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Gertrude Jekyll



Think of the wonderful scents that your nose can bring you; the sweetness of a pie baking in the oven, the savory smell of bacon cooking and the aroma of fresh brewed coffee.

Naturally, there are some scents that are not so wonderful, such as something burning on the stove or the indication a baby’s diaper needs changing. Special training of one’s nose can lead to becoming a wine sommelier, a tea connoisseur or a 'rose nose' specialist.

Michael Marriott, the senior rosarian of David Austin Roses in Shropshire, has this very job of deciphering the fragrance of these English roses. His associate is another Austin 'rose nose' Robert Calkin, the acclaimed British perfumer and floral fragrance educator.

Together they amble about the nearly two-acre show garden, sniffing roses and debating and fine tuning their thoughts on its signature scent characteristics. Marriott says the fragrance in roses comes from two different sources. Most commonly it comes from the petals, but sometimes it also emanates from the stamens. This is especially true in varieties with single or semidouble flowers where stamens are abundant.

In the petals, the greater part of any rose scent originates from its mix of just four or five different primary oils. Professionals call these a scent’s 'base notes'. But rose scents are complex, with as many as 200 to 300 possible other oils present, often in minute quantities. This mix yields the wonderful richness found in rose fragrances.

The oils are formed from precursors, which are produced at the bud stage, three or four days before the flower opens. The warmer it is (within reason) at this stage, the more precursors are produced and the stronger the fragrance. The great variety of resulting oils will combine to produce the old rose, fruity, myrrh and tea fragrances.

The fragrance of the stamens of single and semidouble flowers is often musky in character, and also clove-like. Cloves are a preservative, so it could be that the fragrance does in fact help to prevent decline in the stamens. Some varieties, especially from the Hybrid Musk group of roses, combine the fragrance from both the petals and the stamens.

Marriott advises when smelling a rose, not to just give it a quick sniff. Smell it as you might savour a good wine by rolling it around the nose. Everybody's nose smells things differently, so don't be shy about describing the scents you sense or detect.

It is also important to smell several different flowers on any given bush, as some might not readily resonate, while others exuberantly exhibit their fragrance. Sometimes, the fragrance can be very different, according to the age of a particular flower.

A few of the most fragrant English roses are ‘Gerturde Jekyll’ that has an old rose fragrance that is strong, rich and perfectly balanced. ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ is fruity with hints of pear, grape and citrus, ‘The Generous Gardener’ has an old rose fragrance of musk and myrrh, and ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ has a tea fragrance of lemon and black currant.

Myrrh appeared in David Austin’s first rose, the onceflowering ‘Constance Spry’, as a powerful, spicy top note inherited from one of the parents, ‘Belle Isis’, a strongly perfumed Gallica type.

‘Constance Spry’s' is considered a quintessential rose fragrance

Details of all our roses are available on our web site. Over 1000 varieties to choose from.

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