One of the most significant advances in floral decoration of late, especially in the development of new varieties of roses, is that of fragrance. In some ways it is not so much an advance, as a return to one of the most valued characteristics of old roses, namely their delicious perfumes. For this admirer of flowers, the idea of fragrance, perfumes and scents represents the holy grail of commercial cut flowers. In the past, to be able to supply scented blooms to satisfy our clients' needs and desires we had to use so-called "Garden Roses". This has meant resorting to specimens which, while they are delightful assets in the garden, have neither the vigor to endure once cut nor the resistance to airborne pathogens, attributes which their commercial cousins do exhibit. Another feature much valued in garden roses is found in varieties that have fully double rosettes that are reminiscent of "Belle Epoque" paintings, and often referred to as 'Cabbage Roses'. Garden roses are products designed specifically to be beautiful in the garden, and were never intended for use as cut flowers. However, fashion has dictated that the use of these type of blooms is highly desirable, especially as romance is once again in vogue. Rose breeders today are very progressive and producing varieties developed specifically for the cut flower market that feature delicious perfumes, are also hardy and have a good vase life. They are also developing roses that feature the ruffled double rosettes reminiscent of old bourbon roses. The very best today combine both elements.
When ordering roses, I find many floral designers forgoing high performance in favor of a dubious provenance of such-and-such a variety being a 'Garden Rose'. I am of the opinion that the very best products should be used, and when selecting a rose for a defined task the performance of that flower ought to be evaluated carefully.
1. If a garden rose has no fragrance, don't buy it. There is no point in buying a product whose performance standards are already compromised and whose vase life is short. Generally speaking you will be able to find a superior substitute from the massive selection of commercial cut roses available today. Take the example of the garden rose "Pierre de Ronsard" (aka 'Eden'). It is very attractive, especially full blown on the bush. However, this garden rose is usually harvested quite tight and never develops properly as a cut flower. A superior bloom is that of "Esperance", which opens fully to reveal a wonderful cup-shaped display of petals. And the performance is guaranteed.
2. Even if a garden rose has fragrance, check and see if there is a superior commercial cut variety available. "Fair Bianca" is a wonderful garden rose developed by David Austin and which we used to sell thousands of in the nineties. However, it is not very strong and is somewhat prone to downy mildew. David Austin has developed a superior product for the cut flower market called "Patience" which in my opinion is a masterpiece. White cupped guard petals clasp a fully quartered rosette that is a rich creamy color, sometimes even a buttery yellow and has notes of oak, vanilla and lavender in the perfume. Even stronger in both performance and fragrance is the high centered hybrid tea rose "Vitality" developed by breeder De Ruiters. It is a delicious French Vanilla color, with an intoxicating aroma of vanilla and citrus.
3. If a garden rose has no fragrance and also does not have the romantic forms of Old Garden Roses definitely don't buy it. You will certainly find a substitute for a high centered garden tea rose within the ranks of the commercial hybrids.
4. If you have a garden rose in mind that has intoxicating fragrance and a wonderful form and petal disposition, no obvious commercial counterpart; then revel in it's beauty, get drunk on its perfume and use it over and over!! For my money, "Yves Piaget" by Meilland is one of the all-time great garden roses that is spectacular in cut flower arrangements and wedding bouquets as well. It has a peony type petal structure, a deep mauve-magenta color and a deep, rich perfume.
When you are able, keep focused on the task the rose needs to accomplish, and order accordingly. For instance you may be doing a wedding that calls for predominatly white flowers with accents of pink. The wedding will be outdoors in the summer. The bride has expressed a desire for a loose, romantic, 'gardeney' feel, with fragrance. In this hypothetical situation you could select one of the all time great garden roses "Double Delight", with its sparkling fruity fragrance. It is a white with blotched red to pink guard petals. After removing guard petals it is predominatly white with hints of pink on the petal margins. However, while this will be OK in water, it won't make the trip in the bouquet. You could use a garden rose called "Nostalgia", that has a similar appearance but no fragrance. Although stronger than the "Double Delight", it still has endurance issues on a hot summer's day. You could elect to go with a recent introduction such as "Sweetness". This rose will develop properly after harvest, will open fully and is predictable. The blooms will last all day in a bouquet, provided it has been properly hydrated. A subtle combination of all three in situations that have a water supply would be very attractive, but for the bouquets the commercial hybrid tea would be the best choice. Fragrance could be introduced by herbs and scented foliages.
Please note: Garden roses are developed for the garden; commercial hybrid teas are developed for cutting. Recently there has been nuch obfuscation of which is which to cash in on the trend. Most of the breeders are now pursuing roses with fragrance, but which will maintain good vase life. These are not garden roses, and fragrance does not necessarily imply that the roses were bred for the garden. In fact the introduction of perfume in modern commercial cutting roses is the greatest breakthrough in rose hybridization that has occurred in my lifetime.