Paul F. Zimmerman
Originally published in The Rose Reporter – 1995
Followed by The Rose, the official publication of the American Rose Society. – 1996
As the search for landscape roses continues to heat up, as the big rose growers continue to introduce new shrubs for this purpose, can a passion for climbers be not far behind? After all anyone with a low fence, a wall, a pillar, the side of the house, has a space for one. Since all of these can be readily found in today’s modern urban landscape it seems logical to expect this to occur.
But perhaps not. Not because the rose buying public does not find climbing roses interesting but because the rose growing community has yet to provide them interesting climbing roses. Today’s climbers are no more than sports of hybrid teas with their stiff growth, bare canes and oversized, non-fragrant flowers. We’ve all seen them slammed up against a fence, flattened like some kind of upright road kill on a West Texas highway. The few holdovers from the old varieties that can be found are either once blooming ramblers or roses like Cecile Brunner; a lovely rose but not with the restrained growth habit and remontant qualities most gardeners of small gardens want.
I confess and make no bones about that I would prefer climbers who grow with grace and suppleness. There would be nothing more beautiful than a climbing rose growing up a house with the laterals fountaining off the main canes. The blooms nod to you from above, the lush foliage covers the wall to provide a green backdrop to show off the blossom and the fragrance drifts down on a warm summer evening. Sound like a dream. It’s not. I only need to walk into my back yard where a lovely Rev d’Or cascades off my back patio overhang. Here is a climber I can fall in love with.
If everything old is new again then Rev d’Or and her kin are gems waiting to be re-discovered. They all form up a class of roses known as Noisettes. A class of repeat (for the most part) blooming, fragrant, naturally climbing roses that has been around since the early 1800s and a class that I unashamedly say is one of my two favorites. The other being Bourbons.
John Champney was a rice plantation owner in Charleston, South Carolina when in 1802 he either discovered or hybridized a rose by crossing R. Chinensis with R. Moschata. It is said that Mr. Champney himself transferred the pollen and the cross was R. Moschata with the China Rose Parsons Pink China. However both Jack Harkness in his book “Roses” and David Austin in his book “Shrub Roses and Climbing Roses” both say this is unlikely because deliberate pollination was not in general practice at that time. They feel it was a happy accident. Regardless of how it happened almost all are in agreement the parents were R. Moschata and a China Rose.
This rose was introduced as R. Moschata Hybrida but quickly became known as Champney’s Pink Cluster after it’s introduction in 1811 It contained small pink flowers blooming in clusters but like most first generation crosses of a once bloomer with a repeat bloomer it did not carry forth the latter quality. This was left to the second generation and this is where Philippe Noisittee comes in.
Also of Charleston Philippe Noisette was a French Nurseryman who sowed seeds of Champney’s Pink Cluster and the law of inheritance in rose breeding came into play. He ended up with a repeat bloomer which contained clusters of small white semi-double petaled flowers blushed light pink. Philippe sent it to his brother Louis in Paris who introduced it around 1816 or 1817 as R. Noisettiana. It known today as Blush Noisette.
The Noisette line remained fairly pure with Aimee Vibert and Fellemberg being examples still with us today. Then around 1830 Blush Noisette was crossed with Park’s Yellow Tea-Scented China. It is with this event the Noisettes came into fruition to become in my opinion the best climbing roses available to a rose gardener.
To keep things on the up and up so to speak it must be said that this is also the time where the line between Noisettes and Climbing Teas becomes blurred. So if some of the roses I talk about you know as Climbing Teas blame none other than Graham Stuart Thomas whose book “Rose Book” is open in front of me as my guide.
If there is one drawback to Noisettes is that they are not considered cold hardy. However some writers talk of being able to grow Mme. Alfred Carriere on the protection of a south wall so it is not impossible to grow Noisettes except in the coldest of climates. As always check with other members of a local rose society to see how they might do in your area
I can, however personally attest to their ruggedness. Several years ago I bought about 10 Noisettes on their own roots from Roses Unlimited in Laurens South Carolina. I planted them on our farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and promptly returned home to Los Angeles. Due to unforeseen circumstances I was not able to get back there to care for the roses for almost a year. During this time the roses existed on rain water and the help of a kind neighbor during dry spells. No spraying (and we get Japanese Beetles), no fertilizing and no grooming. Three years later they are still there and blooming as I write. This past winter they survived the coldest period of weather in the area over the last sixty years. Well below zero as a matter of fact. So if someone says these are not hardy roses send them my way. I’ll be happy to show them otherwise.
Yet, as with any rose Noisettes appreciate a bit of care. The usual rules apply when planting Noisettes. Dig yourself a good hole and mix in plenty of compost. I love using horse manure. In my experience there is nothing like it for roses. Most horse stables are only too happy to have someone come and offer to carry the stuff off and will let you do so if asked nicely. It and the strange looks are usually free.
Deadheading is a must for good repeat bloom as it periodic cutting back of the laterals. The laterals are the side shoots coming off the main cane. They bear the flowers. Here in our Southern California growing season I take them back two to three times per year depending on how fast the rose is growing and how industrious I feel. A good hard cut during normal pruning time, let them bloom all spring and then a medium tipping during the beginning of summer. Here late June. Once again in late August gets me through the fall bloom. In between I deadhead. In colder climates I suspect the order will be to prune during your normal time and then maybe take all the laterals back about half after the first big bloom flush is spent. This should get you several more flushes during the year.
You can also just deadhead and tip the laterals but once a year during pruning time. I find this gives you the big spring flush and then a nice steady bloom for the rest of the year. Either way make sure you do it at least once a year.
The same rules about cutting out dead wood apply as does the one about periodically cutting out old canes. The latter is hard to put a time table on but I do it when it becomes obvious a cane has bloomed itself out. Usually this is indicated by all the main bud eyes having put out laterals and the secondary bud eyrs doing the same. The cane also beginning to look straggly and wooded over. As long as you are getting basal breaks from the base this is a good practice. If you are faced with a very old plant where the bud union is wooded over don’t ever take out old canes. They’re all you’ve got. If your Noisette is on it’s own roots then cut away, something will always come up.
Classic ways to grow Noisettes are up the wall of a house, along a fence, or over an arbor. All good ways to go. But if your’re running out of climbing room you might consider other ways of growing Noisettes. Up a tree for example. Aimee Vibert, Juan Desprez, Mme Alfred Carriere, Mme Driout, Glorie Dijon will all head for the higher branches if planted near an appropriate host. Pillaring also works well. Sink a ten foot 4×4 two feet into the ground. Plant your favorite Noisette at the base and wrap the canes around the pillar as they grow. You will be rewarded with a beautiful climbing rose growing in a surprisingly small space. If you have a little more room take three stakes, branches or whatever and form a teepee. Plant the rose inside and wind the canes up the individual “branches” of the teepee. The result is a beautiful display of bloom from top to bottom. With imagination these very supple climbers can be trained to fit almost any garden.
So what are the best Noisettes? All of them is my very biased opinion. But since no article of this type is “complete” without a list of some of the best here we go.
Alister Stella Gray. 1894. In Southern California don’t be surprised to see this one go to 25’ in favorable conditions. The blooms open egg yolk yellow and later fade to a creamy white with a good scent.
Blush Noisette. Before 1817. The original and still one of the loveliest it can go to around 12’ but not much more. The flowers are not large but are displayed in sprays throughout the year. The color is white with a blush pink hence the name Blush Noisette.
Celine Forrestier. 1842. Considered by many to be among the most beautiful of the class it’ll grow to around 12’ with creamy yellow blooms with a pale pink center. It posses a very strong spicy tea fragrance.
Desprez a Fleur Jaune. 1830. If there is a must have climber in any self respecting roses garden I personally would have to say this is one of them. With growth up to 20’ it can be used most anywhere and is graced with incredibly beautiful flat, quartered lemon yellow blooms with a wonderful scent. A truly great rose.
Gloire de Dijon. 1853. Sometimes considered to be a climbing tea it is usually included with the Noisettes. Large, buff yellow flowers sometimes show apricot and always are extremely fragrant. This is another of the truly great roses.
Mme. Alfred Carriere. 1879. In my humble opinion this and the climbing tea Sombreuil are the two best white climbing roses we have. No modern white climber even comes close. This great rose can grow up to 25’ in our area with large white flowers that when first opening are blush pink at the center. Very fragrant. It has the distinction of being one of the first roses of the season to flower as well as one of the last. I personally saw blooms of it at Mottisfont Abbey in England before any other rose was in bloom.
Mme Driout. 1902. The first time I say this rose it knocked me out. It was sitting in a corner at Limberlost Roses and was carrying five large pink blooms striped with cerise. Fragrant, it’s a rose that can easily take center stage in any garden.