The Best and Most Fragrant Roses for Making Rose Water and Potpourris
Rose lovers have long lamented that modern roses, while big and gorgeous, cannot match the fragrance of old-fashioned roses. Unless you take special care in selecting modern roses for their perfume, you may be in for a disappointment. Also, while most modern roses may provide continuous blooms and unusual colors, they are not the same as the large, extravagant rose shrubs lavishly covered with blooms.
Old-fashioned roses usually produce only one spectacular spring bloom, most often on a large shrub. It is not unusual for an old shrub rose to reach five feet in height and five feet in diameter, and produce literally hundreds of flowers at bloom time. With large rose shrubs, you can collect basketsful of flowers for rose water or potpourri all at once.
Roses Historically Used for Making Attar of Roses
Old roses are often noted for their fine perfume. Historically, the roses that have been most used for the production of rose water have been the centifolia rose and the damask rose. The damask rose (Rosa damascena) was cultivated in Bulgaria, Persia, and India for making otto of roses because it is highly fragrant. The variety of rose cultivated in Provence for this purpose is the centifolia rose (Rosa centifolia).
Centifolia roses (sometimes called “cabbage roses”) and damascena or damask roses, of which there are many varieties, would be fine choices for richly perfumed garden roses. Moss roses, which are a kind of centifolia, would be an excellent choice as well. Many of the old garden roses have a damask or centifolia heritage.
The Rosa damascena, grown for the production of attar of roses, is often given the name Kazanlik when offered for sale by rose growers. All the damasks and centifolias, as well as many other types of old garden roses, are known for their fine fragrance.
Damask Rose Cultivars
Some excellent damask roses include:
- La Ville des Bruxelles
- Jaques Cartier
- Hebe’s Lip
- Madame Hardy
Of these, I think my favorite is Madame Hardy (the white rose shown above). I love it for its rich fragrance, heavy-textured petals, and its perfectly formed blossoms.
Centifolia Rose Cultivars
Some fine centifolias include the Rosa centifolia herself and centifolia varieties, such as Tour de Malakoff, Fantin Latour, and The Bishop.
Since the moss roses are merely a centifolia “sport” (kind of like a mutant) with beautiful mossy-looking sepals, they too are richly fragrant. Some may remember Grandma’s “Moss Rose” china pattern, with its representation of “moss” covered buds.
My favorite moss roses include:
- Alfred de Dalmas (Mousseline)
- Chapeau de Napoleon (Crested Moss)
- Henri Martin (the nearest to red of the moss roses)
- William Lobb (Old Velvet Moss)
I am partial to Chapeau de Napoleon with its unusual mossy sepals, and Alfred de Dalmas for its daintiness.
Other Roses Noted for Fragrance
There is no need to limit yourself entirely to the damask and centifolia roses. Some other old roses known for their sweet perfume are:
- Madame Isaac Pereire: A raspberry-purple rose said to be one of the most fragrant of all roses
- Souvenir de la Malmaison: A sweet-scented continuous bloomer
- Comte de Chambord: A continuous bloomer with a rich scent
- Reine des Violettes: The so-called “blue” rose