Mid-Century Modest Gardens: Focus on Hybrid Tea Roses

Today: A guest post by Marybeth Shea. An avid gardener (born 1960), Marybeth’s two homes over the last 27 years were built in 1945 and 1946:  first, a tiny, frame gable-front cape sold even before it was complete to a returning vet, and now a modest center hall colonial, also sold originally to a vet. In this story — the first of several we plan to queue up — she tells us all about hybrid tea roses — iconic flowers from mid-century America.

She writes:

1996, Somewhere in Suburban Maryland: During the home inspection before we settled on the old brick, center-hall colonial house on a street named for a tree, I stood before three raggedy roses: These sorry but earnest plants grew in the front bed under the right hand window.  “Will have to call gran-paw and ask about helping these sad roses.”  The roses were inter-planted between what I later determined were forsythia bushes.  So squared-off by an electric pruning sheers these forsythia were that they did not bloom until two years later after I let them grow.  The electric sheers were left in the garage, an oversight or parting gift?  I do not know.  I still sometimes mutter, Clue-style, “Professor M. In the front yard. With the electric sheers.”

The previous owners did take the three roses — roots and all — early in the morning before we moved in.  A new neighbor, with a perfectly coiffed yard, tasteful foundation plantings, and a perfectly placed climbing rose over her side porch said that the roses were sentimental to the family. Should I be miffed? I thought.  Nah.  The bushes looked straggly and squeezed at the front of the house.  Besides, the deep red and dark pink tones did not show up against the red brick.

A few weeks later, in the soil I found two metal tags: one read ‘Tropicana’ with the other tag sporting ‘Chrysler Imperial.’  I now knew the names of two of the rose bushes.  “Hybrid tea roses, from the fifties,” replied my grandfather when I asked him. “Nice enough blooms, but no scent.  Wouldn’t grow them again if I were you.  Fussy roses, need fumigation to fight black spot; both cultivars are from the 50s, I think.”  Black spot sounds icky; Fumigation, worse, I though.

Tasteful-foundation-plantings neighbor later told me that Professor M and his wife could not bear to leave the roses because they honored the births of their three children.  I still wonder what that third rose was named.  And, I watch for the missing metal tag more than ten years later. Roses are tagged at the grower, with the quarter-sized disc placed between the main stem and the roots.  Look for them at the base of existing roses.  Tags are increasingly made of plastic, though, sad to say.  But if you find a metal tag while puttering in the yard, you may have clues to the rose choices of previous owners.

No flower — other than the classic potted pelargonium (geranium is the common name)– is more mid century than the hybrid tea rose.  Peace, a pale cream tinged pink flower, exemplifies this class of roses, the variety debuting just at the end of World War II. The story of Peace is truly a mid century tale of risk and adventure.The famed French nursery House of Meilland sent a batch of rooted rose cuttings across the Atlantic for safe keeping  shortly before the Germans occupied France.  In Philadelphia, horticulturalists at the Conrad Pyle Company, noticed the sunset-cloud hues of this rose.   In 1945, after international agreements settled the war in both the European and Pacific Theaters, Peace was released for sale in the US; later, the same rose stock was sold in Europe as Gloria Dei; both names reflected relief at the War’s end. Peace may well be the most popular hybrid tea of all time; the variety is widely available still. (Peace rose image from wikicommons)

Meanwhile, veterans returned home to don company suits or college sweaters, marry sweethearts, and buy houses.  By 1950, the lawn and garden culture of these house-proud families was in full sway.  Nowhere was this Saturday-intensive labor on display to greater effect than in the suburbs.  Roses were installed as “focus” foundation plants but most often set apart in rose beds.  In the brisk and busy family culture of the post war boom, women tended to work inside the home while men mowed lawns and gardened.  Some of the names of hybrid tea varieties of that time reflect in part marketing of specific flower colors to men:  Chrysler Imperial (1952) for one (Image above from The Antique Rose Emporium). Audie Murphy for another (1957 Lammerts) (image, right, from vintagegardens.com) and later, Casanova (1964 by McGredy).

Full disclaimer:  women were not excluded from the gardens.  Women continued to tend gardens, including rose beds.  But, men from the post War decade seemed particularly drawn to the demands of rose gardening.  Demands is right:  hybrid tea roses are notoriously high maintenance. The bad news about hybrid tea roses is that — as a class — the flowers are fussy, requiring a full gardenng arsenal.  The better-living-through-chemistry culture of that day offered fungicides (black spot and mildew) and pesticides (for evil aphids, thrips, and later Japanese beetles). Remember the scene in GodFather I when Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) moves among his beloved tomatoes with a green metal fumigation canister?  The suburbs were rife with men wielding such gear, at their lawns, shrubs, and roses.  My grandfather — although a WWI vet — was one of them.

What is a Hybrid Tea Rose?

Hybrid tea tea roses derived from an 19th century cross of older rose types:  Circa 1867. Jean-Baptiste Guillot, a French nurseryman raised La France from hybridising a tea rose with a hybrid perpetual type. Hybrid tea roses bloomed through the season and on long stalks, with more bud-like early blooms with full blossoms in what is now the classic rose look.  The problem with these roses , however, are legion:  susceptible to black spot and other fungal woes, requiring hard and constant pruning to achieve class buds, fussy about temperature, soil, siting, etc. Why are they grown?  Beauty and challenge, making hybrid tea culture a bit like Mount Everest.

Mid Century Uses of Hybrid Tea Roses: Bed more than Foundation

Some foundation plantings included roses as a “dot” or accent plant.  The climber often situated near a porch or trained around a window is not likely to be a shrub hybrid tea. (Article on Climbers and Ramblers Forthcoming)  Two types of rose beds are classic in post war suburban settings:  long rectangle of a bed with three or more roses in a row or a cluster plot (square or circle) of an odd number of roses.

Suggestions for Modern mid Century Gardeners

Honor the era by carefully selecting one hybrid tea rose developed in the 50s or 60s.  You could match the decade of your house with a rose of the same decade. Check with a local nursery and the friendly neighborhood garden society.  You need to select a rose that does well in your climate. The big box stores are not helpful in this regard.  General recommendations of plants that are suitable broadly and STILL widely available are:

  • ruby velvet red Chrysler Imperial (Lammerts 1952)
  • day-glow neon screamer Tropicana (Tantau 1960)
  • orange-aid sunset Mojave (Swim 1954)
  • and the hot pink and tall Queen Elizabeth (1954 Lammerts and classed as a floribunda)

Be prepared to care for your adopted darling. Buy a rose from a local nursery, asking about care for your climate.  Note. the staff will likely NOT know the date of rose introduction.  You can arrive with a list early in the spring to consult.

Heed the advice of the departed yet dear garden writer Henry Mitchell. He mentioned several hybrid tea roses in his books.These varieties may work in many climate zones but here is the bonus: Mitchell selected them for fragrance and reasonableness. Mitchell gardened in the central South and mid Atlantic for more than 60 years.

  • ducat-yellow Sutter’s Gold (Swim 1950)
  • peachy-pie Helen Traubel (Swim 1951)
  • deep blue-toned pink Charlotte Armstrong (Lammerts 1940)
  • medium ballerina pink Tiffany (Lindquist 1954) For a perfect cultural reference, paint a small lattice trellis in Tiffany blue , placing this rose in front.  Or, paint a brick in this iconic color and you have the gift box.

If you love roses but have limited time and patience for fussiness and want to incorporate them into a pure or plausible or mixed mid century garden, stay tuned to read about other rose options for the mid century yard. You CAN have your rose without the fumigator.

Resources for Thinking about Roses

  • Helpmefindroses This fabulous website allows you to search by year.  This is one way to find a particular mid century hybrid tea rose.  Be  aware that rare roses will cost more because the demand is low.  You will need to work with a specialty grower.  You can also use the site to develop a list of hybrid tea roses to use for local shopping.

Several online nurseries are very helpful with finding the perfect rose.  Start regionally, although some of the best “rosary houses” are in Californian, Oregon,and Texas, and Canada.  I have dealt with

  • Hortico Roses (Canada: HUGE hybrid tea roses list with years)  See ruddy Christian Dior, hardy to zone 5 (Meilland 1958)

Big box retailers deal in impulse buying of roses.  Care for these plants is spotty, depending on the retailier.  However, if you become rose-mad, then watch these places and you might rescue a perfect rose for your mid century manse.

Thank you, Marybeth! I love this — what a great addition to the blog. I am told another good source is Antique Rose Emporium.

Watch for more articles to come from Marybeth on mid-century garden culture, roses and plantings. 🙂


  1. SaraTinkelman says:

    I’ve loved roses all my life, like so many others on the list, but I had no success with any until I absolutely gave up on the hybrid teas and started planting the old-old-old roses and some of their David Austin cultivars. I guess it shows how little experience or savvy I have that I couldn’t get those leggy American Beauties to smile on me! But they certainly we’re a mid-century favorite of many, many women. The 1951 “Better Homes (and Gardens) Garden Book”, with that cool 5-ring binder, is probably the best post-war book of its kind, with information as pertinent today as it was then. It has an entire “Rose” chapter which is great, but if you want step-by- step & well illustrated directions and plans for a traditional, mid-mod yard/garden, this text is for you.

  2. AlbertaGal says:

    Wow, this could not be a more timely post for me. My husband I just took possession of a 1953 bungalow last week, and a whole bunch of rose bushes. When we had seen the house in the early spring, we couldn’t really tell what plants were in the garden. The previous owner had been very ill and hadn’t been able to care for the garden for a few years, and after her death the home was vacant for over a year, so the flower beds and large garden were completely overgrown. I like to garden but I have no idea how to care for the roses. At first I was going to pull them all up but they have all started to bloom in the last week, and I was surprised at how beautiful and diverse they are. Sadly some were very dead, and those have been taken out now. Our neighborhood is a mix of young families moving in, and the “original owners”. Many of the “original owners” have stopped by to check out the roses and chat about the garden. I hadn’t really considered how the whole neighbourhood would have an attachment to the roses and garden, I feel like I’ve inherited them and need to keep them up.

    1. MbS says:


      Take pix and go to a real nursery or garden center; they will help you with care.

      You mean Alberta, CA, right? (I grew up in Montana; howdy neighbor!) These would be hardy roses them. Perhaps some are the Buck roses from Iowa or the Canadian stalwarts from the Hudson or Explorer Program.

      These people are great:

      Also, compare blooms to the pix at the Canadian Rose Society web pages:

      1. AlbertaGal says:

        Thanks for the tips!

        Yup, I mean Alberta Canada, we are in Lethbridge which is only an hour and a bit away from the Montana border.

        I had pulled a bunch of books from the public library, but they were mostly about general rose care and not specific to Canada. I will have a look through theses websites. Since I first commented Ive had a whole bunch more bloom. They are really pretty.

  3. jkaye says:

    This is one of the most interesting gardening articles I’ve ever read. Thanks so much, Marybeth. Here’s my rose story — like many people, I’ve been doubtful of my ability to grow roses. A few years ago, my husband gave me a hybrid tea rose for Mother’s Day, with the disconcerting name of “Weight Watcher Success.” As you can see from this link, it’s a pretty rose…


    …but that name just caused me to feel a bit insecure. Wayne assured me he hadn’t even seen the name on the rose, and it wasn’t any sort of a message, he just thought I would like it. When we moved, I “forgot” to take WWS with me. At our current home, we decided to get a rose, and settled on a climber called “Joseph’s Coat.” It has a nice scent and lots of color:


    We chose JC as as much for his name as for his looks, because my family name is Joseph. Names are an important part of the appeal of a rose, as others have pointed out. Poor little Weight Watcher Success, if she’d been called Skinny Minnie, or Slender Sue, maybe I wouldn’t have left her behind.

    1. MbS says:

      Hi JK,

      Great story and yes what an odd name for a rose. Perhaps the breeder sought sponsorship for a breeding program. The rose’s parents are:
      Henry Fonda × French Perfume

      And, the color is gorgeous. The name likely hurts this cultivar. Another ‘bad name” story is told that a rose breed in Ireland was given a frenchied name: Peau Duce, which means soft skin. However, the name is also close to a brand of diapers…hence the rose was renamed and re-marketed as Elina or Eline.


  4. Tikimama says:

    Hmmm, I couldn’t find a Mamie rose (don’t you think there should be one?), but I found (before I tired out and went to bed): Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Ingrid Bergman, First Lady (for Jacqueline Kennedy), Queen Elizabeth, Lady Bird (Johnson), Phyllis Diller (?!), Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Minnie Pearl, Cary Grant, Christian Dior, Julie Newmar

    If you want roses with fun mid-century-themed names, how about: Betty Boop, Blueberry Hill, Disneyland, Playboy, Blue Moon, Teeny Bopper, Rock & Roll, California Dreamin’, Monkey Business, Bewitched, Bonanza, Camelot, Candy Land (game debuted in 1949), Cape Cod, Route 66, Singin’ In the Rain

    1. MbS says:


      What a great way to fit a rose into the scheme! This expands the list of suitable options for those looking to find something available and reasonable for the clime. I love the name link and admit to selecting paint colors, horses, and roses in part by names.

      Queen Elizabeth is a good bet in many places. She is tall and, when happy, her blossoms set in clusters. She is a hybrid tea but also a floribunda rose.

      And yes, Mamie! She deserved a pinky-perfect-parfait of a rose. I am leaping here based on Mr. Mamie (Harry), “The BUCK stops here.” Check out the Buck series of roses that were field tested in Iowa. These mostly own-root roses will survive midwest winters with little or no protection.

  5. Tikimama says:

    I love roses, too, but I’m no expert or ‘rose snob’. My style of gardening leans toward “stick with whatever can survive my gardening skills or lack thereof”. I tend to pick roses based first on their color, but if they have no scent, I usually look elsewhere. I just looove the scent of roses! I also like to buy them for their names, and am looking to have roses named after icons of the mid-century. I already have John F. Kennedy. I think I’ve seen others, such as Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Eisenhower, and Julia Child that I want. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a rose bed full of famous people!

  6. Sara in WA says:


    Heirloom Old Garden Roses in St. Paul, OR (outside Portland) is fantastic!!! They do not specialize in Hybrid Tea roses but do have some. I found on their website that they list “very fragrant hybrid tea roses” and each has the year when it was developed. You can mail order their roses anytime. They are on their root stock so look a little small at first but if there is a hard frost, the rose will come back as itself, not the wild grafted root. Amazing place for a day trip, especially right now.

    1. MbS says:

      Thanks, Sarah,

      The west coast is such a rose mecca. I like what they recommend and would expect that they do well in your climes. Getting roses right begins with a trip to a local plantsman/woman. And, yes, fragrance quality often lapsed in the rush to make more classic blooms. And. while I have not really met a rose I don’t love, why not fragrance! We can have our blooms and perfume: like cake-having AND eating.

  7. Ted Cleary says:

    Marybeth, what a great, in-depth article! For gardeners who insist on authenticity with their postwar homes & don’t mind the maintenance, this’ll be a super-helpful resource. There’ll always be rosarians who want exactly these, and nothing else.

    I’m especially looking forward to further articles from you about the easy-care antique varieties & Flower Carpets and other landscape roses…..climbers too, as I love to see opportunities to climb a house or structure to soften it up; architecture against plantings; each highlights the other. One of the best things to happen in gardening in the past couple of decades: to bring back this great class of plants as part of the whole ‘toolkit’, compared to the roses (and rose regimens) we remember from our youth (speaking as one person at exact-mid-century myself, to another).

    1. MbS says:

      Hi Ted,

      Well Met, fellow 50-something. Am working on such a post now. Any ideas you want to share for your climate? I will admit to loving Ralph Moore’s miniature roses but can’t always find ways to put them in landscapes….I lived near him during the last part of high school. Amazing to know one of the world’s finest rosarians.

      Plants, soft, next to built elements, hard, do pair beautifully. One of my first memories was of a huge Jackmanii clematis vine against a white trellis between my yard and the neighbor’s….purple stars!

  8. handyandy says:

    Thank you, Pam, for this fascinating post on my favorite flower. I’ve grown roses for many years, often with limited success–yet I just keep going back for more!

    1. MbS says:

      Hi HandyAndy!

      Roses bewitch, don’t they. Can you share the names and types of roses that work in your climate and soil? Any rose, really, can work in a midC-scheme. Timeless and also a “pet” of those 50s/60s days.

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