Top Performing Roses in 2019

by Peter Winne

After a season spent carefully observing the beds in the Elizabeth Park rose garden, your faithful gardener has compiled a list of top-performing roses. Excluding our climbers and antique roses, we grow some 210 unique cultivars in the park, making our garden a choice location for conducting an informal rose trial. Our roster definitely skews toward recent, 21st-century floribundas and grandifloras, but it also includes a sizable portion of classic 20th-century hybrid teas and a smattering of 19th-century hybrid perpetuals, hybrid teas, and Bourbon roses. I’ll spare you the details of my ratings system, but suffice it to say my methods were more rigorous than “these are some of my favorites” while less stringent than those of, say, an official rose society.  My hope is that this list may help expose homeowners to some great roses they might not typically encounter in their local garden center. Perhaps this list might even serve as a buyer’s guide, especially for rose lovers in climates similar to Connecticut’s (zone 6, moist, semi-continental). On that note, I’d like to thank the wholesalers from which we source our roses. Without them this list would never have been possible–Certified Roses, Palatine Roses, Antique Rose Emporium, Weeks Roses, and Star Roses & Plants.  All right here’s the list…

Top Performing Roses 2019

‘South Africa’ (Kordes, 2001, grandiflora)

south africa close
‘South Africa’

Blooms: 5/5 (Exceptionally Prolific)

Foliage Health: 3/5 (Good)

Fragrance: 3/5 (Moderate)

‘South Africa,’ by Kordes was in full bloom this year pretty much any day between June and October. I’ve heard people label the color of its large, striking blossoms as “cantaloupe,” “mango,” or “papaya”; whichever it is, this shade of yellow definitely belongs to some sort of fruit. ‘South Africa’ blooms particularly well in autumn when cool nights provoke a breathtaking final burst of color. Like just about any release from German rose breeder Kordes, our ‘South Africa’ demonstrated good disease resistance in 2019, though by the end of the season it had developed a bit more blackspot than our toughest roses. Its fragrance is subtle but definitely present. ‘South Africa’ easily grows to over 4 feet in our garden.

‘Purple Pavement’ (Baum, 1986, hybrid rugosa)

rotes meer droop

Blooms: 3/5 (Moderately Prolific)

Foliage Health: 5/5 (Exceptional)

Fragrance: 4/5 (Very Fragrant)

Rose lovers may be surprised to find a rugosa rose (some call them “beach roses”) on the list, but the numbers don’t lie. Also known as ‘Rotes Meer,’ ‘Purple Pavement’ produces richly-fragrant, double pink blossoms. And like many rugosas, this cultivar is bulletproof: Over 2019, it’s dense, light-green foliage proved impervious to fungal disease while its blooms were unfazed by an ongoing midge problem. ‘Purple Pavement’ bloomed notably well even in hot August weather, though its blossoms had mostly fizzled by the onset of autumn. We don’t grow many rugosas in the park since their wild growth habits tend to overwhelm our manicured beds. But for a homeowner looking to plant a naturalized bed or hedge I can hardly think of a better selection than ‘Purple Pavement,’ especially if said bed is next to a screened porch where its fragrance can perfume a seating area.

‘Julia Child’ (Carruth, 2004, floribunda)

julia child double

Blooms: 5/5 (Exceptionally Prolific)

Foliage Health: 3/5 (Good)

Fragrance: 2/5 (Light)

Located near one of our main entrances, ‘Julia Child’ is a real showstopper in the Elizabeth Park rose garden. Like our other yellow top performer, ‘South Africa,’ ‘Julia Child’ is almost constantly in full bloom. Julia’s blooms open butter-gold, fade to cream, and are occasionally flecked with purple and pink. This year her foliage valiantly resisted fungal diseases through the rainy spring and humid summer, but by fall her leaves had succumbed to moderate blackspot stress. Julia grows as a well-formed, compact shrub and possesses a light, reliable fragrance (retailers note “hints of licorice”).

‘Orchid Romance’ (Radler, 2012, floribunda)

Orchid close

Blooms: 4/5 (Very Prolific)

Foliage Health: 3/5 (Good)

Fragrance: 4/5 (Very Fragrant)

This top performer comes from William Radler, the same breeder who brought the world the ‘Knock Out’ rose. ‘Orchid Romance’ is nothing if not well-rounded. It blooms reliably well, especially in the fall when cool nights bring out its lavender undertones. Its almost-quartered blossoms emanate a strong, sweet fragrance, and its foliage, while perhaps not quite equal to Radler’s ‘Knock Out,’ stays adequately healthy. Presently “Orchid Romance” is surprisingly difficult to find in commerce, so if you ever have the opportunity to add one to your collection I suggest you immediately reach for your wallet.

‘Purple Rain’ (Kordes, 2009, shrub)

purple rain close

Blooms: 5/5 (Exceptionally Prolific)

Foliage Health: 4/5 (Very Good)

Fragrance: 1/5 (Very Light)

‘Purple Rain’ represents the best of what some growers call “landscape roses,” known for easy maintenance and a ground cover-like growth habit. Its clusters of small, purple-pink blossoms–reminiscent of the ‘Excelsa’ ramblers that grow on our arches–flower freely from June to first frost.  In pleasant contrast to many landscaping roses,  ‘Purple Rain’ does possess a subtle fragrance.

‘Beverly’ (Kordes, 2008, hybrid tea)

Beverly close

Blooms: 2/5 (Somewhat Prolific)

Foliage Health: 3/5 (Good)

Fragrance: 5/5 (Exceptional)

‘Beverly’ is quite possibly the most fragrant rose in our garden. That quality combined with solid disease resistance makes ‘Beverly’ something of a unicorn among modern roses. She’s not the most prolific bloomer, but she makes up for it with large, light-pink blossoms practically dripping with olfactory delights of citrus and other fruits, conveniently growing to nose-height, around 5 feet.

‘Highwire Flyer’ (Radler, 2018, climber)


Blooms: 4/5 (Very Prolific)

Foliage Health: 5/5 (Exceptional)

Fragrance: 1/5 (Very Light)

Not to knock Knock Outs, but ‘Highwire Flyer’ is better. At least in our garden, ‘Highwire Flyer’ surpasses its ‘Knock Out’ cousin and rivals even the rugosas for foliage health. Its perfectly cupped, pink-red blossoms form the perfect, Christmas-like counterpart to its holly-green leaves. Though only nominally fragrant at best, ‘Highwire Flyer’ is quickly forgiven due to its reliable blossoms, which when left un-deadheaded set attractive orange hips in autumn, a rarity among modern roses. ‘Highwire Flyer’ is officially classified as a climber, though I find it grows better as a large shrub, at least in the Connecticut climate.


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