Roses have been grown in Australia from early convict days. Seen initially as a sign of privilege linking the colony back to England, they rapidly spread into average homes and have remained there ever since.
The sources of our rose heritage were once limited to the UK. Now all major rose breeders have a presence here, largely through agency agreements with wholesale nurseries. Sources are as varied as Kordes of Germany, Meilland and Delbard of France, David Austin of the UK and Jackson & Perkins of the US. Of the local breeders only Alister Clark and Swanes have gained any fame, and that has not spread far abroad.
Rose breeding is an imprecise science. New crosses are more technical and better researched than before, but all new varieties still need extensive field testing for vigour, repeat-flowering, fragrance, disease resistance etc. The testing grounds are almost always the cool climates of Europe and North America, being the two largest markets. As a result, some varieties perform differently in warm temperate climates than they do in the breeder's home environment.
Varieties that are well known and loved in Australia are described here.
Tea roses were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were bred primarily in France. They featured tall, shapely buds opening into fragrant blooms on thin, lax stems. In Sydney's climate tea roses can become large and unruly shrubs - nothing at all like the well-mannered little bushes that struggled in northern Europe. Flowering can extend right into winter, with some varieties only pausing in August for a brief rest between flushes. Here's an example of a Tea, Monsieur Tillier, in full bloom in late June 2003:
Tea roses are making a return to favour among local enthusiasts. Their disease resistance and ever blooming habit suit Australian climates better than many modern 'hybrid' teas. The blooms tend to be smaller, though.
The name suggests that these varieties never stop blooming. That's a bit of an exaggeration. If any class of rose deserves the title, it's the Tea rose. But, at the time they were bred (from the mid 1800s to early 1920s), Hybrid Perpetuals were the 'recurrent' precursors to the modern, large flowering roses we buy today. It was their ability to produce lovely large blooms and repeat flower in autumn that led them to dominate the 19th century English market. Unlike Tea roses, they could also tolerate cold English weather well.
The typical Hybrid Perpetual bush is strong, tall, and greedy for fertiliser. They're not for beginners or low-maintenance gardeners, because a poorly maintained bush will be prone to disease and shy to bloom. Very full, large, old fashioned blooms are clustered at the end of thick stems. Their fragrance is amongst the best of all roses. The colour range is strong across the pink, red and white spectrum. The photo below is a crimson and white striped variety known as Ferdinand Pichard:
Hybrid Teas are by far the most common kind sold today. They were originally crosses of Hybrid Perpetual roses with Teas. The results (in theory) gave Hybrid Teas thick stems inherited from the Perpetuals and more frequent repeat blooms from the Teas. Made popular in the last century by roses like 'Peace' (after WWII) and 'Superstar' in the 1960s.
Of all the rose breeds, the Hybrid Tea has the widest range of colours. They feature high centred blooms on strong stems, usually with one bloom to a stem. In Sydney they flower from mid September through to June. Hybrid Teas are the favourite of the cut flower industry, with perfection of form and a long life in the vase. The only real drawback is a tendency to disease that can be greater than some alternatives - although many better varieties are disease resistant. Fragrance and bush size vary too.
Hybrid Teas and Teas have a common bloom appearance in the bud, shown in this example (Black Velvet, an American-bred rose):
As the name suggests, these roses flower abundantly. With a lower, more bushy habit than leggy Hybrid Teas, they are often considered a better garden plant. Their abundance of bloom comes from having multiple flowers to a stem. Unfortunately the quality, form and size of the blooms rarely matches those of a hybrid tea. Some floribundas have fragrance, others do not. In Sydney, flowering begins in September and the last flush usually peters out in May. This popular variety, Sexy Rexy, was bred in New Zealand:
Sometimes called 'English Roses', David Austin's varieties have gained a foothold in Sydney.
In many respects, English Roses have taken over where the Hybrid Perpetuals left off. They share the old-world bloom form, multiple blooms per stem, and delicious fragrances. Select breeding with more modern varieties has improved the colour range and the rate of repeat flowering immensely. Sydney coaxes these beauties to flower in flushes from September to June.
The downsides are disease resistance and an occasional reluctance to flower in some of the larger varieties. They are all bred primarily for an English climate. In Sydney the warmer, humid conditions can make the bushes grow tall and strong, but that doesn't always mean health or hundreds of blooms!
The following example, Evelyn, shows a lovely form. It's also so beautifully fragrant that Crabtree & Evelyn use it in their perfumes.