Although many people think of “rambling roses” (very vigorous, long-caned, once-flowering climbers) as quite old-fashioned, their greatest development occurred from around 1900 to 1920, with the introduction of the Rosa wichurana hybrids developed by Walsh, Van Fleet, Barbier, Turbat, and others. The burst of production of new Rambler hybrids at the time was fueled by a mania in the rose world for training these lax and flexible plants. Wichurana Ramblers were wrapped on pillars and pergolas, splayed on fancy trelliage—as at the Roseraie de l’Haÿ in France—and grafted high as weeping standards. Ripley’s Believe It or Not cites the case of a man in San Francisco who for some 20 years retrained the canes of the Dorothy Perkins plants in his front yard each New Year into a giant enumeration of that year.

If only the classification of these rose varieties at the turn of the century had been given the same attention as their painstaking training into fanciful garden architecture, we would have a simple and distinct group of Ramblers. For over a century rambling roses had been present on the rose scene, most notable the wiry, long-caned Ayrshires, such as Ruga, 1830, and the Sempervirens hybrids, including Adélaide d’Orléans. Rosa wichurana was the new darling of the rose breeders in 1900; its habit of growth is nearly identical to the parents of these earlier groups, Rosa arvensis and Rosa sempervirens. Early authors like William Paul had considered the hybrids of these species to form their own distinct groups, recommending them for precisely the same garden uses.

The new Wichurana hybrids were considered a distinct class of roses, but as experimentation and cross-breeding flowered, new characteristics began to emerge, most notably very large blooms. To distinguish this new type, hybridizers like Walter Van Fleet began using a new, commercial classification, Large-Flowered Climbers. It was a catchy name, in plain English, and stuck. (We see a similar process occurring today with the “English roses,” a mixed bag of hybrids which are becoming recognized as a class of their own, having only the tenuous commonality of “old-fashioned” floral forms.) Van Fleet’s most memorable creation came by accident, as a sport of one of his Large-Flowered Climbers: that was the repeat-blooming Rambler New Dawn. New Dawn quickly spawned dozens of offspring, many of which were classed as Large-Flowered Climbers. The newly recognized class began to serve as a category to contain any new repeat-blooming climber with large flowers, while still housing many of the once-blooming Wichurana Ramblers, some of which were being placed in a new classification, Ramblers!

The rose gardener relies upon classifications to guide her in selecting varieties for specific purposes. The chaos of classifying that reigned in the early part of the 20th century has not been helpful. It is our intention to sort these varieties in a manner that makes sense to the gardener, grouping roses by habit and practical usage, as well as by parentage. Hence, we group here all once-blooming hybrids and all not-reliably repeating hybrids with rambling, scrambling, climbing, and trailing habit, and remove to the class known as Large-Flowered Climbers all those hybrids, such as New Dawn, that are truly remontant. You will find here not only hybrids of familiar species, R. wichurana, R. sempervirens, and R. arvensis, but also the many hybrids of Rosa multiflora, both 19th and 20th century; hybrids of Rosa setigera, like Baltimore Belle; the Boursault roses, hybrids of the Cherokee Rose, Rosa laevegata; and the great, tree-climbing offspring of Rosa soulieana and of Rosa gigantea.

Our curator for Ramblers is Pamela Temple. See more about her on our Rose Curators page and read her article in our Newsletter, issue 19.