My Favorite Polyantha Roses

By Robert B. Martin, Jr.
​Master Rosarian

The polyantha is a class of roses, which trace to the rose known as R. multiflora 'Polyantha'. From all accounts, this was a fairly typical R. multiflora, very much a climber and non-remontant, having small single white blossoms much like that of a bramble or strawberry, and blooming in large clusters, called "panicles". The polyantha class shares many of the R. multiflora traits including its distinctive fringed "stipules", the small outgrowth at the base of the leaf stalk, as well as the production of numerous blooms borne in clusters at the tops of branches. However the polyanthas differ from R. multiflora in several important respects. The most important are its dwarf blooms, its dwarf bush form and its repeat blooming habit.

The French breeder Jean-Baptiste Guillot introduced the first polyantha rose, 'Paquerette', in 1875. From the beginning, the landscape value of the low growing and free-flowering polyantha was evident, and breeders used it to produce many landscape shrubs. The best known of all the polyanthas is 'The Fairy' introduced in 1932 by Ann Bentall. This polyantha rose produces small, flat, double, light pink pom-pom blooms over a dense spreading bush. 'The Fairy' carries an ARS Rating of 8.7 and is an excellent exhibition rose ranked as #1 nationally among polyanthas

I am a great fan of polyantha roses. And, although 'The Fairy' is the best-known polyantha, it does not perform as well in the heat of my Pasadena garden as it does in more moderate climes. It is, in fact, but one of 24 different varieties of polyanthas I grow in my garden, many of which occupy the space between the sidewalk and the street where their low-growing habit makes them excellent landscape specimens. So for those readers looking for other polyanthas to consider, I offer here a baker's dozen of my favorite polyanthas.

'China Doll', mp, 1946, Lammerts. ARS Rating 8.2. A vigorous spreading polyantha, 'China Doll' produces large flushes of china-rose pink pom-pom blooms. It is also an excellent exhibition polyantha, ranked #2 nationally. The blooms are double, cupped, and of moderate size for a polyantha. They appear in large trusses on a bushy plant with leathery foliage. Hybridized by Dr. Walter Lammerts, it is a cross of the polyantha 'Mrs. Dudley Fulton' with the miniature rose 'Tom Thumb'. 

'Doc', mp, 1854, deRuiter. One of the "seven dwarves" roses introduced in the early 1950s, this polyantha originally had the unpleasant name (to the U.S. ear) of 'Degenhard'. The small pom-pom blooms are phlox-pink, and appear in tight, compact clusters. The bush itself is also compact, making it an excellent subject for a container. The foliage is dark, leathery and pointed in a manner typical of the dwarves. It is a cross of the hybrid musk 'Robin Hood' by a unidentified poyantha seedling which may likely have been 'Katharina Zeimet'.

Of the seven dwarves, only four roses are available in the U.S. The most widely available is the medium red 'Happy', discussed below. The others besides 'Doc' include the pleasant pink blend single 'Bashful', which I have grown for over a year, and the medium red 'Dopey' which is new to my garden.

'Elizabeth Navarro', lp, 2001, Martin. This is my own rose introduction, so it has to be my favorite polyantha. A seedling of 'Nastarana', the bush is upright of moderate height with an abundance of light pink well-shaped buds and blooms that are borne in very large clusters. The foliage is a light green, matte. 

'Excellenz von Schubert', dp, 1909, Lambert. This rose grows as a climber in my garden and may be more properly classified as a climbing polyantha or hybrid multiflora. It bears an abundance of dark carmine, nearly purple, small blooms in clusters. The foliage is dark and green and attractive, which is good since it tends to be a late bloomer. It is a cross of the polyantha 'Mme. Norbert Levasseur' and the hybrid tea 'Frau Karl Druschki'. Unlike most polyanthas it is somewhat fragrant. It is also a reasonably good exhibition polyantha, ranked #16 nationally.

'Happy', mr, 1954, deRuiter. ARS Rating 8.0. Another of the "Seven Dwarfs", originally released as 'Alberich'. 'Happy' is a well-named rose that is quite cheerful in the garden. It is a low growing bush with dark green, glossy foliage, that produces abundant sprays of bright currant red blooms. It is a cross of the hybrid musk 'Robin Hood' by a seedling of the polyantha 'Katharina Zeimet'. It is also an excellent exhibition polyantha, ranked #8 nationally.

'Katharina Zeimet', w, 1901, Lambert. ARS Rating 7.2. This is a vigorous small upright rose bush with an abundance of pure white. small, loosely formed blooms that appear in large clusters. The rich green foliage is small. Although not well known, I believe this may be one of the best polyanthas ever introduced. It is a cross of the polyantha 'Etoile de Mai' and the polyantha 'Marie Pavie'.

'La Marne', pb, 1915, Barbier. ARS Rating 8.8. This is a vigorous, fairly upright bush that produces unique pink blooms blushed white that change colors with age. The habit is loose and the bush seems constantly in bloom. It is also an excellent exhibition polyantha, ranked #9 nationally.

'Lullaby', w, 1953, Shepherd. ARS Rating 8.7.  Putting aside my own introduction, 'Elizabeth Navarro', this is my favorite polyantha. 'Lullaby' makes a compact bush of about 4 feet by 4-feet, being taller and more upright than the typical low-growing polyantha. The bush is vigorous and has fairly dark, leathery disease-resistant foliage. Although the initial blooms tend to appear late in spring, once 'Lullaby' starts blooming it continues through the year with small clusters of perfectly formed white pom-pom blooms blushing pink in the center, and with a typical green pip directly in the center, reminiscent of the beautiful damask, "Mme Hardy".

Being a rose exhibitor, one of the things I like most about 'Lullaby' is its performance at rose shows. I have won the best polyantha spray with 'Lullaby' on nine occasions, and five times have won with it in the class calling for three polyantha sprays. It is therefore a superb performer in both the garden and on the show tables.

'Lullaby' was introduced in 1953 by the well-known rosarian and author Roy E. Shepherd. Its parentage is (('R. soulieana' x 'Mrs. Joseph Hiess') x "Mlle Cecile Brunner'). 'Mrs Joseph Hiess' is a "mary wallace' pink polyantha introduced in 1943 by Klyn Shepherd. 'Mlle Cecile Brunner', sometimes referred to as "the sweetheart rose" is a tea-formed polyantha that is well known both in its bush and climbing form.

'Marie Pavie', w,, 1888, Allegatier. ARS Rating 8.8. A moderate upright and spreading rose bush with fairly large foliage, 'Marie Pavie' produces moderate-size white loose pom-pom blooms with a flesh center. The foliage has no prickles, except on the backs of the leaves. To my nose 'Marie Pavie' is the most fragrant of the polyantha roses and my two bushes in bloom fill the surrounding air with a sweet fragrance. Of unknown breeding, 'Marie Pavie' was used to produce 'Katharina Zeimet' (1901). 'Marie Pavie' is also a fairly good exhibition polyantha, ranked #15 nationally.

'Paquerette', w, 1875, Guillot Fils. The first polyantha rose; it is a smallish spreading bush with many pure white blooms produced constantly in broad clusters. The blooms are very double, cupped, with a slight fragrance. It has very few prickles, glossy foliage glossy and bright green stems. 

'Red Fairy', mr, 1995, Moore. This is a brick red look-alike of 'The Fairy' that blooms in large upright abundant sprays. There are few prickles, the foliage is medium green, semi-glossy; and the bush is quite spreading. It is a cross of 'Simon Robinson' by an unknown seedling. Although of recent origin, it is an up-and-coming exhibition polyantha, ranked #25 nationally.

'Verdun', mr, 1918, Barbier. ARS Rating 8.7. This is a fairly compact, upright rose bush with small pom-pom blooms of vivid carmine-red, tending to purple. The blooms are produced in tight clusters of 25-50. It is one of my very favorites and is an excellent exhibition polyantha, ranked #6 nationally.

'White Pet', w, 1879, Henderson. ARS Rating 8.5. This is a sport of a hybrid sempervirens with no apparant polyantha connection. The pom-pom, quarter-size blooms are white and appear in large clusters on a plant of very dwarf growth. It is a good exhibition polyantha, ranked #13 nationally.

As I have said, I am quite fond of the polyantha roses. I urge you to try some of my favorites, as I am confident they will become favorites of yours as well.

Reprinted with permission.


© Copyright Robert B. Martin, Jr. All rights reserved.

All Photos Copyright © Kitty Belendez, except as noted.

'Lullaby' Polyantha
'Elizabeth Navarro' Polyantha
'Verdun' Polyantha
'White Pet' Polyantha
Updated April 3, 2023

'Excellenz von Schubert' Polyantha
'The Fairy' Polyantha
'China Doll' Polyantha
'Wing Ding' Polyantha
'Orleans Rose' Polyantha
Our Facebook
Our Videos
Left to Right: 'Lady Reading', 'Lullaby', and 'Verdun