Rosa Caldwell Pink Repeats and Can Be Grown Organically. What’s The Catch?

Rosa 'Caldwell Pink'

Rosa ‘Caldwell Pink’ produces abundant sprays of rosette flowers; repeats from mid spring until the first frosts; and can be grown organically without spraying for pests and diseases. Drought tolerant once established, it thrives in full sun. Heat and humidity, the downfall of many a rose, suit it just fine. 

‘Caldwell Pink’ is one of the top five roses my sweetheart recommendeds for Mississippi. For the last 3 or 4 weeks, sprays of neat little rosette flowers have been dancing over our shrub which occupies a choice spot at the front of the house. Reminded of its charms daily, he set about sourcing another for a museum project, but a tour of local garden centres drew a blank. After an appeal, rose lover, Jim Skipper, kindly donated one he sourced in South Mississippi. 

It set me wondering why more suppliers are not stocking this easy-care variety. 

'Caldwell Pink' roses paling to lilac-pink

‘Caldwell Pink’ is a found rose: nobody could remember its name and it wasn’t commercially available. Texas A&M set out to correct that, naming it after the nearest city to where the shrub was growing and including it in their Earth-Kind series of roses.

The few plants I know of in Jackson, MS, stay healthy without any spraying. ‘Caldwell Pink’ is never watered in Greenwood Cemetery, where a collection of old shrub roses are growing. It seemed unscathed by the unusually harsh cold in December ’22, and fluctuations of heat and frost in the first few months of this year when other plants were set back or even died. 

Our ‘Caldwell Pink’ is around 4 ft (1.2 m) tall and nearly as wide, presiding over a bank of well-amended clay soil in full sun. Sprays of outwards-facing rosettes cover the plant. Behind it, on the other side of a path, towers a Rosa Mutabilis which this year is shrugging off a little blackspot. ‘Caldwell Pink’ is unperturbed. 

'Caldwell Pink' rose with buds
Scrolled rosebud; rosette with button eye; lightly feathered buds

Early on it seemed as if every flower was attended by four or five buds-of-the-garter, slender bracts decorating the sepals. Scroll-shaped young flowers open into very full rosettes, some with a traditional button eye.  

Opening a bold medium pink, especially in cooler weather, the blooms soon pale, creating a mixed effect on the plant.

'Caldwell Pink' flowers are dishevelled after rain
Roses after a rain

The blooms remain attractive, if more dishevelled, even after a heavy downpour.

This rose can almost be described as everblooming in my sweetheart’s Mississippi garden. I’ve seen butterflies exploring it although there are far better pollinator magnets.

Some roses are good for drying, remaining an attractive colour. It’s characteristic of ‘Caldwell Pink’ that the tiny central petals dry out to a darker shade of lilac-pink in hot, dry weather, giving an antique effect.

Spent blooms turn papery brown before the petals drop. I find the effect on the bush messy, so I regularly dead-head the slightly sticky remnants as I pause to admire the rose. In theory, that promotes quicker repeating. My sweetheart is more laissez-faire, declaring, ‘Brown is a colour too!’

‘Caldwell Pink’ does not produce hips or fill the air with fragrance. You can just about make out a rose scent if the bloom is directly under your nose: a tease of what might have been.

Serrated, eliptical leaves taper to a point and are are held in groups of 3 and 5, spaced out daintily. They are matt with a light sheen. This is one of the few roses that can have autumn colour worth mentioning, developing red, bronze, orange, yellow and purple tints at a time when disease-prone varieties have defoliated.

Elements of mystery and confusion remain. Some experts now believe that ‘Cardwell Pink’ is Rosa ‘Pink Pet’ which was introduced by George Lilley in 1928. Others, including the Antique Rose Emporium, believe it is not. 

Rosa 'Caldwell Pink' in full sun
Rosa ‘Caldwell Pink’ flowers glowing in full sun

Online the class may be listed as China or Polyantha, sometimes noting a Wichuraiana influence. A climbing version is rumoured, but good luck purchasing one!

At the time of writing, HelpMeFind is listing the flowers as being ‘Large, double (17-25 petals)’ which is inaccurate on two counts. The flowers are medium at best, measuring 1 1/2 to 2 inches (4 to 5 cm). Being in a pernickerty frame of mind, I counted over 105 petals on a sample flower (in truth, the last ten were very small).

Rosa ‘Caldwell Pink’ is hardy to US zone 6, with some nurseries suggesting also to 5b or 5. You can use it as you would any other unfussy, medium-sized flowering shrub. Several sources say it is good for cutting. Its flower sprays would certainly look lovely, but I’d anticipate a short vase life and to have to pick up a myriad of petals. 

Rose rustler and author, William C Welch, is often listed as the person who found it, but Mike Shoup’s book Roses in the Southern Garden credits Tommy Adams, a propagator for the Antique Rose Emporium. 

Rosa 'Caldwell Pink' with lots of buds
The plant is often covered in a sea of buds

Since ‘Caldwell Pink’ rose has so much going for it, the biggest mystery remains why it’s not more widely grown outside Texas. What’s the catch? I’ve mentioned several. 

  • It’s not scented, ruling it out for those who believe fragrance is essential in a rose. 
  • It requires regular dead-heading, in my opinion, although it will reward you with masses of blooms.
  • Trajectory is important: a widely grown rose is likely to become more popular and the opposite applies. Gardeners are wooed by seeing something looking good in neighbours’ gardens or at their local garden centre and succumb to the I-want-one-of-those effect. Stock planners order what sells.
  • A ‘New’ tag on any plant gives often unwarranted cachet, while ‘Heritage’ (implying a great survivor) does not. 

I’d be interested to hear of other gardener’s experience of growing or trying to sourcing this rose in the comments – please mention your location. I don’t believe ‘Caldwell Pink’ is available in the UK, but stand to be corrected.

23 Replies to “Rosa Caldwell Pink Repeats and Can Be Grown Organically. What’s The Catch?”

  1. I am familiar with the rose, although I’ve never grown one. I live in the Houston area and I’m sure they can grow here. I have gotten all my roses from the Antique Rose Emporium. My favorite is my China Green Rose.

  2. What a beauty! And thank you for all the buds — a welcome treat! What a huge lot there is to know about roses, and no wonder, given their place in our lives. A no-care rose would be in everyone’s yard, I should think. In an unrelated matter, I must tell you that I’ve been spending time with that photo of the tired old cottage you submitted to Dan’s Thursday Doors Writing Challenge. Do I remember correctly that that was a staged presentation in a flower show somewhere? It was designed to look old and tired?

  3. Tee-hee! Brown is indeed a color, too. That sounds like some rose as we would say in Maine. Beautiful, long blooming, easy to take care of. Who could ask for anything more?

  4. Stunning rose, I remember it being sold by Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. Looking at your beautiful pictures, I wonder if it would survive our colder climate – I’ve such a soft spot for pink roses.

  5. I was thrilled to read this post and see the gorgeous photos. Finally I know the name of the beautiful pink rose my husband planted about 20 years ago. I’d long since lost the tag, but your words describe it perfectly. It’s bursting with blooms right now (southwest Virginia) and, true enough, it doesn’t have much scent, but the blooms make up for that.

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