The scent of roses in the air tantalizes the senses. It is the smell of summer. Coming into full bloom from early to mid-June, roses continue to bloom all summer long, scenting the air with their heady perfume. Originally cultivated as much for their scent as for their beauty, old fashioned roses may produce smaller, less showy blooms than modern hybrids; but their intoxicating fragrance is unsurpassed.
In their quest to create roses with longer stems and showier, more vibrantly colored flowers, rose hybridizers in the mid-20th century were forced to trade off scent in favor of more stunning displays. The same trade off had to be made in the development of the marvelous new disease-resistant, easy-to-care-for rose varieties like the popular but scentless Knock Out rose. The new hybrids have proved themselves to be strong survivors and have brought stunning visual beauty to our gardens, but the fragrant scent of roses in bloom has been missed.
For the past couple of decades hybridizers have been working to marry the durability and beauty of modern roses with a return to the alluring fragrance of the past. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Development of a new rose takes 10 years, and returning fragrance to the gene mix is a trial-and-error process. Held in a recessive gene, fragrance goes hand-in-hand with poor color retention, poor vase life and susceptibility to disease. Having now overcome those problems, modern hybridizers are working to maintain gains in sturdiness and display while reintroducing fragrance.
The sweet smell of success can be found in the new hybrid roses beginning to arrive in local garden centers. This year the American Rose Society awarded the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Medal to a dozen new rose varieties, including Crimson Glory, Double Delight, Fragrant Cloud, Mister Lincoln, Tiffany and Angel Face. Because each rose has its own unique bouquet, gardeners will want to stop and smell the roses as they select plants for their garden this year.