Growing Scented Roses

Throughout the ages, man has sought to capture the tantalisingly elusive perfume of the rose. People seem instinctively to bow to a rose bloom – its beauty is a lure that holds the promise of further delight. One inhales deeply, eyes closed to focus the senses and, if the rose proves to be fragrant, ecstasy ensues!

It is a common belief that modern roses have lost the powerful fragrance of older varieties. In fact, most fragrant old rose varieties are still being grown today. What is more, most modern roses are superior in flowering ability, brightness of colour, shape of flower and firmness of petal.

Some 25 different sorts of rose scents can be identified and some roses have a mixture of these perfumes. Most Hybrid Teas appear to contain seven of the basic scents associated with the genus, or a mixture of them: rose, nasturtium, oris, violet, apple, lemon and clover.

Smelling Roses

To identify rose perfume:

Begin with a brief sniff, no more than a few seconds long, lest the hypersensitive nasal olfactory cells become anaesthetized. Let your memory go to work. Explore your personal collection of scents for a similar fragrance.

Having analysed the head space, take a deeper sniff and smell the heart and then the base of the rose. (Remember that it takes 12 hours for a rose to play all its notes, and the composition of smells varies during the day.)

white-roses in the sun

 On average, people are able to memorise and identify several hundred different smells. Henri Delbard, in A Passion for Roses, appends colours to scents and allocates a pyramid of colours to each variety. Since scent is generated when alcohol oxidises, temperature plays a major role in the release of perfume. On warm days, fragrance is strongest. During cold spells, fragrant varieties may lose all trace of their perfume; while extreme heat can cause fragrance to escape faster than it is made.

rose-bouquet-1327034_960_720It is futile to pick an immature bud and peel off its petals to establish its scent. In this respect, the rose differs from many other flowers. The oils in a rose can only be synthesized by mature cells at a relatively late stage. Cut roses from florists may have no fragrance as they are often harvested at an immature stage. Blooms picked when the outer petals have fully reflected will exude perfume for days to come at evenly warm room temperature.

Rose petalsThe scent comes from tiny cells on the undersides of the petals. As a rule, dark-coloured roses are more strongly scented than those of lighter hue. Cross-pollination, however, is changing the rules, resulting in varieties of strongly scented white roses – and deep-red blooms with hardly any fragrance at all, but most of all for thick petaled, commercially grown florist roses, to exude scent.

To test for fragrance, pick a semi-open bloom and keep it in your pocket or under your hat for half an hour. You will soon know whether it is a fragrant variety or not.

Some categories of scents:

  • citrus
  • aromatics, such as aniseed and lavender
  • flora, such as rose, jasmine and lilac
  • greenery
  • fruit, such as raspberry, pear and peach
  • spices, which include cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon
  • wood and balsam i.e. vanilla and heliotrope at the base.


Hybrid Tea

Alec’s Red
Blue Moon
Double Delight
Garden Queen
Garden Princess
Just Joey
Marijke Koopman
Mister Lincoln
New Zealand
Oyster Pearl
Red ‘n Fragrant
Sheila’s Perfume
Super Bowl
Tanned Beauty
Warm Wishes
Snow Queen
Perfume Passion
Liz McGrath
Heart Throb
Papa Meilland
Smell Me
Zulu Royal


Bella Rosa
Elizabeth of Glamis
Flower Power
Manou Meilland
Sandton Smile
Shocking Blue
St Andrew’s


Lavender Jade

Shrub and Climbing Roses

High Hopes
French Panarosa
Towering Rose Magic
The Ridge School
Great North
Salmon Spire
Creme caramel
Pink Curtain
Wedding Garland

Zulu Royal


French Panarosa

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