David Austin Roses -- Selection Criteria
Michael Marriott, who works for David Austin Roses, gave a talk today at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. I found the following points from his talk of particular interest:
Mr. Marriott said David Austin roses are selected for introduction based on the following criteria:
Criteria #1: The overall beauty and grace of the plant and the flowers. The flowers should nod slightly so that they meet you: they "look you in the eye". The plant must be beautiful as well as the flowers. There must be a charm and grace, above all.
'Charles Rennie Mackintosh'
Criteria #2: The fragrance. While an otherwise extraordinary rose might be excused the lack of a wonderful fragrance, a rose should have fragrance. Roses are special in that they have many different fragrances. While a sweet pea always smells essentially like a sweet pea, and a Lilac always smells Lilac, different roses have many different scents. According to Mr. Marriott, there are five main categories of rose scents:
Old Rose, Fruity, Musk, Tea, and Myhrr.
"Old Rose" is the classic rose fragrance of the Gallicas and Damask roses. Fruity may be citrus, strawberry, banana, peach, or any number of other sweet familiar scents. Mr. Marriott described "Musk" as "clove-like", and unlike the other fragrances, which come from the petals of the flower, "musk" comes from the stamens. "Tea" fragrance of course evokes fresh tea, and "Myhrr" is anise or licorice. Fragrance is complex and can be made up of several types of scents, such as fruity-tea, or Old Rose mixed with Myhrr. The rose may also have variations of fragrance as it develops, or may be influenced by the weather conditions, especially humidity and temperature. The Austin company consults with a retired perfume expert who acts as the company's "nose" to describe the scents of each particular rose.
Criteria #3: Disease resistance and health. A rose that has no resistance to Blackspot, or no vigor, is a frustration. Gardening can be frustrating enough without adding a weak plant to the mix.
Having grown many different David Austin roses for quite a few years, I was completely unsurprised by the criteria Mr. Marriott listed. This is exactly what I get from David Austin roses: beauty and overall charm come first, fragrance is a close second, and disease resistance is up there on the list, but it isn't #1, or #2.
This is a different approach to roses than what I see in, (for example) the Kordes roses, who appear to put disease resistance first and foremost. I have a few of the newest Kordes roses, and I can say at least in this garden, their disease resistance is superb. But fragrance often isn't there, and overall beauty doesn't quite approach the Austins. It's a choice. What are you willing to sacrifice? What can you sacrifice?
Some climates simply demand disease resistance--there is no other way to keep roses alive. In this climate, I have the luxury of putting beauty and fragrance first. Not everyone does. The world is big enough for both aesthetics, surely. There is no right or wrong way.
I might venture to say that there is a practical way and a deliriously passionate way. Which did I choose?