How to Order Sustainable Roses

‘Dark Desire’ rose thrives in Kit’s garden. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

As far as I am concerned, when it comes to roses, planting sustainable roses is the way to go. Do you really want to put on the zoot suits while lugging out the sprayer every 10 days just to prevent fragile roses from falling into the ravages of blackspot? Blackspot is a fungus ever-present in our soil, so the key is to find those roses that can withstand this peril.

In 2000, with the introduction of the Knock Out rose, gardeners sat up while taking notice. Because of its thick epidermis, the Knock Out withstood blackspot, thereby allowing gardeners to plant it throughout the garden. Suddenly, we could release roses from the two tightly knit rows on the side of the garden, the so-called “rose garden.”

Fortunately for us, there are now many hybridizers who are trying to salvage the roses from all this spraying, and the key to finding these roses is knowing where to look.

Peter Kukielski is part of this movement of finding and supporting sustainable roses. As a curator of the New York Botanical Garden, he spearheaded planting and testing roses in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden while writing, “Roses Without Chemicals,” a book outlining 150 sustainable roses. To this day, he continues to define how to choose appropriate roses for a particular region.

However, you have to do your homework. First, keep your eye out on the various trials that are occurring throughout the country. The grandfather of these trials is the Earth-Kind Rose Field Trials at Texas A&M University

It is well worth your time to read how the university conducted its trials.

The Biltmore International Rose Trials offer another source of information. Paul Zimmerman has listed the names of all its winners through 2019 at To see how the trails are conducted, visit

Kukielski co-founded the American Rose Trials for Sustainability, which is an incredibly valuable resource as it lists which roses grow best in each different climate zone ( The American Garden Rose Selection website ( is another great resource. These two organizations test roses throughout the United States, so there truly is a rose that you can grow.

A second source of information is readily available to you: Look around and see what your neighbors are growing successfully. If your neighbor grows David Austin’s Olivia Rose Austin without spraying, chances are that you can, too. The big hybridizers such as Kordes, Meilland and David Austin all have informative websites listing their sustainable roses.

Now that you have done your research and have your heart set on one particular rose, you have to find an outlet that carries it. Keep in mind that there are thousands of rose varieties, so finding a certain rose can be fraught with difficulty. One place to start is

If the rose you want is one that has been on the market for a while, try the websites of Roses Unlimited ( and The Antique Rose Emporium ( Both offer roses of excellent quality.

All this requires us to look at roses in a new way. Throughout the 20th century, roses went through such extreme hybridization that they were unable to exist on their own roots and required constant spraying if they were to survive. Consequently, we placed them in two neat rows pushed off to one side.

One benefit of scattering roses around is that your eyes can now feast on the merits of a particular rose – it’s a lot easier to distinguish one rose than it is to single out one rose from among 12 roses in bloom in tight rows.

And while you might see some blackspot on some of your rose leaves, if you have chosen your variety carefully, you can sit back, relax and let the rose fight its own battle with this fungus.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

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