David Austin roses for the humid south?

R. 'Graham Thomas' planted above and behind Sambucus nigra 'Eva' pp15,575 (Black Lace Elderberry)

As a garden writer, it’s that time of year when I’m sent plants to test in my garden.  Yesterday, I came home to a large box with David Austin Roses written on the side.  I nearly whooped with excitement because these roses were ones I’m excited to evaluate.

A few months ago, David Austin Roses contacted me and asked if I’d like to try some newer varieties, and I could choose those I wanted.  Normally, plant testers are just given certain plants with no input.

I explained how I no longer spray my roses and asked if there were any varieties which performed better in the blackspot ridden south? I fully expected company representative, Michael Marriott to come back and say, “Thank you very much, but we’ll take our business elsewhere,” but he didn’t.  Instead, he responded with a long list of roses from which to choose.

Michael suggested the following cultivars for Oklahoma. Those marked with a “B” are best.  Of those on the list, I already grow ‘Sophy’s Rose’ (love her, a bit of blackspot, but she snaps back); ‘Graham Thomas’ (what a fine yellow rose, a bit of blackspot, but I just remove the leaves); ‘Abraham Darby’ (such an amazing color, has some trouble opening with humidity); ‘Teasing Georgia’ (did not do well in my garden.  She was always covered in blackspot and leafless, so she went to the great garden in the sky).

Crocus Rose, Molineux (B), Harlow Carr, Sophy’s Rose (B), Carding Mill (B), Lichfield Angel (B), Mary Rose, Gertrude Jekyll , Darcey Bussell (B), Graham Thomas (B), Lady Emma Hamilton, The Alnwick Rose (B), A Shropshire Lad, Fair Bianca, Scepter’d Isle (B)

R. 'Abraham Darby'

Pat Austin (B), Golden Celebration (B), Gentle Hermione, Abraham Darby (B), Benjamin Britten (B), Crocus Rose, Evelyn, Falstaff, Jude the Obscure (B), L. D. Braithwaite (B), Sharifa Asma, Teasing Georgia as climber, The Dark Lady (B),
The Shepherdess, William Shakespeare 2000

In a little over twenty years, we’ve come a long way from when I ordered the first three David Austin roses offered in America out of a magazine ad.  They were ‘Heritage’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Graham Thomas.’  I loved those roses.

R. 'Sophy's Rose'

From this list, I chose:  ‘Queen of Sweden’, ‘Darcey Bussell’, and ‘Molineux’.  They were out of ‘Queen of Sweden’ so they sent me The Alnwick Rose instead.  After re-reading the description of its disease resistance, I think I will like it better.  The plants were very fresh from their travels and another thunderstorm was headed our way, so I grabbed a shovel and planted them immediately (and in my good shoes too; don’t tell Bill).  They are residing against the east side of the garage.  Because roses love morning sun in the south, the east side of the house is my favorite place to grow them. They will be the backbone of a new border.

As the season goes by, I’ll let you know how they perform.  In the meantime, if you’re interested in growing David Austin roses in the southern U.S., check out the descriptions for the most disease resistant ones here.

‘Carefree Beauty’ rose

Rosa Carefree Beauty and maiden hair grass both blooming.
Icy lamb's ear
Icy lamb’s ear

Tired of hearing about cold and snow?  Me too.

Instead, let us speak of times past, particularly of summer, when the garden posed for one giant beauty shot, and my ‘Carefree Beauty’ rose was at her peak.


Through the arbor gate
Through the arbor gate

You step outside, the screen door slapping at your heels, and a wall of heat hits you like a thunderclap.  Stop for a moment, gather your thoughts, and gaze upon the garden in all its summer glory.  Watch as dragonflies dance in the sky to a song only they can hear.

Suddenly, standing tall behind the split-rail fence, a pink rose catches your eye and in the early morning haze, it, like the summer heat, takes your breath away.  Stately canes are covered in blossoms, the blooms a clear, pure pink un-muddied by blue undertones.

'Carefree Beauty' rose.
Rosa ‘Carefree Beauty’  Pay no attention to the red hoe on the left.

‘Carefree Beauty’, a/k/a Katy Road Pink, is one of Dr. Griffith Buck’s most famous roses.  Although Dr. Buck’s name was nearly lost to us because he was way ahead of his time, his work led the way for today’s ever-blooming, disease resistant roses.

'Carefree Beauty' rose blooming in October.
‘Carefree Beauty’ blooming in October.

When outside deadheading, I often think of Dr. Buck looking down from heaven bemused.  When he ran his rose program at Iowa State University, he had a very small budget, so his roses braved the elements alone, unlike the coddled Hybrd Teas so popular from 1950s through the 1970s.  During his thirty-seven year career at the university, he registered ninety roses, many of which can still be grown by modern gardeners.  Thank goodness this was done through the love of his friends and family, who kept the roses he gave them alive; and through rose nurseries like Chamblee’s Rose Nursery and the Antique Rose Emporium, who helped get them into commerce.  In fact, ‘Carefree Beauty’ was originally known through ARE as ‘Katy Road Pink’ because it was found along the Katy Road in Houston, Texas, as I’m sure my friend Cindy From My Corner of Katy can attest.

An open bloom of 'Carefree Beauty' rose.
An open bloom of ‘Carefree Beauty’ rose.

I grow several of Dr. Buck’s roses, including ‘Serendipity’ (died last summer), ‘Country Dancer’ (going strong), ‘April Moon’ (new last summer), ‘Apple Jack’ (going strong) and ‘Frontier Twirl’ (beautiful, but has blackspot).  However, it is my ‘Carefree Beauty’ rose who stole my heart long ago.

Here’s why.

  • Whether summer is hot or cold, she always looks good.
  • Other than tossing a handful of alfalfa pellets on her a couple of times a season, she asks for nothing more.
  • She rarely has a speck of blackspot, and her light green foliage with its red edges is beautiful besides.
  • Nearly constant bloom.  If I forget to deadhead her, she just outgrows the unsightly bloomed-out flower and moves on to another perfect, pink bloom.
  • Aphids don’t seem to like her.
  • The simple blooms don’t ball up during humid years.
  • She laughs at drought.  A friend of mine had a hedge of these beauties at the side of her property.  She rarely watered them, and they were in her poorest soil.
  • Her blooms are lightly fragrant.
  • She forms large rosehips in the fall.
'Carefree Beauty' rose dappled with rain.
‘Carefree Beauty’ rose dappled with rain.

Now, for the negatives:

  • Large grower.  Don’t plant her where she doesn’t have room.  (Mine is crowded and does fine.  I cut her back a lot some years.)
  • Her semi-double blooms don’t last long in a vase.  (Who cares?)
  • Thorns.  She has them as do most roses.
What more can I say?
What more can I say?

That’s it.  She is a perfect lady, a homesteader in the world of roses.  While wondering if she was a parent to some of this generation’s disease resistant roses, I found where a ‘Carefree Beauty’ seedling was the seed parent of ‘Radrazz’ or the original Knockout rose.  She is also the seed parent of at least one other Buck rose ‘Buckaroo.’  The Southampton Rose Society reports that she is the parent of several new Bailey Nursery roses, one of which is ‘Grandma’s Blessing.’  I’m not at all surprised, and I’m glad she passed down some of her good genetic traits to this generation.  If you have a place for her in your yard, please give her a try.  She’s hardy throughout USDA Zones 5-9.

Knockout rose; can you see the similarity to its parent's blooms
Knockout rose; can you see the similarity to its parent’s blooms?

To learn more about Dr. Griffith Buck, please visit the website created in his honor at Iowa State University.  You can also visit the most complete collection of his roses at the Reiman Gardens on the university grounds.