by johnah on November 7, 2020
David Austins roses are a very popular variety of rose. They have been grown commercially since the early 1900’s. David Austins roses were originally bred from a wild rose called ‘Dalbergia’ (or Dalbergia grandiflora) which was found growing in the area near New York City in 1885. These flowers were not only beautiful but they produced large quantities of fragrant white blossoms with red centers, making them ideal for use as houseplants. In fact, these flowers were so good at attracting insects that they became known as “white butterflies”.
The first commercial production of David Austins roses took place in 1903 when Charles J. Dallmeyer and William R. Haines began selling them under the name ‘Rose Of Sharon’. By 1908, the company had expanded into other flower varieties such as ‘Lily Of The Valley’, ‘Cherry Blossom’ and others. By 1910, the company was producing over 2 million bulbs per year.
Unfortunately, the demand for David Austins roses declined during World War I due to their high price and poor quality. During the war years, many people lost their jobs and some plants simply weren’t available to produce flowers anymore.
In 1920, another attempt was made to revive interest in David Austins roses by Charles J. Dallmeyer and William R. Haines, but with no success. It wasn’t until 5 years later that a young entrepreneur by the name of David Austin took an interest in them. By this time, the plant had become extremely rare in the wild.
David Austin began his search for this rarity in 1925 at the New York Botanical Gardens. He couldn’t find any, so he continued searching other gardens throughout the United States. Eventually he discovered a few specimens in the Cincinnati Zoo and botanical gardens, along with a few other gardens in Kentucky and North Carolina. He purchased as many plants as he could afford, which turned out to be around 20.
At first, David Austin was met with failure when he tried to grow these roses. He nearly gave up until his friend Bertrand Nathaniel Smith (a long-time employee of David Austin) managed to get one of the rose bushes to bloom. This spectacular specimen was a deep red rose with heavily perfumed blooms, which reminded David of the white butterflies he used to see as a child in his grandmother’s garden. He decided to name it ‘Mrs. Austin’ in honor of his grandmother.
‘Mrs. Austin’ was an immediate success and perfumers from all over the world wanted to order it in bulk for their products. It became a symbol of royalty, romance and good fortune and it even found its way into popular songs of the day.
From this point on, David Austin managed to acquire a large number of ‘Dalbergia’ and cross-bred them with other types of roses to create new varieties for the commercial market. Today, his company Austin Roses is one of the most respected rose breeding companies in the world.
Other companies, as well as independent breeders, have created their own versions of David Austin’s roses. Unfortunately in the rush to make a quick profit, many unscrupulous people tried to cash in on the popularity of these roses by passing off common garden varieties as ‘authentic’ David Austin roses. This led to a great deal of distrust among consumers, which is why some people are reluctant to buy them even today.
There are a great many websites which have sprung up recently to educate people about true David Austin Roses and tell them how to identify the real thing. It is important to note that the University of Birmingham has no connection with these sites.
As far as I know, David Austin did not trademark his roses’ names so it is impossible to truly know if a rose has been ‘officially’ bred by David Austin or not. I suppose that it doesn’t matter, since all of these plants have the same wonderful qualities which made them famous in the first place.
It seems that interest in these roses will never die out as long as there are people who want to celebrate love, romance and good fortune. Whether you buy them from a garden center or get them online, these lovely flowers will always be a source of joy for all of humanity.
Sources & references used in this article:
The edible flower garden by R Creasy – 2012 – books.google.com
Roses for Dummies by …, Editors of the National Gardening Association – 2011 – books.google.com
New plants for 1990. Part I. Selections from universities, botanic gardens, arboretums and foundations for Zone 4 and colder. by JS Higginbotham – American Nurseryman, 1990 – cabdirect.org
A comparison of the phytosociology and dynamics of three floodplain (Várzea) forests of known ages, Rio Juruá, western Brazilian Amazon by …, JL Stone, A ROSAS JR – Botanical journal of the …, 1992 – academic.oup.com
Gardens (Fall/Winter 2012) by UTG Magazine – trace.tennessee.edu
Wyman’s gardening encyclopedia by D Wyman – 1986 – books.google.com
Flower Gardening in the Hot Midwest: USDA Zone 5 and Lower Zone 4 by LL Hillegass – 2000 – books.google.com
Evaluating companion planting and non-host masking odors for protecting roses from the Japanese beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) by DW Held, P Gonsiska, DA Potter – Journal of Economic …, 2003 – academic.oup.com