Sophisticated Singles
"Only the most sophisticated rose growers like singles." -- Harmon Saville

By Kitty Belendez
​Master Rosarian

The first time I saw a single-petalled rose, I said, "No way will I ever grow one of those funny-looking roses." Famous last words. Not only do I now grow many of them, but I am quite fond of the singles, and exhibit them at rose shows, too. It's fun to hear the comments of the public when they see a single-petalled rose for the first time at a rose show or public garden. They don't believe it's a real rose.

A single-petalled rose is defined as a type of rose having 4 to 8 petals, usually a single row. (A semi-double rose has 9 to 16 petals.) This certainly does not bring to mind one of those long-stemmed beauties seen in the florist shop or at the head of the trophy table. And in the garden the single-petalled rose blooms are only fleeting. So exactly what is the attraction of single-petalled roses? Just like gourmet food, one must develop a taste for single-petalled roses. Hybridizer Harmon Saville said it best when he exclaimed, " ... only the most sophisticated rose growers like them." Indeed, many modern-day hybridizers are quick to toss out their single-petalled rose seedlings. However, single roses are becoming more and more acceptable in the marketplace as consumers are learning to know and appreciate them.

Why are some roses single-petalled while others have dozens, even hundreds of petals? Apparently the modern-day single-petalled roses are closely linked to the species roses of ancient history. Many of the species roses are in the ancestry of the modern-day single-petalled roses. Rosa foetida was one of the earliest species roses as it was known to be in existence prior to 1542. It has only 5 medium-yellow petals and is once blooming. Austrian Copper is another species rose. It has 5 red-blend petals, and was known to be in existence before 1595. And later there was Mutabilis, a yellow blend china rose known to be in existence prior to 1894.

Their beauty, of course, is optimally seen when they are fresh and fully open. Much of their charm is portrayed by the delicate stamens radiating from their smiling faces. Their blooms may seem fleeting, but actually most single-petalled roses are quite floriferous. In fact, many singles bloom continuously. Single roses have a fast repeat cycle, so even if you were to deadhead all the spent blooms off the bush, they would again be in full bloom in about 28 to 35 days, while full-petalled varieties would take anywhere from 35 to 60 days.

Single-Petalled Hybrid Tea Roses
Some of the single-petalled roses are extremely fragrant. Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea introduced in 1925, is one of the most fragrant singles, and as an added bonus the stamens are a unique burgundy, while most other stamens are yellow or gold. Framing the rare burgundy-tinted stamens are five light-pink petals. An elegant statement in the garden. Imagine a large bed of Dainty Bess in full bloom, their intense perfume wafting through the air. Pure heaven! The lovely Ellen Willmott, first generation offspring of Dainty Bess, has 5 yellow-blend petals, and was introduced in 1936. Not as fragrant as Dainty Bess, Ellen Willmott was a cross of Dainty Bess x Lady Hillingdon. Both of these older single-petalled hybrid teas are still available and grown today. One of the oldest single-petalled hybrid teas is the orange blend Irish Elegance that was introduced in 1905 and is rated by the ARS at 8.9 (out of a possible score of 10).

Single-Petalled Floribunda Roses
In the floribunda rose class, there are a number of single-petalled varieties that have become very popular. 

The vivid red-blend blooms of Playboy (actually the color is a blend of yellow, gold, orange, and red) are its most striking feature. The foliage is a handsome glossy green that is very disease resistant. So it makes a terrific landscape bush. Playboy is a floribunda rose hybridized by Cocker in 1976, is a 7th generation descendent of R. foetida.

As a companion to Playboy, the hot neon pink Playgirl (with only five petals) projects her personality with lashes of the longest golden stamens. Playgirl was introduced by Ralph Moore in 1986. Both Playboy and Playgirl have a delicious apple-like fragrance. For a dramatic statement, consider displaying a combination of Playboy and Playgirl together in one vase. Playboy was the seed parent of Playgirl, therefore Playgirl is an 8th generation descendent of R. foetida. Then there are the various sports of Playgirl such as Charlotte Anne, Puanani, and Miss Ada that are different shades of the original Playgirl.

Another single-petalled floribunda is Playfair. It's a seedling of Playgirl, and though it's classed as white, it is tinged with the very palest mauve-pink. The plant is small and is perfect for growing in a container.

Escapade (with 12 petals) is another very fragrant single rose. The mauve-blend blooms on this floribunda look like delicate butterflies ready to fly away. And, delicate it is, since the petals tend to fry in the heat. Protection from the afternoon sun is suggested. This rose bush is happier when grown in the ground instead of in a container. Escapade is an older floribunda rose that was introduced in 1967, but many people still grow it.

One of the most gorgeous single-petalled floribundas I've ever seen is Priscilla Burton. It has about 10 deep carmine pink petals, brushed with a white blend. This is what is referred to as the "hand-painted" look. Priscilla Burton will look different in various climates; in hot weather she will lose her hand-painted look and appear mostly red with a white eye.

One of the newest single-petalled floribundas is the red blend Betty Boop with 6 to 10 petals. Hybridized by Tom Carruth, this rose makes a nice bush that blooms continuously. It was an All-America Selections (AARS) award winner.

Single-Petalled Climbing Roses
If you're partial to climbing roses, nothing can beat Altissimo. It is a top exhibition climber, and is great for landscape, too. With five dark red petals framing fluffy, golden stamens, it truly is spectacular when grown spreading over a low fence or as a pillar. The splashy red and white striped climber Fourth of July is not technically a single as it can have between 10 and 16 petals. However, I include it here because it usually has 10 or fewer petals in Southern California. Fourth of July blooms profusely year round, and was an AARS award winner. Newport Fairy is a single-petalled hybrid wichurana that grows like a climbing rose. It was introduced in 1908 by Gardner, has pink-blend blooms, and is once-blooming in spring or summer.

Single-Petalled Shrub Roses
Sally Holmes (Ivory Fashion x Ballerina) is classed as a shrub rose, but gets so gigantic that perhaps she really is a climber in disguise. She produces tremendous trusses of white hydrangea-like blooms, splashed with a bit of apricot before fully open. Another lovely single-petalled shrub rose is Golden Wings. Intense fragrance surrounds the pale yellow 5-petalled blooms of this spinossima, and the stamens are an enticing red. Golden Wings is said to be very hardy. Even David Austin has several single-petalled shrub roses in his line-up. The light yellow Lillian Austin was introduced in 1986. One of the most widely-grown shrubs is the single-petalled Ballerina. Introduced in 1937 by Bentall, this hybrid musk with clusters of small light pink blooms is very popular as a landscape plant. The 2002 AARS award winner was Starry Night featuring clusters of white single-petalled blooms.

Single-Petalled Miniature & Mini-Flora Roses
In the miniature rose division, one of my favorite singles is My Sunshine, a fragrant Dee Bennett mini with only five medium-yellow petals. Why Not, hybridized by Ralph Moore, is a yummy tomato red with a golden yellow eye in the center. It's a continuous bloomer. Mr. Moore has developed a number of single-petalled minis in his "Halo" series including Halo Today (orange-red), Halo Dolly, and Halo Rainbow. A unique miniature single from Sam McGredy is Anytime. The twelve smoky-orange petals have a lavender eye, and golden stamens. For a splashy effect, Peggy "T" from Gene King is a hand-painted miniature with her five red-blend petals. A Dee Bennett single-petalled mini-flora is Grace Seward with five pure white petals. From John Clements of Heirloom Roses we have the stunning and rare mini-flora Glamour Girl featuring white petals with red edging. Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses has recently produced a series of single-petalled mini roses such as Gizmo, Space Odyssey, and Neon Cowboy.

Betcha Can't Grow Just One!
Single-petalled roses are easy to grow. They are photogenic, they bloom in abundance, and many are fragrant, too. Most can be grown successfully in partial shade. As an added bonus, many of the single-petalled roses mentioned in this article are disease resistant even when not sprayed with fungicide on a regular basis. If you haven't yet grown some of these singles, give them a try. You, too, will experience the sophistication of single-petalled roses. 

© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved.

This article is an ARS Award of Merit Winner, originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

Photos © Copyright by Kitty Belendez

For questions about Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, contact:
Rose Society


Updated January 13, 2016

Miniature Rose  'Little Artist'
Miniature Rose 'My Sunshine'
Floribunda Rose 'Frankie'
Miniature 'Grace Seward'
Miniature Rose  'Peggy T'
Floribunda Rose  'Playgirl'
Floribunda Rose 'Playboy'
Floribunda Rose  'Puanani'
Miniature Rose 'Why Not'
Climbing Rose  'Altissimo'
Miniature 'Halo Today'
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