Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

How do you identify that rose?

With over 12,000 registered cultivars one of the hardest tasks is to try and identify a specific rose. There are ways however to make the task easier.

It can be quite a task to identify an unknown rose, especially as rose development has gone on for centuries with huge variations in colours, shapes, sizes and scents.

One estimate suggests there are over 12,000 registered rose cultivars so it can be a real challenge.

Flower colour, growth habit and relative vigour, foliage colour, flower shape, scent, flowering frequency will all help you narrow down the group to which any rose you are trying to identify falls into.

You will find it can be daunting. Very specific identification is often only possible by comparing fresh, flowering specimens with plants in large reference collections.

You can of course compare any mystery rose with pictures in books but bear in mind rose flowers can change in shape and colour as they mature.

It may help to visit a rose garden which specialises in roses such as NT Mottisfont in Hampshire or Devon’s RHS Rosemoor where there are abundant varieties to look and compare with.

Specialist rose nurseries will be able to help with advice.

 rambling rosesIt isn’t however all doom and gloom.

There is a checklist which will significantly help you get closer and closer to the answer.

First make sure you have a correct rose group. Is it a shrub rose, or a climber or tea rose for example? Then be very specific about the colour, including shading and patterns that may be present.

Then check the plant height and width - at different stages of growth of the plant.

Next the growth habit - defined on the website as describing the shape of the plant - What season or conditions will result in flowering summer or autumn.

 ground cover magic carpetAnd finally fragrance - how strong is the fragrance?

Once you narrowed it down it’s time to go searching books, catalogues or one of the many flower identification apps available.


Wild species and old roses

This type includes roses which produce only one flush of blooms often on old wood and includes wild species which still find their way into gardens and true old garden roses such as Alba, Gallica and Damask. Often open petalled and therefore not immediately obvious as a rose variety.

Modern shrub roses

Roses which have evolved to combine the characteristics, vigour and survival ability of the old garden roses with disease resistance associated with modern cultivars and significantly the ability to repeat flower which has become so much in demand from rose growers.

Modern bush roses

The largest of the group and therefore ones which need more explanation. These are bushy roses which can produce clusters of up to 25 blooms especially with the Floribunda group. The Hybrid Tea group are also bushy but have larger blooms either singly or in clusters of up to three. These roses typically bloom through to the autumn. These are the result of crossing hybrid perpetuals with tea roses and are upright, robust plants with long cane growth and less branching than some. The flowers are large, usually single, with high centres.

Floribunda roses are the result of crossing polyantha roses with hybrid teas. These are more dense, twiggy, and rigid than the parents.

Rambles and climbers

Easier to identify as they differ in habit and in flowering from other rose types. Ramblers send up vigorous stems from their base each year and have a dramatic summer flush of blooms in large trusses. Climbers have more moderate growth and larger flowers on lateral stems – another significant identification clue.

Miniature roses

These are usually based on old English roses, and are developed to stay around two feet high or lower. Grown on their own roots in general.

Groundcover roses

This group is recognisable for its spreading and training habit with clusters of single or double flowers and usually repeat flowering all summer. They need little pruning or deadheading and are very resilient.

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