Fragrance in Roses


When you give a person a rose, the first thing they often do is smell it. We’ve grown roses in our gardens for hundreds, if not thousands of years with fragrance in mind and continue to do so today. As a garden plant, roses offer us a wide variety of varieties with fragrance of all different colours, flower forms and plant types. No other garden plant comes close to what the rose offers in terms of fragrance.

Fragrance amongst roses is highly subjective; we are all different in what we perceive as fragrant or not so what one may find as a strong scented variety, the next person may detect little or no scent. I’m told fragrance in roses is made up of around 200 different compounds and we all detect each of these differently with our noses.


Our environment also plays a huge role in the detection of fragrance. As a general rule, days that are warm, calm and humid offer the best conditions for fragrance to be released while there is often little fragrance to be detected on cold and damp days. Then there are some very strongly scented varieties which a fragrance will be detected almost all of the time.

I sometimes hear also that ‘modern roses have no scent’ and that ‘breeders have bred scent out of roses’. This is not true – what has happened is that over time, those roses with scent have kept on being grown in gardens while those without scent have fallen by the wayside.  An informal study I read a number of years ago concluded that one third of all roses have a good scent, another third have little scent and the last third have no scent and that this has remained much the same over time

It is incredibly challenging for rose breeders to breed for fragrance. Cross two highly fragrant roses and you may get nothing in terms of fragrance from the resulting seedlings. Fragrance is also linked genetically to disease tolerance and vase life – often fragrant roses either don’t have the best health or the blooms don’t last the best in a vase. Think about it – those roses you buy from the florist don’t have much scent because they need to be transported long distances from the grower to market.

Margaret MerrilTop five most fragrant roses selected by members of the New Zealand Rose Society 2018

  1. Margaret Merrill – white
  2. Aotearoa – pink
  3. Double Delight – red and white
  4. Papa Meilland – red
  5. Blackberry Nip – purple

Some other fragrant roses worthwhile growing

Hybrid Tea

Auckland Metro – white

Chartreuse de Parme Chartreuse de Parme – magenta pink

Clodagh McGredy – apricot

Fragrant Cloud – brick red

Land of the Long White Cloud – white

Lasting Love – dusky red

Magnificent – deep pink

Matawhero Magic – bronzy orange

Lasting Love

Memorial Day – orchid pink

Mum in a Million – pink

Pope John Paul II  – white

Waimarie – mauve pink


Blueberry Hill – Lilac

Friesia – yellow

Midnight Blue – purple

Outta the Blue – magenta/lavender

Scentasia – creamy yellow

ScentimentalScentimental – red and white striped


Climbing Nahema  – soft pink

Compassion – pink/apricot

Fourth of July  – red/white striped

Leaping Salmon – salmon pink

Fourth of July

Red Flame – dusky red

Sir Edmund Hillary – creamy white

Taffeta (Patio climber) creamy white

David Austins

Most Austins are fragrant but try the following

Abraham Darby – peachy pink/yellow reverse

Falstaff – deep crimson

Golden Celebration – yellow

Gertrude JekyllGertrude Jekyll – pink

Mary Rose – rich pink

Wollerton Old Hall – apricot


Few of this type of rose are strongly fragrant but the following have a noticeable fragrance if you can get down to small them!

Beauty Secret – red

Moon River  – silvery lavender

Orchid Lace – lavender lilac

Sweet Chariot – lavender purple

Heritage Roses

Many heritage roses are scented so there is plenty to choose from for your garden. Just be aware some only flower once in spring but they sure put on a good display when they do.

In the Rose Garden for August

  • Continue to prune roses which should be done by mid month.
  • Once pruning is done, tidy up around the roses, pick up any fallen leaves, remove weeds and lightly fork over the ground.
  • Apply a winter clean up spray of copper but leave it until a few days after pruning.
  • Check stakes and ties on standard roses and renew if required.
  • Towards the end of the month and into September, apply a general rose fertiliser to your roses at the recommended rates.

By Hayden Foulds

Hayden also serves as Deputy Chairman of the World Federation of Rose Societies Rose Trials Committee amongst other rose endeavours. 

Read more from Hayden here.