Roses with the Best Scent
February 1, 2023

by Kate and Len Lucas

In the world of gardening there are probably more books about roses than anything else, and you would think that finding the best scented ones would be simple. It is our experience that we have had to wade through pages of very well written books about climbers, ramblers, hybrid teas, perpetuals or floribundas to find the answer to that all important question – does it have a strong scent?

We have no wish, nor do we have the qualifications, to go into detail about what exactly is a hybrid tea rose or how can you tell the difference between a climber and a rambler and frankly, does anybody really care? For us amateur gardeners we would suggest that we want to know the answers to three questions:

How tall does it get? What colour are the flowers? And does it have a good strong scent? Frankly, that last question is the most important because once you have the answer to that then all you need to know is, do I like the colour and will it fit the space I have?

While we are at it, we can cut down the horticultural anxiety by pointing out that roses only really come in three sorts of colours; white, yellow and anything from pale pink to deep red. And before the rose police get agitated about the so-called “blue roses” here is an apology to them and before you write to the editor please bear in mind that our readers are amateur gardeners not students of anthocyanins (the chemical that makes flowers a proper blue).

Pouring over the chromosomal family tree to check if the Bourbon influence has been overtaken by Damask traits or even hybridised to extinction can be left to the pub quiz or more importantly ignored altogether.  

Our proposition therefore is a simple one: all that really matters is does this rose have a good scent? And if it doesn’t then move on, if it does then make that purchase bearing in mind that for roses to give off their best they need care and attention. Now you can turn to those endless volumes written by the world’s rosarians to make sure that you do your best to get your rose to do its best.    

Here are some of the best scented roses we have ever experienced.

Madame Isaac Pereire. Introduced 1880 and regarded by some as the most scented rose. A large shrub rose and can get up to six or eight feet tall with very large pink to darker red flowers. Will flower on and off all summer.

Madame Alfred Carriere. Introduced 1879. Probably the best scented white climber ever grown. Flowers are large and produced all year.

Zephyrine Drouhin. Introduced 1868. A climber, and will easily get to the top of a six foot fence. Very free flowering, pink with a dense, heady scent. Will go down with mildew so keep an eye on it.  

Deep Secret. Introduced 1977.Shrub rose with deep red velvety flowers which will be produced right into the autumn. You can smell it yards away.

Gertrude Jekyll. Introduced 1986. Regarded by some as the finest rose ever produced by David Austin Roses. Can be grown as a shrub or a short climber with bright pink flowers which are produced all through the season. Heady perfume.

Munstead Wood. Introduced 2007. A shrub rose with very velvety deep red flowers described as having the classic scent of an old English rose. Will repeat flowering all through the summer. 

Souvenir du Docteur Jamain. Introduced 1865. The Royal Horticultural Society describes this as a shrub rose grown as a climber. You would expect better from such a world famous organisation, if they get confused then what chance do the rest of us have? We grow it as a climber because we didn’t know any different. It has rich ruby red flowers with the scent of a proper rose. It is susceptible to mildew and rust.

None of these are rare but all of them will at one time or another be attacked by several fungal diseases in the warm weather so we will be producing an article specifically about these problems in our series “pest and disease spotlight”.