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Heirloom Roses: The Fairy

Updated on January 18, 2017
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Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


Not all heirloom roses are huge bushes. The Fairy is a tiny shrub rose with tiny blossoms that is just the right size for a fairy garden.


The Fairy rose was introduced in 1932 in England by the famous rose breeder, J.A. Bentall. Many roses have been bred from it but The Fairy remains popular and is still used extensively.


The Fairy is a polyantha rose meaning that it produces its flowers in sprays or bunches. It blooms continuously from spring until fall. The flowers are only 1 inch in diameter. They open pink but fade to near white in the heat of summer. The blossoms have a light apple fragrance. Deadhead by removing the spent flowers to keep the bush healthy and blooming.

This rose will grow to a height of only 2’ to 3’ with a spread of 3’. It is spreading, rather than upright, making it ideal to spill over the edge of a large container or a raised bed. It can also be used massed along a walkway.

It is hardy from zones 4 through 9 and like most old roses, disease resistant. Unlike most roses, old and new, it can be grown in full sun or part shade. It does best in well-drained soil.


Propagation can be done in the spring or the fall. In the spring, you want to propagate with soft wood cuttings. Soft wood cuttings means that you use the middle part of a branch. Cut off the ends that are woody near the plant and at the other end of the branch where it is soft and green. You want to use the middle part that is neither woody nor green. Remove all the leaves from one end and dip that end in rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Insert your cutting in a container filled with soilless mix. Roots should start to develop within just a few weeks. When the roots start to grow out of the bottom of the container, your cutting is ready to be transplanted outdoors.

In the fall, you want to propagate by hard wood cuttings. Hard wood cuttings are taken during the late fall through early winter when the plants are dormant. Ideally, you want to take your cuttings right after your rose has dropped its leaves in the fall. Cut off the soft, green end of the branch. Then cut small slits in the other end to expose the interior cambrium layer where the roots will develop. Dip that end in rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Then you can either place the cutting in the ground outside or root it indoors like you did the soft wood cuttings in the spring. The outdoor cuttings won't be ready to transplant until the following fall.


In the late winter or early spring, remove all dead and broken canes. Then cut back the remaining canes by one quarter to one third to maintain the shrub’s shape. Remove side shoots completely.

Renovation pruning can be done by removing one third of the oldest canes each year. Removing old canes will not affect flowering. The Fairy blooms on new wood.

© 2014 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 2 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Yes, I grew it successfully in my partial shade yard.

    • Jill Townley profile image

      Jill Townley 2 years ago from Portland, OR

      The Fairy truly is a great small rose bush. My neighbor has one and it blooms all summer. It looks charming between her daphne and hydrangea, which also show that Fairy doesn't require as much sun as most roses.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Pawpaw, the fragrance of heirloom roses is incredible. They all smell different. I used to have about 2 dozen different heirloom roses and each one had a unique fragrance. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image

      Jim 3 years ago from Kansas

      Sounds like a very interesting rose to try. The fragrance sounds interesting.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Heirloom and species roses only bloom for a few weeks once a year. I think that they are worth it, though. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Audrey, one of the biggest reason why I love heirloom roses is because they are so tough unlike the modern fragile hybrid tea roses which are so popular. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      We have roses that look like this growing wild around here in June every year. I love them. This reminds me of them. They don't last long, though.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      I have a pink one of these that I just love. It seems to do really well no matter how much I neglect it

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Hi Moonlake! Have you ever tried the Explorer series of roses( They were bred specifically for colder regions. They are hardy through zone 2, I think. Thanks for reading and voting.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 3 years ago from America

      Beautiful rose wish it grew in my zone. I have a few roses here that have come up every year after our long winters, but not many. Thanks for sharing voted up.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks for reading, Marie. I adore heirloom roses for their history and their wonderful fragrance.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      A sweet, to-the-point article. Who doesn't love roses? The little ones you describe are charming and loved because of their long blooming activity.

      Other roses that fascinate me are the unusual colored ones--lavender, yellow streaked with pastel green, and the deep, deep, nearly black ruby. Tulips have their fascinating shades, too.

      I have taken manufactured supplements containing rose hips for the vitamin C, drank hibiscus teas containing rose hips, and have used essential oil of rose (aahh, marvelous!).

      Thank you for sharing.