Jim Martin, executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy in South Carolina and owner of Paradise Design, Inc., enjoys educating gardeners on the best roses for the South and points out that roses are normal garden plants, not some special delicacies. The best roses, he says, are grown on their own roots -- not grafted -- so when you shop for roses online or at a nursery, be sure to ask how they are grown.
Martin says a site with morning sun is best, as most roses need some protection from the hot afternoon sun. Good air circulation is helpful in keeping down foliar disease.
He gives high marks to roses in several categories, including Noisettes -- a collection of roses that originated in Charleston in the early 19th century and that repeat-bloom through the year. Noisettes combine the scent of the musk rose with the large flowers of tea and China roses.
Double bright-yellow flowers against reddish stems make 'Reve D'Or' a standout selection for the garden. And at 10 feet, you can use it as a short climber. 'Alister Stella Gray' has a more casual appearance: double creamy-color flowers appear in loose clusters on long stems. Give it room, because it could grow up to 50 feet.
The light pink, loose double flowers on 'Champney's Pink Cluster', an early Noisette from 1802, have a good scent. At 10 feet, this grows nicely in the center of a small bed on an obelisk -- you'll want to get close enough to enjoy its glorious fragrance.
'Buff Beauty', another old Noisette selection, grows to about 8 feet, and so you could use it on a wall as well as on a freestanding trellis. Its double flowers begin buff and fade to cream, and it has a lovely fragrance.
'Old Blush' is an example of a China rose (it's also called Rosa x odorata 'Pallida' and 'Parson's Pink China'); it's been grown since the mid-18th century. Full light pink flowers keep coming all through the season.
Here's a related rose, although you wouldn't know it by sight. Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis' makes a distinctive mark in the garden. Its single flowers open a pale apricot and then turn pink. You'll have a multicolor display all season long on this shrub that grows to 6 feet or more.
Polyanthas make great roses for the South, too. These sweet plants bloom in clusters of small flowers on smallish plants -- although some can be quite energetic growers. 'La Marne' has white flowers edged in bright pink on a plant only 16 inches high.
'The Fairy' blooms with small, double pink flowers on long stems; it reaches 30 inches or more, and will lean on or grow up a short trellis or shrub support. 'Cecile Brunner', known as the sweetheart rose because it's the perfect flower to tuck into a man's lapel, has very few thorns. It can be found as a shrub that grows to about 3 feet or as a climber that will scramble up a tree as soon as look at it.
Hybrid teas also do well. Look for 'Lafter', a fragrant salmon-pink flower that turns more yellow toward the center. It, too, will bloom repeatedly -- and isn't that what we all want?
The Knock Out rose series is always a hit. These landscape roses grow about 4 feet high, bloom continually, and do not need deadheading. They don't have much fragrance (except for Sunny Knock Out 'Radsunny'), but for a hedge or rose to grow within the border, you can't beat their easy care. From the original semidouble red 'Radrazz' to Pink Double 'Radtkopink', you'll find one you can slip into any available garden space.