Small roses for city gardens

by Rhiannon James

credit: David Austin Roses

There’s nothing that breathes romance into a garden quite like roses, especially when they’re heavy with deliciously heady scent. And while they might be a cottage garden classic, they can also look stunning in contemporary city plots. Some roses are a little too exuberant for small spaces but there are plenty of more compact varieties to choose from, with some dainty enough for a container, not to mention climbers to make the most of vertical spaces. Our experts have each picked out the rose that makes their heart skip a beat.

Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’

credit: David Austin Roses

Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’ is, for me, the perfect red rose. It has an amazing deep, luscious red colour, with velvety petals. Although generally described as a shrub, I find its stems are lax and fast growing, so it is more of a short climber that’s perfect trained over a tripod or garden obelisk. It has the most wonderful scent and brought indoors, it fills the house with a lovely pure rose aroma. It works really well combined with purple or lilac clematis, to prolong the season.

Ana Sanchez-Martin, garden designer, (



Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’

credit: David Austin Roses

Roses are quite simply the most romantic of plants. Their big, blowsy, richly-coloured and deeply-scented blooms scream of an idyllic country life where the sun always shines and village life revolves around cream teas and cricket matches. The flowers that conjure these images are about as far away as you can get from the tight, odourless roses offered at petrol stations and at the sides of roads. The best roses will bring this hint of the country to your home no matter where that home is.  Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’, named after the site where the great Gertrude Jekyll created her garden, is such a one; dark crimson velvet cupped blooms unfurl from pretty buds with a scent that is heady and deep.  This is not a big rose, growing to about 3 feet x 3 feet and can be grown happily in a container provided water and food are in ample supply and will reward with healthy foliage and repeated flowers throughout the summer.  Roses complement many plants and the deep rich red flowers of Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ would look wonderful backed by Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’ or, if you can spare a patch of ground, planted with a wild mass of nepeta or salvia.

Kate Gould, garden designer (


Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’

credit: David Austin Roses

The two great things about roses are their flower colour and their perfume.  The soft pink Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is a favourite in both respects and has in the past been voted Britain’s favourite rose, so I’m not alone in enjoying its beguiling qualities.  If it’s richer colour you are looking for then try Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ or Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’, both of which have delicious scents and moody, blackcurrant red flowers. For sheer style, try Rosa Burgundy Ice – it’s from the Iceberg group but has dark velvet petals that hide a sexy white underside.  It’s less impressive for perfume but is a highly desirable addition to the border.

Andrew Wilson, garden designer, author and chief assessor for the Royal Horticultural Society (


Rosa Kent


There are so many roses to choose from.  And at this time of year we spend millions as a nation flying in forced cut roses as Valentine’s gifts. If your plan is for your relationship with your Valentine to last longer than a week I would suggest that you go for the sustainable option and buy a rose bush.   You have got to choose carefully though especially in a city garden.  I grow most of our roses in theTudorGardenat the Roof Gardens and so always go for white or dark roses as this is the colour palette for all the planting in this area. Go for something small, and, if you want a contemporary look, there is no better white rose than Rosa Kent.  It is no more than 50 cm high and its clusters of pure white flowers last for most of the summer. For a bigger flower but still on a small bush (90cm) there is Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’.  This is a fantastic rose.  Dark maroon blooms open from lighter crimson buds and have a great scent.  It really is a classic, romantic-looking flower and to top it all, it’s disease-resistant so it’s easy to look after. As there won’t be any flowers in February, perhaps, when it comes to Valentine’s gifts, the name is also important.  For this, there is nothing better than Rosa Valentine Heart.  This soft pink floribunda can get up to a metre tall but is often available as a half-standard and so can be used to give a bit of height and structure to a garden bed.

David Lewis, Head Gardener at Kensington Roof Gardens (


Rosa Princess Alexandra of Kent

credit: David Austin Roses

Princess Alexandra of Kent is a well-rounded shrub rose and is ideal for growing with other flowering plants in a small garden or in a large terracotta container. The giant, deeply-cupped blooms are a wonderful shade of warm, glowing pink. They have a glorious, award-winning fragrance of tea with hints of lemon and blackcurrants.’

Michael Marriott, Technical Manager at David Austin Roses (





Rosa banksiae

credit: imcool

Rosa banksiae is a species rose native to China and unlike most climbing roses, it is practically thornless. On top of that, it is easy to grow, vigorous and very disease-resistant. It’s a great rose for a city garden and grows to 6 metres x 6 metres or more when trained on a wall or pergola. Rosa banksiae ‘Alba Plena’ produces a profusion of small, double, pure white flowers in April or May, while Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ has similar qualities but produces large clusters of pale yellow flowers – both are delicately scented. I have grown Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ in a Kensington garden with Wisteria sinensis and the pale yellow flowers look stunning mixed with lilac blue. The only downside for rose lovers is that it flowers only once a year, but it does so with great gusto!

Declan Buckley, garden designer (

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