Garden Roses – Are They Good Garden Partners?


We always can learn from history. Even in times that were grim and dangerous…

a very beautiful garden was something to be cherished in Medieval times. The people of that time took pleasure where they could find it, and the Middle East gave them many ideas and learned developments.

Gardens of Persia had a great impact on the European world of the times. Persian gardens had these fabulous pleasure gardens that conjured up images of the Garden of Eden. In the culture of the Middle East, the idea of a garden as paradise is deep in their religion. The idea of paradise came to Medieval Europe as an enclosed, sensual, billowing flower garden. And what flower is more sensual than a rose?


Gardens in the Middle Ages were symbolic acts and nowhere more than cloister meditative gardens. Each plant possessed a symbolic virtue or power, right along with all the practical uses. They revered the plants but also treasured them for the beauty they held. The pleasure gardens offered cutting flowers for the altar, but the garden was also solace for the soul.


Along with the herbs, roses had many meanings as well and were used in gardens for fragrance, sustenance, medical treatment and beauty. At the time, a rose was not just a rose. It was celebrated in prose, poetry and religious text too.

It was a time when the cathedrals sported those magnificent rose windows, a symbol for the Virgin Mary.


Contemporary gardens like these former pleasure gardens are designed differently now under many different names. Now we have secret gardens, parterre gardens or rose gardens. I enjoy well-designed rose gardens, especially those walled in and filled with companion plants. The cloisters of the time had roses planted with companion plants, not as specimen and isolated plants like many gardens today.


Often you see the modern floribundas, grandifloras and hybrid teas in gardens today. But long ago, the roses grew in romantic excess in mound-like fragrant bushes. Old roses have romantic or regal names and storied histories. They are much hardier and far better resistant to disease. You don’t need to prune or provide special maintenance. Many live in cold climates. I don’t have places around here that grows vintage roses, but Our Garden Journal has a post on them. To see various vintage roses and learn a bit about them, click Cathy’s link.

The only problem with them is many give only a one spring or summer show, but boy what a show. Above, you see wild roses growing in Niagara Falls State Parks. The problem with them is trying to get rid of them if necessary. So pretty, but they do grow into thickets making removal difficult. You can see they survive disease-free in conditions modern roses cannot. The specialized vintage roses are much prettier and no one wants to remove them.

With these long histories, the old roses were likely hybridized in the Middle Ages in the cloisters and castles, but not seriously or even correctly until many years later. Roses have long been a garden favorite with many ways in which to display them in the garden. I am not a particular fan of modern roses (yet do think them beautiful), but do love to see the old vintage roses in bloom. I just wish we had gardens that have large displays of them.

Morris Arboretum

Here are some rose gardens, each looking much different from each other. Notice the gardens that have the shrub roses blooming right along with other spring perennials. Gardens with specimen roses are pictured. These are the type of rose gardens that were popular from Victorian times.

Niagara Falls Parks, Ontario

Above is Niagara Falls, Ontario and below, Biltmore Rose Gardens. Click through the galleries to see the differences from the more informal gardens of Morris Arboretum, PA, the less rigid Niagara Falls Rose Gardens, Canada and the highly formal Biltmore Estate Rose Gardens, NC. All three have beautifully tended roses and all three are of different climates.

Biltmore Estate Gardens


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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19 Responses to Garden Roses – Are They Good Garden Partners?

  1. This is a very timely post as I am about to remove a hedgerow of knock out roses which came with our house. They have been infected with rose rosette disease and I am anxious to remove them and replace them with something else. I do like roses but would like to incorporated them in a with companion plants and not massed together. Your photos are helpful. Thank you!

  2. Roses are pretty, but as you say, the modern roses seem to take a lot of work. Plus, you didn’t mention the thorns!

  3. alesiablogs says:

    Roses are pretty especially when given for the right occasion .

  4. Good post. I grow only wild, shrub, or rambling roses that are lower maintenance and disease resistant. I’m waiting to see if my Rosa setigera and ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ turn out to be manageable over the long term, I know they can turn into monsters.

  5. debsgarden says:

    I love the old shrub roses and your images show some great examples. I would love a garden filled with roses, but not enough sun and too much humidity limits my choices. Nevertheless, I have about a dozen, and their colors and fragrance are a delight. My Rugosa ‘Alba’ is completely disease free with wonderful scent and is the oldest rose I own. I have several knockouts that bloom up to nine months out of the year, so I can forgive their lack of refinement and fragrance.

  6. We have a rose garden at Frimley Park near where I live. They are modern roses but do bloom for quite some time. Then we have a small enclosed rose garden by another park which has some older roses. They do take a lot of work. But I do love to go there as the scents are so beautiful

  7. What interesting timing – just yesterday my husband took a very long walk on Palm Beach and discovered a garden hidden away on the grounds of a beautiful historical church. He came back musing about why old churches so often seem to have such lovely secluded gardens – and today I read your post about this very subject. Your photos, as always, are superb! Makes me look forward to my next visit to a rose garden I know!

  8. I love roses and rose gardens especially with older varieties…and the wild roses I think are the best…that is why I am growing one…heavenly scent.

  9. I definitely have a soft spot for roses. I don’t have many here in my garden (just a few), for various reasons. But I LOVE to visit rose gardens! Those shots at The Biltmore are incredible!

  10. Winter seemed so harsh and unending, it is so amazing to see how beautiful spring has become…The roses seem to be unusually special this year.

  11. So many beautiful gardens. I think Wisley in the UK has vintage roses.

  12. Roses are so beautiful. I remember my grandma saying how hard it is to raise roses as they need very special care and are very sensitive. I’ve got a wild rose which -as you say- is a very strong plant and has endured all kinds of weather from harsh frost and snow to extreme heat. Mine blooms twice a year but each time lasts for at least 2-3 months. I can see it now from my window in full bloom!

  13. A.M.B. says:

    Morris Arboretum is such a beautiful place. I feel lucky to live so close to it.

  14. lucindalines says:

    Pretty pics and great information I think I want to plant roses now. If they would just survive for me.

  15. We do miss out when we strive to get Roses that flower continuously. I like companion planting with Roses but always beat myself up with the difficulty of feeding the Roses, finding that the companion plants are not so keen on my feeding regime. Perhaps liquid feeding is the answer.

  16. What a beautiful post. It’s sad how so many do not take the time to find the meaning or significant of the flowers found in a garden, including us. We do appreciate them for their beauty though. Nothing manmade can compare to what the earth itself offers. Amazing photos.

  17. Adrienne says:

    I think I’m most impressed with the idea of scarcity in this post. It’s interesting to think of gardens and roses as luxuries when they seem so commonplace today. After all, doesn’t everyone seem complain about their yard and aren’t Knock Out roses used just about everywhere (or seems so in Atlanta)? Thanks for the history lesson! I love my roses the most even if I gripe about them the most. Oh, the burden of great expectations…

  18. Emily Scott says:

    I like to put my nose into roses and stand breathing in their scent. The old, more open roses, are better for bees and other pollinators. I see a lot of bees in the UK on what we call ‘dog roses’.

  19. catmint says:

    I definitely prefer old fashioned roses too. Most rose gardens don’t really thrill me. I like them exuberant and mixed with other old fashioned plants like lavender as in your photos at Morris Arboretum. Interesting post, Donna.

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