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‘Penelope’ Rose


‘Penelope’ is one of those obliging roses that will bloom even in shade. It’s one of the Pemberton roses, Joseph Pemberton being a British clergyman who bred them in the early twentieth century.

OK. I’m going to take a brief break here.

I’ve made a nomenclature decision. I know that, properly, a cultivar name goes in quotes. And it bothers me not to have it in quotes. But when I repeat this throughout a blog, it just looks fussy and too much. So from now on, cultivar names will go in quotes the first time in the post. After that, I’ll assume you’ve been introduced, and quotes will never darken the blog post again.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Pemberton roses are also called Hybrid Musk roses, but they don’t really have much musk rose blood (or chlorophyll) in them, so I’m calling them Pemberton roses after the styling of Graham Stuart Thomas.

When it comes to old roses, you can’t go wrong following that Font of Rose Wisdom, Graham Stuart Thomas. (I also just found a very fun and informative article on an old-rose grower north of Seattle).

Penelope, like many of the Pemberton roses, is a sort of semi-climber; you can train it over things but I wind up basically leaning mine up against a tree, where it lolls and sprawls and sometimes flowers.


One of the advantages of the Pemberton roses (besides that they will actually bloom in high shade and semi-shade) is that you can put them near where you walk; they tend to have few or no thorns. At least the types I’ve grown (Penelope, Buff Beauty, Cornelia) are like that.

Another advantage is that Pemberton roses aren’t temperamental, like hybrid tea roses. They have nice graceful foliage, usually a bit shiny, which seems to be pretty pest-resistant (barring the deer). Pemberton roses take the same care as a shrub rose or most of the David Austin roses, which is to say, they need to be fed and watered, but they don’t require constant manicuring or inordinate amounts of fertilizer and pest-killing.

Though Pemberton roses were a repeat-blooming breakthrough in their day, don’t expect them to act like roses developed since WWII, where constant blooming action has been the breeding aim. Pemberton roses give you a flush of bloom in late spring/early summer, and occasionally come up with a rose or two as the season goes on. When it starts to cool in the fall, they generally have another blooming session.

I enjoy the way Penelope fades from a pale peach to a very faintly peachy off-white. Hotter weather definitely makes them emerge in lighter colors; cooler weather deepens them.


Not all of the Pemberton roses have the simple semi-double flowers of Penelope, but many of them do. They’re ideal for blending into the woods, so I tend to put them more on the edges of the garden although “edges” in my garden are pretty wavery and definitely irregular. It might be more accurate to say that I plant them further from the house, but not too far to enjoy in my daily ramblings around.

Where to get Penelope

Just so you know, this is a lousy time to plant roses. If it isn’t hot already, it’s going to get hot soon, unless you’re in the Southern hemisphere, in which case, go for it. It’s a good time. Otherwise-do the research, plan for the space (if you’re really organized, you can even prepare the hole), and wait. No plant likes being transplanted in hot weather.

If you’re one of those annoying people who transplants in hot weather and the plants live anyway, go ahead. Mere mortals are more likely to succeed if we wait until fall. If you’re going bare-root, plant whenever the bare-root planting season is in your area.

ask at local nurseries:

There’s a growing interest (no pun intended) in older roses that has finally landed many of them back in regular nurseries. (When I started growing them some years ago, you could only get them through specialists, or cuttings.) If you ask, a nursery might get them in if they don’t have them already. Nurseries get things in to match local planting seasons, so you’ll be assured you’re getting them in at the best time.

try these web sites, or look up “heirloom roses”, “antique roses”, or “heritage roses” on the web (hint: pick a grower in a climate similar to yours. And suss out what Dave’s Garden Watchdog has to say about them (that’s actually two hints)):

http://www.heritageroses.com/welcome.htm – They grow roses on their own roots, which some people (including me) prefer. If you live in a very cold climate, you might do better with grafted roses.

http://www.antiqueroseemporium.com- Another good source of roses on their own roots. They specialize in roses that do well in hot climates.


Graham Stuart Thomas, The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book, Sagapress/Timber Press 1994.This book is a compendium of three GST titles: Old Shrub Roses, Shrub Roses of Today, and Climbing Roses Old and New. You can often find them secondhand. There are a lot of good books out on old roses, but Graham Stuart Thomas’s books are essential.


{ 5 comments… add one }

  • melissa July 20, 2008, 9:43 am

    Wow! very informative!

  • Pomona Belvedere July 22, 2008, 6:25 am

    I truly love these roses (and many old roses), and my tendency is to get tons of info on what I love–either through books or observation. Hope it’s more useful than overwhelming!

  • Penny August 24, 2009, 1:21 am

    Who is the Penelope rose named after, what is her history and who is the lady behind the rose?

  • Pomona Belvedere August 24, 2009, 7:35 am

    Penny, I can see why you would have a vested interest in this rose’s name! Since Rev. Pemberton did a series of hybrid musks with classical names – Clytemnestra, Cornelia, Danae and Penelope. – I’m guessing that the Penelope of Homer etc. was his inspiration. Many British reverends of the time would have been classical scholars, so these references would have been natural to him.

  • Dantesi October 24, 2015, 10:35 am

    I Still Love You has a great tutorial on her blog for crtaeing your own stamps, no carving required.a0 You can use a stamp pad or fabric ink to create your own pretty gift wrap, stationery, or patterned clothing.a0 The best part it’s next to free since you can probably scrape up these supplies around your house.a0 You could substitute a pencil and glue the stamp to the eraser if it’s small enough.

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