Plant Profile: William Baffin Rose

Here’s what I’ve learned about the Canadian-bred Explorer Rose “William Baffin”, as a gardener in zone 5A.



  • Extremely hardy (can handle winters to Zone 3) with no protection whatsoever. This means you don’t need to take the canes off the wall and bury them in Autumn.
  • Disease resistant: suitable for pesticide-free gardens like mine (even in hot, humid conditions like those in Ottawa).
  • Can be pruned to resemble a climber.
  • A big show of deep pink blossoms every June, with additional, smaller re-flowerings on new growth throughout the summer (and into fall).
  • For a rose, it doesn’t need too much water or fertilizer – I just add composted manure every Fall.


  • No fragrance worth mentioning. There’s a hint of scent if you put your nose right up to it.
  • This is not a low-maintenance plant! It’s almost too hardy: you need to be a fearless pruner who’s prepared to take out at least a couple of bundles of thorny canes per year to manage its vigorous growth.
  • Removal of spent flowers (“dead-heading”) can be very time consuming as well.
  • The plant can be hard to get rid of if you ever want to replace it: a gardener I know dug a wide pit and removed the root ball, filled the hole with cement, and still got shoots the next year!


  • Climber.
  • As a shrub, it could be used as a barrier-type hedge for large properties if you need to keep people or animals out.

A Tough Rose Worth Taming

William Baffin rose close up

William Baffin Rose Close Up

Six summers ago I purchased a demure-looking seedling in a small pot at a local nursery. Now I have a plant that has come to be known as “the Rose Monster” covering the entire front wall of my house.

William Baffin is not a natural climber, but as a plant that grows vigorously, it adapts well to being pruned as one. In its natural state, William Baffin is a giant ball of leaves and thorns, with most of the new canes sprouting from the base of the plant. If you diligently cut these out, secure the canes you want to a wall or other support, then you can have a nice “climber” that has a rough, rustic beauty.

When researching roses, I knew I wanted a climber because my wall faces south-southwest, and the bricks cook all day, making it hard to keep the house cool. As someone who is trying to avoid purchasing an air conditioner, I wanted to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the walls of the house, because once those bricks heat up, they radiate heat long after sundown. This rose fulfilled this function admirably.


The flowers are a deep, vivid, pink, and owe much to their wild rose heritage. The almost harsh pink colour is balanced by white centres and banana-yellow stamens. While they don’t have the perfection of shape you see in bouquet roses, they have a free-spirited, tomboyish prettiness that is very unselfconscious. There are approximately 15-20 petals per flower (a “double rose” in rose-speak) that open fully, and last approximately a week. Once flowering is under way, I get a nice cascade of falling flower petals with every breath of wind – lovely!

The foliage is dark green and slightly glossy, and in most areas should be completely disease free. Ottawa’s climate is hard on roses, as the humidity promotes the spread of fungal diseases like black spot and powdery mildew. While I have seen the occasional cluster of leaves that turn yellow and succumb, these are infrequent and the plant as a whole has never contracted the condition. I have never applied any sort of pesticide or fungicide to the plant, and every year it stays healthy.

The thorns are approximately a centimetre tall on main canes, and spaced a few inches apart. They are very wide at the base, making them quite strong, but if you are careful you can grab the branch with a bare hand if you need to. I don’t recommend this, however, as they are vicious scratchers if you try to go into the plant unprotected. Falconry gauntlets would not be overkill for a pruning session!

William Baffin Rose

A Heavily Pruned William Baffin Rose, Trained as a Climber


As with most plants, it is always best to give it favourable conditions so that it can fight off any diseases or pests just by being healthy. Like all roses, William Baffin wants sun, sun, and more sun: six hours of full sunlight per day minimum. It does need lots of extra water for the first year after planting so it can establish itself. After that, I rarely water it unless we have gone more than a week without rain – even then I give it a few minutes of water from a hose, if that. While roses as a whole are heavy drinkers, this particular cultivar is a bit of an exception.


The William Baffin rose (‘Rosa kordesii’ x seedling), was bred to withstand Canada’s deep freeze winters and hot, sticky summers.  It was developed in 1974 by Austrian-born geneticist Dr. Felicitas Svejda, and released to the public in 1983. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, Agriculture Canada developed a number of hardy roses, known collectively as the Explorer Roses, at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm (and later at L’Assomption, Quebec). The Program later moved to Morden, Manitoba.

When Not To Use

While I love this plant for giving my house a “rose-covered cottage” feel, for some people there would be many reasons to avoid using it in the garden.

People who are not fond of bees should avoid this plant – when flowering is in full swing this plant will be covered! Also, it is not a tidy plant, and unless you are prepared to prune weekly it has a shaggy tendencies, even when trained – new branches constantly spring up from all sides. It is not a good plant for “plant it and leave it” casual gardeners – you really need to put in the time to machete it into submission, or else you’ve got the plant from the Little Shop of Horrors taking over your garden.

Overall, it has worked well for what I need to do – every year it gets a little higher, provides more shade, and helps keep my almost Mediterranean microclimate from boiling alive the occupants of the house.


by Jennifer Priest



  • Marie

    Great review with awesome humor! Thanx! Just got two pots of these and planted against front of house yesterday. It was not exactly what I was seeking…I think it is the Cecile Brunner climbing rose I really wanted. But I have no experience with either. I’ll give this one a go and see how it does. I think it does not grow as high as I would like…I think only 10′ and the Cecil Brunner grows 18′ so to cover the whole wall there. I’m not crazy about the Baffin’s “tomboyish” appeal…I liked the Cecil because it was a more full bloom and delicate looking. We shall see how this goes w/ the Baffin. I do want a climber that is hearty and disease resistant. Thank you again for the review!

    • Anonymous

      Glad I could help! Let me know how it goes – I would be very interested to hear what you think of the plants, and what you decide to do.

  • Msslynne

    I have two baby william baffins who have already grown into nice 4 ft sizes since planting in March-I was delighted with the color, the prettyiness-you are correct tomboyish is a very accurate description-if that tomboy wears Cartier’s ‘So Pretty’! because they are on the high side of feminine too-and the promise of great size which I cannot wait to watch! Love yoour pics gives me a better idea where to plant in our new home in October-right now they have free range, next time I will need o keep the size large but slightly tamed.

  • Denise Swartz-Keller

    I planted William Baffin on my arbor thinking it would be an amazing climber. Well…it can be a monster! I am considering digging the rose out around the arbor and leaving the canes I planted behind my potting shed. They are more suited along side a building than for framing an arbor.

    • Housecraft

      Agreed! It takes heavy pruning to keep it looking like a climber. Let me know how it goes if you decide to dig it out.

  • Karenena
  • Seabeast

    I had a William Baffin at my previous house and I agree that it can get out of hand very quickly! I was always digging up shoots and advertising them for free just to keep it from taking over the whole yard.
    Now I have a John Cabot. Equally tall, but doesn’t spread out quite so much. It would be 9′ tall if I hadn’t trained some of the canes to follow the line of my deck railing.

Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Priest. I write my own stuff, so you should too!