When I see a blossom, my first response is to smell it. If it has no scent, it diminishes my experience with that flower. Roses are no exception. They are a “must have” in my garden, along with perennials and annuals. After working in my rose garden the first blooming year and smelling its wonderfully sweet scent, I decided that only plants with a heavenly rose scent could be a part of my rose gardening.
Where do roses get their fragrance?
Bob Hatterschide, in a classic article for the American Rose Society, notes that roses get their scent from essential oils exuded from glands on the lower petal surfaces. These oils include Rhodianol, the essential oil that has the smell described as “old rose;” Geraniol, the scent of geranium foliage; Nerol, a magnolia-like scent; and, Eugenol, a spicy fragrance sometimes described as the scent of oil of cloves.
Describing rose scents
Of course each person experiences scents differently, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to use scent in judging roses. Scents have little to do with whether a rose wins a class or not. Hatterschide describes the many types of rose scents. These include flower scents, such as rose or damask, clover, hyacinth, honeysuckle, nasturtium, and violet; fruit scents such as apple, lemon, and raspberry; spicy scents, such as bay, cloves, orris, and pepper; and other scents such as musk.
Factors that affect fragrance
Lois Ann Helgeson, in another American Rose Society report, discusses the connections between fragrances and rose classes and notes that scents in roses vary by temperature, humidity, and the amount of sunshine. Even the degree to which the blossom is open limits or enhances the fragrance. Rose fragrances also vary by color.
Not all roses are fragrant. Hatterschide and Helgeson note that James Alexander Gamble concluded that about 25 percent of roses have little or no scent, 20 percent were highly fragrant, and the remainder fall somewhere in between. The American Rose Society award for outstanding new fragrant roses is appropriately named for Gamble. The award list is a great starting point for anyone interested in especially fragrant roses.
Some of my favorites are ‘Cecile Brunner’, a dainty pink climber; ‘Dolly Parton’, a hybrid tea that is orange, large, and over-the-top fragrant; ‘Mr. Lincoln’, a dark red hybrid tea that grows tall and smells like heaven; and, ‘Fire Fighter’, another red upright hybrid tea. Just remember, next time you think about the perfect flower for your sunny garden, try the wonderful reward of a fragrant rose.
To learn more about the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award visit http://www.rose.org/members-only-2/resources/the-james-alexander-gamble-fragrance-award/ .
Article written by Donna Sapp, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.