English rose "Abraham Darby"

My English rose “Abraham Darby” sits in a pot and looks ugly for most of the year. It’s an awkward bush, with long stems jutting out at weird angles, covered by huge thorns. You have to navigate carefully around its pot or spend minutes untangling your clothes from the branches. And not only is this bush particularly ugly and lacking in grace, the foliage is prone to blackpot and burns in the sun. That said, “Abraham Darby” is probably the most oft-photographed and oft-smelled single plant in my garden. Why?

Three days ago, this happened:

This picture is from some time last year, probably around March or April 2007. This rose’s stems are too thin to support the huge, heavy flowers, so I had to give them a little help to get a good picture. You can also see how much the color and form varies from flower to flower over time, starting out very saturated and then fading to blush pink and the palest yellow:

“Abraham Darby” is without question happiest in cool weather, and rarely blooms in hot weather, as it did in the summer of 2006. Here, the flowers are much smaller and paler, and no color variation is present:

Winter blooms are the most saturated, with distinct yellow and pink areas. This flower was produced during the ice storm in January 2007. I hauled the pot against the outside of the house protected by the covered deck, threw a blanket over the bush, and then snuck outside every few hours to take a nice hit of its incredible rose-and-citrus scent:

Nodding flower in the afternoon sun:

This may be an ugly bush that is constantly unhappy with our Texas climate, which bursts fully into bloom maybe twice a year if I’m lucky, but when “Abraham Darby” flowers, I am mesmerized.

About The Gardener of Good & Evil

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28 Responses to English rose "Abraham Darby"

  1. vertie says:

    Wow, that is one beautiful rose, and it clearly understands that it must be spectacular at times to make up for its looks the rest of the year.

  2. Your ‘Abraham Darby’ flowers are enormous, Lori! I grew the same rose in Illinois where it also had a weak neck, but the shrub itself was rather attractive in that climate. The color of the flowers was different there, too, depending on how cool it was when the buds formed. Dang, I loved that rose. It just kept popping out a few new roses for most of the summer. Between Abraham Darby, Graham Thomas, Peace and New Dawn there was always at least one rose to cut for a bud vase. Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. I also own AD, and I say “amen” to everything you wrote. The bush is a nightmare. The blooms are heaven.~~Dee

  4. Just found you on Blotanical. I grow Abraham Darby as well. The bush is just awful, but the blooms are wonderful.

  5. Lee17 says:

    So, I guess that rose is meant for cutting the flowers off and putting them in a vase, huh? The flower is so pretty, it makes suffering through the ugly bush all worth it 😉

  6. Amy says:

    Oooh, heaven! Those blooms must make all the awkwardness worth it in the end 🙂

  7. Lori says:

    Vertie – I agree. Mr. Darby is wily that way.Annie – Yes, the flowers are huge! The color of the blooms changes for me, too, and the bicolor seems to be the most pronounced at low temperatures. And the first blooms in every flush are more intensely colored than the rest. I’ll post a few more pictures in my next update. 🙂Dee – If only someone could breed the blooms to a bushier, healthier bush. I wonder what I need to sacrifice to the flower gods to make that happen. Clearly, lots of weeds aren’t cutting it. 😉Aunt Debbi – Thanks for commenting! Have you figured out a good way to hide the gawkiness of the bush? I’m thinking of cutting mine back and then trying to train it around a rose pillar so that at least it’s not sticking out its long thorny arms to catch on everything.Amy – The thought of the blooms and fragrance are what keeps me from yanking the bush up and dumping it in the trash when it looks so incredibly miserable every summer. Poor rose. Lee – Weirdly, I’ve found that English roses are bad vase roses. I’ve tried cutting both Graham Thomas and Abraham Darby for the vase, and no matter how careful I was with recutting the stems underwater, etc., all the petals would fall off within hours. On the other hand, I’ve found that Duchesse de Brabant is a fabulous vase rose– the last time I cut a bouquet with some verbena, it lasted a week!

  8. hanako! says:

    Holy cow, those are some enormous (and gorgeous) blooms! That’s really all my rose-ignorant self has to add.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Boy, I wonder if you folks are growing the same rose! I grow this rose in Honolulu, where it is hot and humid most of the year. Planted as a bareroot, this gem kicked out a dozen buds in its first five weeks of existence; thereafter it just got even better! I am able to maintain this rosebush as a very large, rounded shrub, but must consistently prune down those wild thorny canes after bloom. But Abe repeats even more with vigorous pruning! I certainly agree that it is quite thorny, and has weak necks on occasion (generally when the cane has a spray of buds as opposed to a single bud), but its fragrance is one of the best (my Romantica Yves Piaget gives it a good run), and it does just fine, thank you, in sunny ol’ Honolulu. Regards, Surferboy

  10. Lori says:

    Surferboy – My Abraham Darby is a grafted rose since that was all I could find in town, and I suspect that it would perform better on its own roots. The Antique Rose Emporium is now selling it on its own roots, but they sold out before I could buy one. I’m going to have to look into that Yves Piaget rose you mentioned. I’m a sucker for an amazing fragrance.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t resist making a comment. I am awaiting the arrival of my first ever rose bush to plant. It is an Abraham Darby and I plan to put it in front of a window that has been reported a window peeper was peering through. I want a wonderful fragrance, great thorns, and beautiful roses. If the branches get ugly, well, Clematis climbing and blooming throughout the rose bush would be splendid, especially if it has a fragrance.
    Sign me “still growing in KS at 64”

  12. Anonymous says:

    Bought this last year for its amazing perfume. At present 3′ high and not a bud in sight. Having read some comments here I will try out the old saying ‘growth follows the knife’ and will give it a ruthless prune, at the same time trying to get the cuttings to root.

  13. Lori says:

    Still growing in KS – I can definitely promise you that you’ll get huge thorns and huge fragrance from Abraham Darby. Maybe it’ll grow differently in KS, but I’d actually recommend getting 3 plants to put in front of your window to make a denser bush, and because you’ll get more flowers if you prune it back hard a couple times a year. I hope Abraham Darby does well for you, and as a bonus, what a perfect fragrant rose to have under an open window!

    Anonymous – I’ve noticed that Abraham Darby is definitely one of those roses that responds to being cut back yard. I recommend a hard pruning, followed by SuperThrive and some seaweed or fish emulsion. I didn’t have any flowers all spring, and after I gave up and lopped everything back by 2/3 and fertilized, the bush is covered in buds. Hopefully the same thing will work for you.

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  15. Garden Much says:

    Heres another Abraham Darby grown to enormous proportions 🙂

  16. Hi,
    Nice information posted here.. Really very interesting. Thanks for posting this blog.. Like the rose..

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hi! I am reading your comments, you describe this rose so well!

    My bush is getting so much bigger and this year I have tons of blooms. I planted it about 2007 as a small shrub, with a few stocks less that three feet tall, now it has several 10-12 foot stocks and I am wishing I had an arch to support it! I tied it up to a fence, which helps. The stalks are somewhat hidden by plantings in front, and it is near a lilac.

    I am trying to hid the unsightly parts by allowing a clematis to climb up the stalks. They do this at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on roses along an arched pathway. So far my the clematis is not taking off, I think it is too shady at that spot. Rats. If done right, when the rose blooms stop, the clematis starts. Mutually beneficial.

    I get one bloom a season up north here. I think last year would have been better, but some squirrel chopped off all of the top buds close to the fence! Nasty little creatures.

    Thank you for posting your photographs, they are lovely.

    Jane in Brooklyn, NY

  18. Anonymous says:

    I have nurtured this perfumed , peach & apricot colored rose , over 12 Minnesota winters using the 'tipping' method . Today she sits on a pedestal in my tiny , nearly sunless garden ready to bloom , again . Amazing rose worth every effort.

  19. sophie says:

    Flowers are so adorable and enhances the beauty of a certain place that has it, not just a garden that is beautified, but any place.
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    I like how it all resembles fractals, nature, life and the universe is all about fractals, once that we understand this concept, we can understand the laws of all.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Abraham Darby is my favorite rose. I deal with black spot, but the healthier the rose the less spot I have to deal with. I live in the PNW and grow my roses on their own root stock (heirloom roses). My husband took cuttings in early Fall and they all took. Planting them in groups in the middle of the boarder with plants that have lovely leaves in front works for me. I tend to prune them hard as part of collecting flowers but otherwise I let them run into each other and they look fine in the boarder.
    I use the flowers in arrangements in two ways. In small vases and silver bowls. I have photos of them but need to figure out how to share them in this format.
    This is my first post of this kind ever. It took AD to get me to want to share. It is lovely to find other gardeners that are as crazy about its color and scent as I am.

    Thanks for the good info and the suggestions for new roses.

    Signed looking forward to spring,

  24. Very interesting! Once again, I appreciate all your work and also providing a lot vital tricks to the audience. Thanks: D

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  26. Anonymous says:

    Great blog! Our AD rose had amazing flowers during Victoria's endless cool spring. (Vancouver Island) The weather just got nice out here, and the rose suddenly looks awful. My husband wants me to yank it out, but first I'm going to try the advice from this blog, and prune the rose by at least half. Hope it works. VicGardener

  27. Anonymous says:

    Great blog! Our AD rose had amazing flowers during Victoria's endless cool spring. (Vancouver Island) The weather just got nice out here, and the rose suddenly looks awful. My husband wants me to yank it out, but first I'm going to try the advice from this blog, and prune the rose by at least half. Hope it works. VicGardener

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