Just in Time for Spring: Tips on Heirloom Roses

Having grown up in Ohio, my youth was spent tending the vegetable garden. My mom wasn’t real big on roses; she thought them too fussy. So when I moved to Georgia and embarked on that first planting season in our new home, I had all sorts of flower plans.

I’ll get right to the punch. Those beautiful long stemmed roses you see in florists’ shop are all but impossible to grow in Dixie humidity. (Does that mean Mom was right?) Thus began my rose quest. A friend suggested heirloom or antique roses. My life, and my  garden, haven’t been the same since!

The Difference Between Modern & Heirloom Roses

Old roses are less trouble, less maintenance, vigorous growers, produce beautiful hued blooms and come in plentiful shapes, sizes, fragrances, and hues. Although definitions vary, an “heirloom rose” is defined as a rose which existed before the introduction of modern roses in 1867.


Today’s modern roses have been hybridized primarily for potent color and long buds/stems. In other words, it’s all about the modern interpretation of beauty. Heirloom roses come with history and if they are propagated from cuttings, that means the rose you’re planting can trace its ancestory back through the ages, just like your Aunt Mildred. Your “new” rose may very well have graced the garden of an early American settler or a European countess. How cool is that?

My Favorite Heirloom Roses

I have many heirloom roses in my garden and I can honestly say they are essentially trouble free. “Lamarque” is growing up the side of my studio, “Cecile Brunner” and “Celine Forestier” grace the trellises and white rugosas form a hedge around the back of my vegetable patch. I cut and cut them from late spring to late summer and take them in the house.

Granted, the stems are not long and leggy like those you receive from big box warehouse stores, but I have adapted by starting a collection of bud vases and displaying them in shorter containers. Their fragrance and beautiful, nuanced hues are perfect in our home.

Witness the fragrant pink blooms of the heirloom “Zephirine Drouhin” climbing rose.

Fragrant pink blooms of the heirloom Zephirine Drouhin climbing rose

So start exploring heirloom roses and see where they lead you. Do some internet research. Get a book from the library (yes, some of us still do that!). Call a few sources and ask questions.

Heirloom Rose Resources & Tips

Personally, my favorite source is the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. Their selection is outstanding and their method of collecting and rescuing abandoned roses is inspiring.

Planting times here in Zone 7 are best through late April before the heat sets in. So get in touch with the past in creating your future garden, full of heirloom rose fragrance, bloom and irresistible color!


On April 1st, Suzanne saw this heirloom rose bloom in the yard, the first of the season!


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