Everyone should have at least one passion. If you are
lucky, you will have many more, and if you are unlucky
you will have more than time, energy and finances allow.
I have a passion for yellow roses, and I consider myself
This is not to say that I have no other roses in my
garden. Life would not be complete without a few good
reds, a generous handful of peach-tinted varieties and
a sprinkling of whites. This year we may acquire one
or two striped roses, and I have a feeling that they
may prove addictive. However, for the moment, the yellow
roses hold sway in my heart.
The first yellow rose that really impressed me was
an anonymous climber or rambler that I saw a long time
ago, when I was driving through farm country in rural
western New York State. This extremely vigorous plant
was scaling a trellis that was leaning against an old
barn. It was covered with small, medium yellow blooms
that were so beautiful that I stopped the car and went
to the door of the farmhouse to ask the owner the name
of the variety. There was no one home at the time, and
I never had an opportunity to go back.
The yellow barn rose whetted my appetite, which was
further honed when I saw a picture of a yellow ‘Lady
Banks’ rose (Rosa banksiae lutea). This free-flowering
rambler had been trained up a tree somewhere in the
southern United States, and had succeeded so well that
the blossom-laden canes hung down from the branches
like a yellow silk curtain. I wanted yellow roses, and
I especially wanted a yellow Lady Banks rose.
As with many things the object of my desire was not
right for me. Lady Banks roses are on the list of potentially
invasive plants in this state. While I would have no
objections to a rose taking over my property, invasive
plants are bad for the ecosystem in general. Good gardeners
are good citizens, so my Lady Banks rose will have to
remain in my imagination.
Though my passion for Lady Banks remains unrequited,
my passion for yellow roses is easily satisfied. The
first one that I installed in the garden at my former
home was ‘Graham Thomas’, a well-known David
Austin hybrid that is named after the great and venerable
English rosarian. ‘Graham’ is an amazing color
that reminds me more of topaz than of anything else.
It is a lanky shrub that can also be used as a short
climber if you have a trellis. I think that the Austin
catalog describes the fragrance as “myrrh”.
I have never smelled myrrh, but I will take their word
for it. The blossoms are huge, and the scent is memorable.
‘Graham’ is an inspiration.
I have two other Austin yellows, ‘Charlotte’
and ‘Golden Celebration’. The latter is lighter
than ‘Graham Thomas and somewhat less vigorous.
The blossoms, which are buttery yellow make up for everything
else. ‘Golden Celebration’ is just about perfect,
and flowers freely in my garden, though it does not
receive quite as much sun as many of my other shrubs.
For shear toughness there is nothing like a rugosa
rose, and I was determined to have one of the relatively
few yellow rugosas. Last year, while I was on a quest
for an unusual cranesbill I found my rugosa. ‘Agnes’,
a Canadian-bred hybrid, was the first rose to bloom
in my garden this spring, covering itself in soft yellow
loosely cupped blooms. I would have picked one for the
house had the canes not been insurmountably thorny and
my gloves in a location that I could not immediately
remember. I took comfort in the fact that while the
plant is small, the thorns will keep away my voracious
resident groundhog. When the rose reaches maturity,
those thorns will deter just about anything else.
Of course, a passion would not be a passion unless
there was something left unfulfilled. For years I have
lusted after ‘Mermaid’, a large-flowered climber.
It is a single, with only one row of petals, and it
looks at once delicate and extremely robust. The flowers
are gold shading to butter yellow and the prominent
stamens are golden-amber. This year, one way or another,
I will stretch my budget to accommodate ‘Mermaid’.
My favorite rose supplier had run out of Griffith Buck’s
‘Golden Unicorn’, an extremely hardy specimen
that has the large flowers and high pointed buds of
a hybrid tea, combined with the cold-hardiness of its
more rugged ancestors. The late Dr. Buck, who was a
professor at Iowa State University, was all but unknown
as a rose breeder during his lifetime, which ended sixteen
years ago. His roses live on, however, because of their
beauty and durability. They are even beginning to enjoy
a vogue among rose lovers. Vogue or no vogue, I am determined
to have ‘Golden Unicorn’. The name alone is
a strong selling point, and the color—gold that
is almost ready to cross the line to apricot—is
Like many beautiful things, yellow roses can be fragile
and temperamental. As a group they seem to be much more
prone to diseases, especially blackspot. In cold climates,
it is harder sometimes hard to find yellow roses that
will survive through the winter, and that is why Dr.
Buck’s roses fill such a yawning void. Still, even
the tenderest yellow roses are so evocative, symbolizing
both the love and longing expressed in the song, “The
Yellow Rose of Texas”, and the steadfast hope embodied
by the nearly-yellow hybrid tea rose, ‘Peace’.
If those large themes don’t send you straight to
the nursery, then think of all the lush qualities associated
with that buxom sex symbol of the 1960’s, Gina
Lollabrigida. The rose that bears her name is chromium
yellow. From the cerebral to the carnal, the yellow
rose speaks volumns.