The best scented roses for your garden

Val Bourne

Gardening expert Val Bourne recommends her favourite scented roses to plant in the garden, and explains how to care for them.



Scent is vital in any garden: it gives more sensuous pleasure than anything else and roses can provide it in variety and abundance.

Read our suggestions for scented plants for a sunny garden.

What are the most scented roses?

Many consider the most scented rose of all to be a blowsy beauty called 'Madame Isaac Pereire'. This repeat-flowering Bourbon rose bears substantial rich-pink blooms in abundance until late into the year. She has been admired since 1881 and is often grown as a short climber. Usefully she will tolerate poorer soil and shade.

Two other repeat-flowering, extremely healthy climbers of note are the silver-pink 'New Dawn' and the blush-white 'Madame Alfred Carrière'. They are used in entirely different ways. 'New Dawn' is perfect spiralled round the supports of a pergola or rose arch. 

Whereas 'Madame Alfred Carrière' is a vigorous climber and it famously spans the north-facing wall at Sissinghurst in Kent. This blush-white noisette often flowers until Christmas. Both have good foliage and Madame Alfred can be left to scale a wall, but she can also be looped along a pergola. Train the stems in November before winter hardens them up.

David Austin’s English roses are specifically bred for scent and the deep-pink 'Gertrude Jekyll' and rich-yellow 'Teasing Georgia' are two of his finest.

The best scented shrub roses

1. 'Roseraie de l'Hay' (1.8m x 1.5m / 6ft x 5ft)

This upright, repeat-flowering Rugosa rose is completely healthy. Semi-double, crimson-purple blooms top bright green foliage and round orange-red hips follow. Tolerates poor soil and partial shade, but dislikes very alkaline soil.

2. 'Great Maiden’s Blush’ (1.5m x 0.9m / 5ft x 3ft)

Sweetly scented, pale-pink flowers with incurved petals framed by grey-green foliage make this 18th-century Alba rose one of the easiest to grow.

3. 'Madame Hardy' (1.5m x 1.5m /5ft x 5ft)

This cool-white Damask rose, with a green-button middle, looks best in shadier places. The fragrance is fruity, the flowers are fully quartered and it’s vigorous, but thorny. Flowers just once.

4. 'St Ethelburga' (1.75m x 0.9m /4ft x 3ft)

Bred by Peter Beales in 2003 this shrub rose has healthy mid-green foliage supporting loosely formed soft-pink flowers.

5. 'Generous Gardener' (1.5m x 1. 3m / 5ft x 4ft)

This light-pink David Austin English rose produces informal blooms and it’s slightly leggy habit make it ideal for a number of uses including large beds, walls, pergolas, arches and pillars

6. 'Constance Spry' shrub (2m x 2m / 7ft x 7ft)

Large medium-pink shrub rose with a lax habit bred by David Austin in 1961. Can be grown as a climber too and then the myrrh fragrance is striking.

7. Ispahan (1.2m x 0.9m /4ft x 3ft)

Long-flowering Damask rose ( pre-1832) with small semi-double pink flowers with a clove fragrance in summer. Tolerant of poor soil and strong, healthy and easy.

8. 'Compte de Chambord' (1m x 1m)

This double, medium-pink repeat-flowering Portland rose has an old-rose fragrance and very full flowers. The light-green foliage is also attractive.

9. 'Surpasse Tout' (1.5m x 1.5m)

This Gallica rose flowers once in June, but the rose-crimson flowers are stunning. Completely healthy and good on poor soil that bakes.

10. 'Charles de Mills' (1.2m x 0.9m /4ft x 3ft)

A dusky deep-purplish red rose with a button eye set off by green foliage. One of the best of the old shrub roses with a light, sweet fragrance.

How to get the most from your shrub roses

Prune shrub roses in the second half of winter. Remove the three Ds - the diseased, damaged and dead.

Reduce the longer main stems by between one third and a half and take out any weak stems and any that cross.

Deadhead repeat-flowering roses to promote more flowers - unless you want hips.

The best scented hedging roses

Hedging roses can be bought from some rose growers and are they are often planted as bare-root plants during the dormant season between November and early March. The ground must be frost-free. Trim up into shape in late winter.

Read our guide to planting bare-root roses.

1. 'Harlow Carr' (1.2m x 1.0m / 4ft x 3ft)

Repeat-flowering pink English rose bred by David Austin in 2004. Exceptionally fragrant and a very useful short edge.

2. 'Wild Edric' (1.2m x 1.2m / 4ft x 4 t)

Rugosa-like single pink flowers, but no hips to follow, on this David Austin rose bred for healthy vigour. Very fresh and very English.

3. 'Buff Beauty' (1.5m x 1.2m (5ft x 4ft)

Continually in flower between July and late autumn, the Hybrid Musk rose Buff Beauty has soft apricot flowers and healthy coppery leaves. The scent is intoxicating.

4. 'Felicia' (1.5m x 1.5m / 5ft x 5ft)

Another Hybrid Musk rose, but this one has small, light-pink flowers that appear from darker pink buds. Healthy and free flowering from July onwards.

6. 'Prosperity' (1.5m x 1.2m / 5ft x 4ft)

A cream-white hybrid musk rose with apricot tints made more lovely by dark foliage - a strong clove scent.

The best repeat-flowering climbing roses

1. 'Gloire de Dijon' (up to 4.5m)

Soft apricot-buff tea rose, very vigorous and very healthy once established. A scented show stopper.

2. 'Clarence House' (up to 4.5m)

Lemon-scented yellow climber named at the express wish of the late Queen Mother and grown at Clarence House since 2000. Vigorous and strong with old-fashioned buttoned flowers.

3. 'Mme. Grégoire Staechelin'(up to 4.5m)

Flowers just once early in the rose season, but the pale-pink slightly nodding roses have a veined, deeper back to the petals and the superb foliage is glossy and healthy. Small orange pear-shaped hips follow.

4. 'Blairii no 2' (up to 3.5m)

Very free-flowering with flat flowers in a deep-pink that pales to towards the edges. The strong scent is always noticeable. Needs a warm position.

Caring for your climbing roses

Climbing roses need supports - either a trellis or wires. First remove dead, diseased or dying branches. Tie in any new shoots needed to fill supports.

Prune any flowered side shoots back by two thirds of their length. If the plant is heavily congested, cut out any really old branches from the base to promote new growth.

Read our guide to understanding the difference between climbing and rambling roses.

The best scented hybrid teas and floribundas

Floribundas and hybrid teas tend to be scented but here are six of the best.

1. 'Deep Secret' (80cm)

Large rich-red flowers - Rose of the Year 1979.

2. 'Prima Ballerina' (100cm)

Large, orange-pink flowers.

3. 'Freedom' (80cm)

Bright-yellow.

Floribundas

1. 'City of London' - (90cm)

Clusters of light-pink flowers.

2. 'Absolutely Fabulous' (90cm)

Rich-yellow flowers - Rose of the Year 2009.

3. 'Margaret Merrill' (100cm)

Warm-white floribunda - highly scented.

4. 'Amber Queen' (75cm)

Large, full flowers in a warm yellow set against bronzed foliage. Rose of the Year 1984.

Pruning floribundae and hybrid roses

These are basically pruned in the same way with one important difference. Floribunda stems should be left longer (roughly 10 - 12 inches/30 cm) than hybrid teas which are taken down to between 4 and 6 inches (10-15 cm). Cut out dead, diseased and any rubbing and crossing stems to keep the centre open.

To prune, shorten back the strongest remaining shoots to four to six buds 10-15cm (4-6in) from the base - to the point where last year's growth began.

Shorten back less vigorous shoots to two to four buds 5-10cm (2-4in) from the base.

Cut back the strongest shoots down to within 25-30 cm (10-12in) of soil level.

Prune back less vigorous shoots more severely.

Read our guide to pruning roses.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.