes referred to as old-fashioned or old-garden roses, are those from yesteryear that are still grown in gardens for their beauty and charm. Officially, a heritage rose is one that is 100 years or more from its introduction into commerce.

Petal particulars
Like modern roses, heritage roses offer a wide range of characteristics that appeal to gardeners. Their bloom form ranges from those with only five petals through to those with more than 100 petals that have the appearance of a cabbage. Stems can contain single blooms through to large sprays of small blooms.
There is a heritage rose for any size of garden. There are smaller varieties suitable for growing in pots or in small gardens, and larger-growing climbers and ramblers that need plenty of space.
While there are many heritage roses that only bloom once in the spring, what they lose in length of flowering over the season, they make up for with one great show when they do. There are others that will happily repeat bloom over the season, although subsequent flowering may not be as prolific as the first.
Heritage roses also have almost the full range of bloom colours that modern roses do, including striped and bicolour types. The noticeable exceptions in the colour range are bright oranges and yellows, because the genes were introduced much later by breeding. Alas, the introduction of yellow also brought susceptibility to blackspot into roses.
Many heritage varieties are scented, a trait not lost on many, who often exclaim that modern roses have little or no scent by comparison. Most of the heritage varieties without scent have fallen by the wayside while those with scent are still grown today.

Scented survivors
Why grow heritage roses as opposed to their more modern counterparts? They are survivors, and the fact they are still being grown after many years shows that they have appealed to many. Heritage roses are also tough and can cope with adverse conditions that modern roses may struggle with, particularly colder areas, semi-shade and being close to the coast.
Many heritage varieties also produce a great display of hips in autumn. The hips are the fruit of the rose and are usually orange in colour, although they can also be red and near-black. Some varieties also have great autumn foliage colour, while thorns – not something many people admire – can also be attractive.

Growing legacy
Heritage roses are the ancestors of modern roses and many deserve to be grown to preserve our rose-growing history. New Zealand has no native roses, so every type of rose that has been grown here has been introduced.
It is well documented that the first rose to arrive in New Zealand was ‘Slater’s Crimson China’, which Christian missionaries introduced in 1814. Another early introduction was the sweet briar rose Rosa rubiginosa which is now classified as a weed. Not all roses are good!
While many varieties of roses have been introduced here, many of them have been lost over the years as trends and fashion have changed.

In the garden
Heritage roses combine well with modern roses and other plants, so mix them up in your garden and enjoy their many charms. If you want to grow a heritage rose for a particular purpose, such as hedging, to cover a shed or fence, or as a general garden display, then have a look around and see what varieties might fit the bill.
It is easy to grow heritage roses, with them needing much the same care as any other rose with regards to feeding, watering, pruning and so on. In fact, many varieties tolerate neglect and will even look okay if you don’t do the basics.

Pruning pointers
Many heritage varieties resent being pruned hard. Remove any dead, diseased or damaged canes, then follow up by thinning out any overcrowded growth and trim to shape.
Once-flowering heritage roses also need to pruned straight after flowering has finished, usually in January, as they bloom on old wood. Pruning in winter, as you do with repeat-flowering roses,
will mean you are removing the growth that will produce the following season’s blooms. Most heritage varieties don’t need much in the way of deadheading, especially if you are wanting a good crop of hips to follow.

Become a rosarian
Heritage Roses New Zealand is the organisation dedicated to the conservation of heritage roses in New Zealand. There are branches around the country where you can meet like-minded people and learn more about these roses, how to grow them and the history behind them. Branches often have garden visits, guest speakers and meetings where cuttings are exchanged. Check out for further information and how to join.
Later this year, Heritage Roses New Zealand holds its conference Wild and Tamed in Cromwell from 28 November – 1 December. There will be lectures and garden visits along with a pre-conference tour of gardens from Dunedin to Cromwell and a post-conference tour of gardens from Cromwell to Invercargill. See for details and to register online.

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