With all the hype about and garden center proliferation of the English roses produced by David Austin, I must confess that I'm still not a big fan. I've grown 'The Dark Lady' and 'Heritage' for a number of years, and the past couple of years I've added 'Mary Rose', 'Windemere', 'Benjamin Britten', 'Golden Celebration', and most recently, 'Lady Emma Hamilton', but I'm not very excited about most of them. Okay, if I'm stuck in a thumb-screw press, 'Heritage' is a very nice blush pink and 'Golden Celebration', a bright yellow-orange, is probably my favorite performer. But none of them just strike me as a "Well bust my buttons!" kind of rose.
Ask me however, what performs best in my climate and I'd tell you that it's the group of roses bred by the late Dr. Griffith Buck. Professor Buck was an Iowa State University horticulturist who hybridized about 90 roses varieties, most of which were released to commerce by his wife and daughter after his death in 1991. Dr. Buck set out to develop roses that were cane-hardy to Zone 4 and which required minimal care in the landscape. Proof of his success in that regard came from another University program, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Earth-Kind® Rose Program with the naming of the Buck cultivar 'Carefree Beauty' as the 2006 Earth-Kind Rose® of the Year. I grow a great number of the Buck cultivars, including 'Earthsong', 'Prairie Harvest', 'Prairie Star', 'Applejack', 'Country Dancer', 'Pearlie Mae', 'Polonaise', 'Hawkeye Belle', 'Griff's Red', and 'Winter Sunset' along with 'Carefree Beauty'. All of these are great roses for my area, most of them cane-hardy and disease-resistant, but I've got to give a special shout out to 'Earthsong', a fuchsia-pink that does well both in my garden and at the KSU Rose Garden, and to 'Prairie Harvest', a light yellow Hybrid Tea that has the most perfect light-green foliage of any rose I grow.
Many of the Buck roses are available from Internet sources such as Heirloom Old Garden Roses (http://www.heirloomroses.com/), but you also run across them in the most unlikely places if you know what you're looking for. I ran across a rare Buck rose, 'Freckles', at a Hy-Vee Grocery Store two hours from home, thought that the name sounded familiar and took a $10.00 chance on it, and ended up with my favorite Buck rose of all. 'Freckles', is now a three-year old, three foot tall rose in my garden and it has light-pink blooms speckled (as its name suggests) with darker wine spots. As a single bloom, and as you can see on the right, a rose that comes closer to perfection than any other of the 100+ rose cultivars I grow.