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Southern Garden Roses With Stories—and Where to Get Them

Plus, the rose that smells like sweet tea

Pink roses in a bush in a park

Photo: Gabriela Gomez-Misserian

In Charleston's Hampton Park, heirloom roses, including the Blush Noisette, grow at the Rose Pavilion.

“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” wrote Gertrude Stein in 1913, but we respectfully disagree. The American Rose Society breaks them down into Old Garden roses (varietals that existed prior to 1867), Modern roses (anything developed after that year), and Species roses (often called “wild roses”). But even beyond that classification system, roses grow with rich heritages, symbolic fragrances, historic names, and origin tales that span the centuries. Across the South, rose experts shared a bit about flowers with notable Southern stories.

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Peggy Martin rose

photo: cj lotz diego
Peggy Martin roses climbing on a stair railing.

Roses have a long lineage, making them naturally hardy from generations of survival. But no rose can quite compare to the resilient Peggy Martin, also known as the Katrina rose. After withstanding 150-mile-per-hour winds, sweltering heat, and submersion in saltwater for over two weeks in the garden of Louisiana resident Peggy Martin, this Southern rambler survived and bloomed again. The hot-pink rose then experienced a philanthropic career, with a portion of its sales helping rebuild gardens along the hurricane-ravaged coast. Today it’s a strong and prolific bloomer that can survive across the South.

Where to buy: Antique Rose Emporium and Rose Petals Nursery

Champney’s Pink Cluster

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The Noisettes are the first American-developed class of roses. The story goes that John Champneys, a rice planter from Charleston, South Carolina, created the first Noisette rose by crossing a China rose cutting with a fragrant Musk rose, resulting in a new hybrid—Champney’s Pink Cluster in 1811. “I refer to her as the grandmother of all the Noisettes,” says Art Wade, a consulting rosarian with the American Rose Society and a co-owner of Rose Petals Nursery in Newbury, Florida with his wife, Cydney. Noisettes are known for their scent and repeat blooms. “His creation was unlike any other rose known to the gardening world at that time,” says Victor Lazarri, author of 100 Roses for the South Florida Garden. “Champney gave seedlings of this new variety to his neighbor, Philippe Noisette, who sent them to France. They became so popular in Europe—and then by proxy became more popular in America—that a new group of roses was created.” 

Where to buy: Rose Petals Nursery, Rogue Valley Roses, or Petals from the Past

Marechal Niel rose

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“The Marechal Niel is known as the quintessential lapel for the Southern gentlemen,” says David Brown, a horticulturalist, greenhouse manager, and floral designer at Hills & Dales Estate in LaGrange, Georgia. The full, heavy-petaled rose is a light yellow. “When I smell it, I smell tea. But it’s a sweet tea smell,” Brown says. A robust climber, the rose displays best when trellised on an arbor or wall. With heavy blooms and a weak stem, the rose tends to “nod,” so Brown suggests setting up the climber to hang from above, with support, so that its blooms can be viewed from below. Elegant and timeless, you can also spot the Maréchal Niel at the Smithsonian Museum, Brown says, in an oil painting by Childe Hassam (1919).

Where to buy: Rose Petals Nursery, Rogue Valley Roses, and A Reverence for Roses

Cherokee rose

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“It’s cheaper to build a fence with a Cherokee rose than it is to build with wood,” Wade says, reciting a common notion among rosarians about the fast-growing variety. Though the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata) arrived in North America from China in 1780, it’s now the state of Georgia’s official flower. A mounding bush with thick foliage and climbing ability, it produces scented, white, five-petaled flowers. According to an article by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, the Cherokee rose’s most storied legacy began in 1838, when the Cherokee people were forced to leave their land and march to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. “The elder Cherokee called upon their Heaven Dweller, who told them where every tear fell on the trail, he would grow a sturdy, thorny plant with seven leaves, one for each Cherokee clan; a white rose with five petals; and a golden center of the flower, to remind the Cherokee people of the white man’s greed for gold.” The flower may look delicate, but it’s part of a strong and prolific plant with staying power.

Where to buy: Antique Rose Emporium, Rose Petals Nursery, or High Country Roses 

Republic of Texas

photo: Antique Rose Emporium
The Antique Rose Emporium’s Republic of Texas bloom.

The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas, carries many roses with Texas backstories. The classic tune “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” for one, refers to a butter-yellow bloom, much like the Republic of Texas. Excellent planted in containers, this rose can also be used as a border. For something more showy, try the Brazos Belle, a sunset-orange, multi-petaled bloom bred for the Brazos Valley.

Other Southern roses worth knowing:

Swamp Rose

Fires of Alamo

Mrs. Sam Houston

Old Baylor

Key West Rock Rose

Crawfish Etouffee

Rockwall Sesquicentennial

Green Rose

Learn even more about heirloom, antique, and Old Garden roses at the American Rose Garden in Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the American Rose Society.