julia child rose in bloom

Is an AGRS rose a better rose?

The historic AARS grows up & into AGRS

The All-America Rose Selections (AARS) was an award that was given annually, from 1940 to 2013, by the American rose industry to an outstanding new rose variety.

AARS plant sign: Julia Child

Many, like ‘Julia Child’ here, were raised and tagged as winners for the gardening retail market worldwide. It is still common to see their logos on plant tags, even after 7 years.

Roses were grown in official rose testing gardens, typically universities and rose nurseries throughout the US. Roses would be evaluated for two years on many qualities, including disease resistance, flowers, form, and ability to grow in many climates.

AARS award winners were typically only +/- 4 % of all the roses tested.

The AARS selection was regarded as the most prestigious rose prize in the U.S. for 73 years, but AARS was discontinued after 2013 and replaced by the updated American Garden Rose Selections (AGRS) program which continues now in 2020.

Their criteria for this designation is a big step up from the AARS. It is stricter than before, and requires gardens to maintain a rigid protocol for maintaining the bushes.

AGRS team

As they say on their website: “American Garden Rose Selections™ was established to recognize and recommend the best garden-worthy rose varieties for the various regions of the United States through testing.

The goal is to provide objective and reliable information to rose gardeners. AGRS™ is a true national rose trial in the United States that tests the same roses in gardens all around the country. 

The American Garden Rose Selections™ organization is overseen by an Executive Board and an Advisory Board comprised of internationally-recognized rose experts that represent the diversity of the rose-growing community.

These 2 bodies develop criteria for the evaluation of roses, oversee the judging of the roses at the independent trial gardens across the country, and recommend the roses that are honored as American Garden Rose Selections™ after evaluating the results. “

The new AGRS Scoring System

They describe their program on their site as: “Over a period of two years, the roses are evaluated five times per growing season. Evaluators are looking for the same characteristics you would like in a garden rose. Disease-resistance is highly valued since it will give you a rewarding experience with less care required. Other criteria include flowering effect/bloom abundance, bloom form and attractiveness, fragrance, rebloom habit, aging quality of blooms, hardiness in cold and heat, vigor, foliage proportion and attractiveness, and plant habit.”

Typical Planting Criteria

“The AGRS™ is modeled after the Allgemeine Deutsche Rosenneuheiten-prüfung or ADR system, the Performing Testing of New Rose Varieties in Germany.

This successful system has been used in Germany for over 25 years and is widely respected and acknowledged worldwide. Adaptations were made to account for the wide range of climates and growing conditions in the United States . “

Typical programs look like this one from the 2013 Portland Garden:

  • Five rose breeders entered with seven varieties of roses.
  • Rose trials run for 2 years.
  • During the testing period, all roses are only identified by code numbers.
  • Each site has two judges making seven evaluations per growing season.

Eleven attributes are judged here:

disease resistance


plant habit

foliage proportion and attractiveness

rebloom habit

flowering effect/bloom abundance

bloom form and attractiveness


aging quality of blooms


general impression

No fungicide spraying occurs; all roses receive only basic maintenance.

Here are 2 AGRS Test Gardens worth seeing

The Portland International Rose Test Garden is probably the largest of the AGRS test gardens. It is considered a West Coast USA destination for rosarians because it has so many different on-going trials in a great rose-growing environment. It’s a busy place – even during Covid-19.

Other independent rose testing ongoing in the Portland garden:

  • Weeks and Star Rose Grower’s trials.
  • David Austin Roses (near tennis courts); one of only five test gardens nationally.
  • Miniature Roses (in the test garden); one of eleven test gardens nationally. No fungicide spraying is allowed.

The Mesa Community College Rose Garden is quite the opposite environment from Portland. It is a showpiece for how remarkably well blooming roses grow here in a desert climate if well tended – plus it’s open to the public every day of the year.

With nearly 9,000 roses of over 300 varieties to view, the roses in the Sonoran Desert Climate are beautiful during April – June, and again in October – December.

So yes, choosing an AARS or AGRS rose is a great idea . .

Both AARS and AGRS award-winning roses are exceptional roses for any home gardener – American or not.

As an example, Jackson & Perkins alone, has introduced 67 AARS-winning roses over 73 years into commerce for us that you can probably still find at your local nursery.

Any on both lists are low-maintenance and disease-resistant bushes that should produce many blooms over many years. Some are even given awards for fragrance to help guide us who want roses for their fragrance.

Here are all the AGRS winning selections by region.

Sources: AARS, AGRS, ADR , Mesa Test Garden, Portland Test Garden, My pics 2018

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