The value of Damask, Portland, and Centifolia Roses

A rose of noble character indubitably calls for the Damask rose abroad. Accruing a series of reliable parents is my scope for the next couple years; I

Hello Dee,

Although I can’t give you any news of experiences with the roses you listed, I have two notes that may interest you.

You mentioned Portlands above… I’m still doing some work with Rose de Rescht, which I think is a great rose, and sets seed fairly easily. I’ve been told that many of its seedlings are disease prone, but I haven’t given up on it yet. I had some fairly strong seedlings from it once (using pollen of ‘Carefree Sunshine’) but unfortunately neglected to water the pot of seedlings, and they all died. I currently have a bunch of hips from pollen of ‘Hazeldean’.

I also have used a found rose, that I’m pretty sure is a Damask. I’ll include a link below, so you can see it. It has fairly elongated hips, not the round ones I’ve seen on gallica (but only from controlled pollinations - no open-pollinated hips). I’ve got several seedlings from this found rose, pollinated by ‘Carefree Sunshine’. Hopefully they will bloom for the first time, next season.



Common/Summer Damask (r. x damascena)

Autumn Damask/Quatre Saisons (r. x damascena bifera/semperflorens)

***Both of these have proven nearly completely sterile in my experience. However, I have one Damask Perpetual grown from open pollinated seed of R. damascena bifera that a friend gave me years ago. It is dwarf (2.5 feet), blooms in flushes and looks exactly like a typical Damask in style. It produces no pollen and sets no seed. Who knows if it is worth pursuing.

Kazanlik (r. damascena trigintipetala)

***No hips on mine, ever. Who knows if it is pollen fertile, though. It will take you at least 2 generations to get a repeat blooming hybrid from it, keep that in mind. It is also one of the least attractive shrubs of the class, making a sprawly, unkempt looking bush unless trimmed ruthlessly. You would likely find that trait in its offspring as well.

Celestial Rose (r. damascena Aurora, Alba)


Omar Khayyam

Blush Damask

***I don’t grow any of the above four.

Hebe’s Lip

***Sets seed like a fiend but I have no idea if they germinate or not. Never used it in breeding because it is too sprawly and presents a 2 generation process to get remontancy into its offspring. I would anticipate a lot of single blooms, a trait you will struggle to overcome.

West Green (Mottisfont Abbey, U.K)

Portlandica/Duchess of Portland (r. damascena semperflorens x r. gallica officinalis)

***The latter is said to be responsible for breeding many important roses, but who knows if the rose we now attach that name to is indeed the exact same rose that was used? If I were to try working with a new variety of this class, this would be high on my list of choices. However, anticipate a large percentage of once bloomers from it, and the offspring will probably be difficult to root in many instances. Some R. wichuraiana hybrid would be useful to get over that problem.

***I don’t see Marbree on your list. Of all the Damasks I have worked with, it is by far the most fertile and easy to get seedlings from. It has the same problem with generating seedlings that do not root easily from cuttings, but that can be overcome, I expect. I have seen some very beautiful seedlings come from Marbree.


Cabbage Rose (R. x centifolia)

Crested Moss (centifolia cristata)

***I don’t grow R. centifolia, but I sure do grow Cristata. You will hunt like a dog for pollen, which it produces in very small amounts. Expect a mature plant will provide enough pollen in a season to pollinate a dozen or maybe 20 blooms. 3/4 of those blooms will drop off. That leaves you with maybe 20 seeds, of which five will germinate. They will all be once-bloomers, and if you crossed it with any modern rose, expect they will all be sterile. Don’t mean to sound discouraging, but several breeders have been down this road and it has been a less than entirely fruitful path. Ralph Moore has accomplished more than anyone I know, but still he is working after many generations to breed a crested modern Floribunda style rose that is not seriously flawed. He has been working this line since 1988. I would choose Crested Jewel as a breeder over its parent any day. It can produce some excellent offspring. However, if you are NOT looking to introduce remontancy in your roses, then perhaps it is not as important to choose a variety with latent remontancy genes. I doubt that any of the Centifolias would make good seed parents, and the vast majority are likely to be stingy with pollen, simply because very double varieties tend to make petals at the expense of stamens.

Centifolia de Meaux

Pettite de Hollande

***I don’t grow either.

***I am getting an impression of what roses you find appealing and wish to breed, Dee. What you wish to achieve in using them is less clear to me, though. Do you want to breed repeat blooming shrubs, or are you happy to breed new once-bloomers? If it is the latter you wish to do, then you can easily choose any of the varieties you list and experiment with them. You just never know what will work till you try it. However, approach the Damasks with caution. Many of the best (Mme Hardy, for one) are sterile (in spite of some printed reports to the contrary. See: Sombreuil’s ridiculous parentage listing!) and will be slow and difficult to work with. Many more experienced breeders than me will tell you that “numbers are your friend”, meaning that you will make better progress if you use parents that breed easily and generate LOTS of offspring for you to select from. We all discard at least 95% of our seedlings by year 3 or 4, and if you start with only ten seedlings of a cross, that doesn’t leave you much by year 4!

***Based on ten years of experimenation, I would most highly recommend working with Gallicas instead. If you choose the right varieties, you will be able to use all kinds of different pollen, there will be lots of seed and the seeds will germinate easily. The offspring generally have excellent vigor, superior foliage health (something many of the Damasks lack) and beautiful flowers in a wide range of hues. More importanly, the majority of the seedlings will retain fertility. Tuscany Superb, Duchesse de Montebello, and Austin’s first two Gallica hybrids come highly recommended as parents. I would also recommend employing Lilian Austin in combination with some of the Gallicas. Lilian Austin is a superb seed setter and has the ability to generate a wide range of colors in its offspring. It is also far healthier than most Austins and presents superior shrub form. Mary Rose in combination with the Gallicas may also breed some fine things.

***Tom has mentioned Rose de Rescht. I used it several years ago and found that I worked awfully hard to obtain a dozen or so seeds. Some of the seedlings were nice enough, but the plants were highly Blackspot prone, and so I discontinued work with it. That doesn’t mean to say that you might not find a way to make good use of it, but I would use a better seed parent with its pollen rather than using it as a seed bearer. I believe I have previously mentioned my experience using Comte de Chambord as a (pollen) parent: mostly once-blooming seedlings when bred with modern varieties, and all were discarded by year 3 because of tragic disease problems. I can’t honestly recommend it. Even the lovely Gertrude Jekyll has terrible disease issues, and if that is the best Austin had to choose from, well…

***It would be helpful to know whether you are aiming to breed repeat bloomers or once bloomers, Dee, since our recommendations will be slightly different depending on which course you seek. :slight_smile:


Why not use something like William Lobb, etc.? Are they that far removed from the Centrifolias?

Jadae is right: William Lobb IS a Centifolia Moss and is quite fertile. I have a seedling bred in 1999 that will be introduced in 2008 that is bred from it, and it is a remarkable bluish-mauve color, not unlike Reine des Violettes at its best. It is disease free and wonderfully perfumed, although a once-bloomer like its parent. I would certainly include it in a breeding program.

Hey, thanks for taking the time for write down your thoughts, and reminding me about William Lobb (Jadae); I had forgotten all about him!

Tom, thanks for the link :slight_smile: Very pretty rose! I

William Baffin is capable of breeding much more subtly colored and shapelier blooms than it bears itself. I can attest to this myself. However, someone recently pointed me to an article in which Svejda (I think it was) mentions that Baffin does NOT pass on its spectacular Winter hardiness to its offspring. I expect you’d be better off getting a plant of L-83 itself and working from that point. It would also be worth your while to go right back to some of the native species and start there, since there are some VERY Winter hardy species available to you, including R. woodsii fendleri, which shrugs off Zone 3 cold with barely an acknowledgment. Oh, and bear in mind that William Baffin will generate a high percentage of non-repeating offspring in the first generation. I’d consider working with John Davis instead. It has better coloring and classier bloom form.

Yes, repeat bloom and hardiness have traditionally been at odds with one another, but I believe this is only because hybridizers have tall too often rushed to include tender modern varieties in their breeding lines and call the first generation “close enough”, or worse yet, pushed forward using even more tender studs still. Austin did pretty well in this regard and produced some decently hardy stuff in the second generation after Chianti and Constance Spry. And speaking of the latter, I can only say that I once grew it in a chilly Zone 5 garden and there it was Winter hardy to the very tips and bloomed like a mad thing every June. In fact, it fared MUCH better there than in my current Zone 8 garden where it tends to sulk and blooms sparingly. I don’t know if it will prosper in Zone 3. Someone else will have to answer that question for you, but I suspect that it is worthwhile pursuing for your particular goals. It wouldn’t be too difficult to train it straight up a pillar and then in October, uproot one side of the plant and lay the whole pillar in a shallow trench and cover it for the Winter. I suspect that if you want a semi-remontant shrub to come out of your work, you will HAVE to include some marginally hardy plants that have at least latent remontancy (if not full remontancy) in them. You may need to consider some extra measures for protecting these plants to get them through the Winter with enough wood to be of use as breeders.

Yes, it is absolutely possible to improve on Winter hardiness of the Austin hybrids and generate offspring suitable for Zone 4. Just because Austin doesn’t reach for that goal himself doesn’t mean its not possible. In fact, I can assure you that a single infusion of pure Gallica genes will result in a large number of fully hardy offspring in the first generation. They won’t rebloom, of course, but they will have the latent properties for remontancy. A couple generations of back and forth to recover at least partial remontancy while retaining the hardiness and you should be well on your way. Again, I would suggest Lilian Austin and Mary Rose for breeding purposes. If it were me, I’d start using pollen of John Davis on both of these and see where it gets you. I would also include Constance Spry and cross it with John Davis and/or L-83 or R. kordesii. I suspect Cuthbert Grant may also prove useful to you, and I can attest to the fact that it does have reasonably fertile pollen. It has lots of R. arkansana in it, which is a very hardy, semi-remonant species of great charm and character. I am now using R. arkansana in my own work to increase hardiness and contribute compact, shrubby habit. It has a good scent as well, something I hope it passes on. I’d seriously consider getting R. arkansana to work with. Put it on Lilian Austin. Put Cuthbert Grant on Lilian Austin too.

Did I mention that I REALLY think you should work with Duchesse de Montebello? It passes on exceptionally beautiful bloom form, color and fragrance, and it has really good Winter hardiness to at least Zone 5. I think it has great potential to be of use to you, Dee.

I hope this helps a bit.


i concur heartily with Paul’s assessment. i’ve been using John Davis w/ the Austin’s for a couple of years now, and in general i’d say you will see a higher level of cold hardiness in the first generation. i’m coming to the point of crossing those seedlings. i live in a zone 4/5 region (depending on the winter) and have found Lilian Austin to be the most gracious of the seed givers. Darby, and Charles Austin seem to need more ripening time than i’ve been able to give them (if that indeed is the problem) as my germinations for those two have been low. i’ve also been using Aicha as well as a pollen parent on almost everything, Trier, various Austins, Seagull, Deuil de Dr. Reynaud, Rose du Roi, Bourbon Queen (which incidently seems hardier than one might expect), etc.

A few years ago i tried using Duchess de Montebello, and had little success, but thanks to Paul’s postings i’ve tried it again and have had good hip set this year. Plus it’s such a pleasing rose in and of itself. i also have a few of Paul’s roses and am hoping to work w/ them as well. Best, joe wright

For me Spry is borderline, but it’s in a pot that’s slightly too small, and may be stressed.

So far the Lilian Austin x John Davis seedlings have been in various shades of pink with some blending, a scant few with good fragrance. Many (to me many = 5-10, please don’t laugh) more than good enough to keep evaluating. This year the Lilian Austin x Aicha seedlings have almost all been in shades of dark pink to red. Not a yellow amongst them. Go figure. But also some nice seedlings there too. Sadly Aicha is really hard to get hold of, though i think Ashdown is working on it, and Vintage MAY have some available that don’t need custom rooting.

For me Hebe’s Lip open pollinated seeds have germinated easily. The resultant plants were good healthy once bloomers with double flowers.

I had many, but I only kept 2. I have not yet used them in breeding.

I sent the seeds to a number of other hybridizers.

Paul, thank you for your very informative post! That’s exactly what I’ve been planning to try to do: breed Austin-like bloom form and fragrance into a hardier background, or vice versa. Good that you warn about the faults of William Baffin in this respect. Do you think Prairie Joy would work? I very much like its bushy growth habit and somewhat old-fashioned bloom form. I mainly intend to get the hardiness part from our old Finnish cultivars, though, many of which are found roses. These include a very lovely dark-flowered rugosa hybrid of (probably) Russian origin, hardier than Hansa and with cup-shaped blooms. The fertility of such found roses is, of course, not always known, but time will tell.

I’m sorry Jukka, but I know nothing of the breeding potential of Prairie Joy. I’ve never grown it. However, it sounds like it has potential.


I have grown Prairie Joy since it first came out, and I have kept some of its open pollinated seedlings (which are now mature plants). I assume that I tried Prairie Joy pollen initially; but I am pretty sure that I do not have any crosses in my garden at present.

I am only in zone 5 so I cannot say what will happen to William Baffin offspring in colder zones; but here they do just fine.

It is easy to receive live plants and/or seeds in Finland from amateurs in the U.S.?


I suppose the same regulations as for most live plant material apply for roses as well. As far as I know there are no restrictions with seeds. Does somebody have better knowledge?

Within the European Union there are practically no restrictions (Finland has been a full member since 1995), which has made ordering roses and other plants by mail very easy. I’ve ordered a lot of roses from Peter Beales in England and from Flora Linnea in Sweden.

From USA, I don’t know, but an inconspicuous packet with a few rose cuttings would hardly get caught in the customs…

Rooted cuttings and live plants are not permitted without a phytosanitary certificate, Henry. Seeds are OK to send. Budwood is a bit of a grey area, but you can get away with sending budwood as long as it is discretely packaged.

Locally, things have changed since 9/11, my local post office has made it clear that they expect that I am accurately labeling my packages and filling out the required custom forms. I guess this informal “gentleman’s agreement” saves them the hassle of opening up my packages for inspection and it saves me the possibility that the delays due to inspection and possible inadequate repackaging would result in the death of my plant material.

Now that the University of Minnesota is closing its rose hybridizing program, and the Canadian government has closed its program, where will amateur U.S. hybridizers be able to turn to have their plants tested for winter hardiness?


Where did you get the information that Agriculture Canada is closing their rose breeding programs? As far as I know, it’s not true. The Research Stations at Morden, Manitoba and St. Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec are working together to develop the new Canadian Artist series of roses. Two cultivars have been introduced to date - ‘Emily Carr’ and ‘Felix LeClerq’. The former has semi-double, red and the latter is a short Climber with semi-double, pink flowers. It’s my understanding that the Canadian Artist roses are not really a new type of rose though. I’m disappointed about that. Explorer Rosa kordesii and Parkland Rosa arkansana germplasm is in the pedigrees of these roses.

The Edmonton Devonian Botanic Garden (Zone 3) accepts new roses to trial out. It has a colder climate than Morden, Manitoba (Zone 3b).

Paul, you are correct that there is a program by that name. However, it is my impression that it is essentially a “contract research” program for the benefit of a consortium of Canadian Nurseries rather than a “no restrictions” university research program directly intended for the benefit of the general public. I interpret your previous statement (Thu, Jan 15, 2004) as indicating that also ( ).


O.K, Paul, you got me sold on the Duchesse!..and Tuscany S. Thanks for taking the time to list the recommendations above. Your reference to their ability of producing fertile offspring is certainly remarkable.

And Joe, thanks for the tip on John Davis. I


The only source for Rosa kordesii in Canada is the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Rose germplasm L83 is similar to and has Rosa kordesii in the parentage but is cold hardier. Therefore, there is no point having Rosa kordesii if one can access L83. Canadian rose breeders can access L83 through me (it was originally distributed to any rose breeder asking for it). You should read the article “Rose germplasm L83” by Dr. Felicitas Svejda, HortScience 23:22. 415-416 (1988).

L83 is in the parentage of 'William Booth, and the shrub and flowers are similar in appearance to this cultivar. It is also in the parentage of ‘George Vancouver’. ‘George Vancouver’ is very fertile as a pistillate parent, and I regard it as essential to use for continuing to breed Explorer Rosa kordesii type of roses.

Dr. Svejda once wrote in a letter to me that if she “had ten more years” before having to retire, she would have embarked on a breeding program crossing L83 with Hybrid Tea cultivars

There are several Rosa rugosa cultivars that are excellent pistillate parents. The choice is what your goals are. For general Rugosa breeding, my preference is ‘Hansa’. To obtain lower growing shrubs, I would use ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’. ‘Schneezwerg’ is valuable for a combination of toughness and disease resistance.

By the way, I have combined a Rugosa (‘Hansa’) with L83. I only have one selection that does not appear to have repeat bloom and has the undesirable mauve-pink colour in its flowers. I intend to repeat the cross to see if I can get better quality seedlings.

Hansa is definitely worth while.

My strongest recommendation is for Will Alderman.

My ((Therese Bugnet X OP( X OP) has also given me many good seedlings. I have sent the ((Therese Bugnet X OP( X OP) seeds to a number of hybridizers; perhaps one or more of them will add their comments.

A number of my more interesting seedlings contain Delicata blood.

For a view of my recent crops see: