I hesitate to take the contrarian view, but I have never been able to understand the high praise given Rosa 'Sally Holmes'. Okay. Okay. I'll admit it. Truth be told, I relish taking the contrarian view (I'm not a tenured University Professor for nothing), but in this case I believe my resistance to the Borg Collective is justified. 'Sally Holmes' just isn't a very good rose for the Kansas climate.
'Sally Holmes' is a cross of floribunda 'Ivory Fashion; and 'Ballerina', bred by Robert Holmes, and introduced in the United Kingdom in 1976. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a review of this rose that didn't rave over it's hardiness, disease resistance, and prolific blooming. And its fragrance, color, and ability to be trained to any form. I'm surprised sometimes after reading the reviews that this rose doesn't dig its own hole and fertilize itself as well. Bestgardening.com, for instance, says about 'Sally Holmes', "the lovely perfume and large, creamy blooms open wide from pink flushed buds make this a very desirable shrub rose. A wonderful rose in the border or as a specimen." Peter Harkness listed it in his 150 favorite roses. The revered Dorothy Stemler described 'Sally Holmes' as “A show-stopper in our garden - visitors gasp and cross the garden to get a closer look at a rose that has bloom trusses of a size that are truly unbelievable!” Just look at the list of awards this rose has won: Royal National Rose Society Trial Ground Certificate 1975, Belfast Certificate Of Merit 1979, Baden Baden Gold Medal 1980, Glasgow Fragrance Award 1993, Portland Gold Medal 1993. 'Sally Holmes' has an ARS rating of 8.9, placing her in the top 1% of all rated roses. Can all these people really be wrong?
'Sally Holmes' (left), and 'Lady Elsie May' (right)
I believe, however, that 'Sally Holmes' is a poster child for those who promote regional evaluation of roses and publication of those regional ratings. Roy Hennessey would have a conniption over her. I'll allow that she may be a great rose in the mild English climate or Northwest Pacific coast, but she is not worthy for these inland prairie seas. I will admit that the newly-opened apricot buds have a sumptuous color, but that's as far as I will go with this rose. Just as the picture at upper left shows, once the apricot color bleaches out (and that happens within a day in the Kansas sun), she's just a white rose with temporarily gold stamens. The white petals suffer from all the aesthetic deficiencies of every other white rose as they age, and the stamens turn dirty brown by the second day. Does anyone reading this really think that the picture at the top, with new blooms next to fading blooms, is characteristic of a great garden display? I guess I just like to look too closely at the blooms.
Fragrance, at least in Kansas, is mild, perhaps even weak. The bush itself is coarse and the foliage, while disease resistant, is far from being disease-free. And my first three attempts to overwinter this rose all failed, so I suspect the widely-quoted Zone 5B hardiness attributed to this rose is a stretch. Look at it in the picture here next to' Lady Elsie May' (a 2005 AARS winner) the latter a shrub rose that I find infinitely better colored, whose blooms don't fade to be hideous, and who is just as disease resistant and has much better winter hardiness in Kansas. Lady Elsie May's ARS rating is 8.6, still respectable, but I believe the fix is in regarding the differences in the rating of 'Sally Holmes' and 'Lady Elsie May'.
I may be biased, but I'm not alone. Rose breeder Paul Barden says of this rose "Sally Holmes is a bit tender in my climate and sadly succumbed to last winter's wrath but will be replanted in the same spot to repeat the display of so many seasons before." And there is the key, I believe, to 'Sally Holmes' popularity; none of us can admit that she really is a terrible rose in Zone 5B, so we keep trying. As I said, I'm on my fourth 'Sally Holmes'. I know a local nursery owner who planted a whole "corridor" of these roses as a centerpiece to an area of her garden. Yes, some of the end ones are shaded, and yes, the rabbits love them, but I think she's getting close to admitting that despite these excuses, Sally hasn't lived up to her expectations. I grow around 200 different roses, but won't be including 'Sally Holmes' on any list of my favorites nor recommending her to rose lovers here in the Flint Hills.