A Garden Rose By Any Other Name…

Roses are wildly popular in the United States, having been named the national flower in 1986. But what most people think of when they hear the word “rose” is very different from what’s become the most popular rose for weddings and events in the past few years: the garden rose (otherwise known as a cabbage rose). These gorgeous perennials deserve their popularity, but they’ve caused more than a little bit of confusion!

Let’s clear that up now.

What are they?

Cabbage Roses in Full Bloom

Cabbage Roses in Full Bloom

The cabbage rose is called such due to their numerous petals that create a large, full bloom resembling a cabbage (though frankly I don’t find that name a suitable choice for such a gorgeous specimen).

They were developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Dutch, and can be seen in paintings by Dutch masters like Renoir and Van Gogh.

These big, beautiful roses have gained popularity over the last few years due to their use in high profile weddings and events — but let me warn you in advance: they are expensive, costing up to 4 times more than a typical rose.

The David Austin Rose is the most popular cabbage rose. It’s like the Gucci brand of garden roses. They are very expensive and availability is limited. So if you’re planning an event and need them, you absolutely must make arrangements to get them many months in advance.

How are cabbage roses different?

What most people think of when they think of a “rose” is the “modern rose” or “hybrid tea rose” (simply called “roses” by florists). They, of course, look like this:

Modern Rose (Hybrid Tea Rose)

Modern Rose (Hybrid Tea Rose)

These traditional roses are designed to bloom continually, as opposed to cabbage roses which typically only bloom once a season.

Modern roses are also designed to have a large bloom size and a longer life in a vase. The sad side effect of all of the engineering of the standard American rose is that they have lost the heady, wonderful fragrance that a rose should have. Some store-bought roses hardly have any scent at all!

Garden roses are different. Very fragrant with a high number of petals and large “cup” bloom shape, they have become very popular for weddings and events. They have deep, ruffled layers as well, which make them great substitutes for peonies when those aren’t seasonally unavailable. Here’s a lovely example of a cabbage rose:

Lovely Cabbage Rose

Lovely Cabbage Rose

While it’s undeniable that the traditional rose has a classy, sleek look, the garden rose has a full, lush body and heady fragrance that’s simply unmatched in the rose world.

But cabbage roses don’t last as long in a vase as modern roses, with the hardiest varieties not lasting more than 7 days. Compare that to a strong modern rose that can last up to two weeks!

What colors can I get?

Cream Garden Rose Bouquet

Like modern roses, cabbage roses come in a variety of colors ranging from dark pink to lavender.  White, peach and yellow varieties are the most popular.

Especially at weddings, nothing looks better than a large bouquet of luscious white or cream garden roses.

Why are they so expensive?

You might be inclined to think that the cost of cabbage roses has to do with their look and popularity (the reason a Mercedes Benz costs more than a Chevrolet), but it’s actually the opposite!

Most rose farms have planted the traditional modern rose for many years, and cabbage roses have only gained popularity in the last few years. So the simple truth is that there just aren’t as many of the roses available. Less availability with lots of demand means higher prices.

So while the cabbage rose is indeed the Mercedes Benz of roses, that’s not why they’re so expensive.

African Rose Farm

African Rose Farm

How to grow cabbage roses (in 10 easy steps)

These roses only bloom once per season as a rule. They are tough, winter-hardy and disease resistant, so keep that in mind. If you’re looking to grow them in your backyard garden, here are 10 important tips to keep in mind:

Tending The Roses

Tending The Roses

  1. Plant your garden roses where they can get at least six hours of direct sun.
  2. Make sure they are in a well ventilated area with good air circulation.
  3. Good drainage is key to preventing disease, so be sure water can’t collect in pools around the roses.
  4. The bud union (where the first branches arise) should be above ground level when planted.
  5. If planting in a pot, the hole should be 2 inches wider and deeper than the pot and remove the pot before planting.
  6. Fertilize once a month with commercial rose fertilizer or organic fertilizer from March through October.
  7. Frequent, heavy watering for the first year for strong, healthy roots to grow. Morning watering is best.
  8. Prune the roses in late December / early January.
  9. Mulch roses in the winter with compost to preserve moisture and protect against the cold.
  10. Always wear gloves because cabbage roses have heavy thorns.

Email me your questions!

I’ve got a lot more garden ideas to share, and I’m very interested in hearing about your personal experience with cabbage roses (my favorite roses of all). If you have any questions about them, or any personal experiences or thoughts about them, please contact me! If you believe I’ve made any mistakes in this article, please let me know that as well. I’m not an expert, just an enthusiast, and want to make sure everything I’ve written is accurate.

5 thoughts on “A Garden Rose By Any Other Name…

  1. Joyce

    I loved seeing the cabbage rose defined. My grandmother had many bushes in her yard, and these were my favorites. They grew along a fence and were so fragrant. I wish I could duplicate her garden, but we live on a shaded wooded lot and it just won’t work!

  2. Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow

    So true about most of the roses today not having any scent. I recall digging up some bushes by the roadside for a garden that I had years ago and they smelled heavenly. The two little bushes that I have now have no scent whatsoever.

  3. Judy @ NewEnglandGardenAndThread

    What a great explanation of the difference in roses. 🙂 I live in an area that is buried under 6-7′ of snow per winter and have had difficulty with roses. I’ve transitioned to Knockout Roses because they can survive all the abuse a New England winter dishes out. Last winter, they even survived a down tree on top them all season. I probably shouldn’t admit that here on your classic rose site but hope you will not banish me from your wonderful site. Love the wallpaper/background. 🙂


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