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STYLE : GARDENS : New-Fashioned Roses

March 08, 1992|ROBERT SMAUS

These roses are not horticultural reliquiae but new roses meant to look old. The work of David Austin, one of England's best-known rose breeders, Austin roses carry on where Bourbon roses left off in the late 1800s. For the last 30 years, they have filled the gap between old roses, which are highly fragrant but bloom infrequently, and modern roses, which bloom constantly but sometimes lack scent. In fact, any of Austin's 100 or so hybrids would have been at home in the grand gardens of Napoleon's Josephine. (Photos of Lordly Oberon, left, and Fisherman's Friend are inspired by Pierre-Joseph Redoute's paintings for the empress.)

Rather than viewing his hybrids solely as flower producers, Austin conceived them as shrubs, making it easier to mix them with other plants, such as perennials. They are handsome bushes, ranging from four to 10 feet tall, but the flowers are what stop gardeners in their muddy tracks. All blooms are fragrant, some intensely so, and most have a multitude of petals. They come in a range of soft colors that do not fade under the strong Southern California sun and remind many gardeners of peonies. The yellow roses blend well with other colors, and the apricot-hued blooms are a rarity among modern roses, which tend toward a strong orange.

Almost 80 varieties are planted at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, but most nurseries don't stock that many. Sure sources are Sassafras Nursery in Topanga, Burkard Nurseries in Pasadena and Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. Supplies are limited, but there are probably enough to plant a contemporary version of Malmaison, Josephine's sprawling estate.

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