In 1816 James Booth introduced Konigen von Danemarck (Queen of Denmark). It slowly spread across northern Europe, picking up new names as it went along. Among them were “New Maiden’s Blush,” a reference to its kinship with albas, and “Naissance de Venus,” literally, birth of Venus. Because people propagate roses even after forgetting their original names, or because the original name sounds awkward in one’s native tongue, roses accumulate new names. A rose’s popularity is generally related to the number of names it has picked up. And this one has picked up at least seven or eight names. ARS members rate it 8.6, which puts it among the twenty highest rated old garden roses. So it’s popularity seems to be based on merits that are widely evident to rose gardeners in the US.
Knock Out provides a new punch to the garden. It’s a super-vigorous, disease-resistant, repeat-flowering, cold-hardy rose that grows into a head-high shrub inside of two years. Since its introduction in 1988 it has taken the eastern half of the United States by storm, leading millions of gardeners who had ignored or abandoned them to grow roses. In its first year alone it sold 250,000 units, and it has been about as popular ever since. But for all their popularity, Knock Out and its close kin have been ridiculed by the most serious of the rose faithful. Why? Partly because they are not hybrid tea roses, and as such they don’t conform to our expectations for what a rose ought to be. Partly because they have become common, or faddish. Partly because they are not fragrant.