Everyone loves roses, but even experienced gardeners find them intimidating to grow. Fortunately, there's a new generation of shrub roses that have all the qualities gardeners covet: repeat flowering; elegant, old-fashioned blooms; disease resistance; attractive, bushy shrubs -- as well as minimal pruning and care requirements.
Technically, any rose bred after 1867 qualifies as modern, but look for newer cultivars, often introduced in a series whose members share characteristics such as hardiness, growth habit, and disease resistance. The following are some of our favorite series.
Explorer roses, named for North American explorers, were bred in Canada for cold and wind tolerance. Most roses in the series, which includes dark-red-flowered "Champlain." and white-flowered "'Henry Hudson," are compact, hardy to Zone 3, and virtually immune to disease. Many Explorer roses have simple flowers, each with a single row of petals, which resemble those of their wild-rose cousins.
Generosa roses, hardy in Zones 5-10, bear old-fashioned, fragrant flowers that are perfect in bouquets. Arching canes give cultivars such as apricot-flowered "Madame Paul Massad" and raspberry-pink "Jardin de Viels Maisons," an informal grace. The disease-resistant shrubs rebloom throughout the season.
Palace roses -- compact, cold-hardy shrubs just 2 feet wide and tall -- are ideal for small spaces or containers on a urban rooftop, terrace, or patio. The tidy plants flower early and repeat bloom throughout the season, requiring only a quick pruning in between. Hardy in Zones 4-10, Palace roses, such as "Crystal Palace" and "Prince Palace," are practically disease proof.
Parkland roses, like the Explorers, were bred in Canada to withstand extreme winters (to Zone 3). Cultivars such as fragrant red-flowered "Cuthbert Grant" and deep-pink "Adelaide Hoodless" are ideal for landscape use, blooming from summer into fall. Parkland roses, which tend to be compact and require minimal spring pruning, are nearly immune to diseases such as black spot, powdery mildew, and rust.
Renaissance roses, like Generosa roses, have the flower form and fragrance of antique roses such as those in Martha's rose garden, but they rebloom later in the season. "Clair Renaissance," "Princess Alexandra," and their sisters are highly disease resistant and hardy in Zones 5-10. Unlike many modern roses that are often twiggy and ungainly, Renaissance roses form shapely shrubs that are attractive even when not in flower.
Towne and Country roses, a diverse group of disease-resistant landscape roses for Zones 4-10, include varieties for ground covers and hedges, as well as mounding shrubs such as "Newport", which has old-fashioned pink blooms. Compact "Augusta" reaches 2 feet tall but spreads to 4 feet, making it an ideal ground cover.
Modern shrub roses flourish in virtually any spot with well-drained soil and six hours of sun daily.