Last month, I wrote about wild and ancient roses, the
ancestors of all roses we grow today. Between antiquity and the advent of the
"modern" rose in 1867, roses rapidly evolved not by natures's
doing-but by the hand of man. The history of the plants we call Old Garden
Roses is truly as romantic as the plants themselves.
Roses were important commercially
in Europe by the Middle
Ages, though it is estimated that only 20-30 cultivars were available. Dutch
horticulturists were the first to establish real rose breeding programs,
bringing many new varieties into commerce between 1700 and 1800.
By the early 1800s,
however, French rosarians dominated
commercial rose hybridization under the patronage of Empress Josephine. In
1809, Josephine permanently retired to the chateau that she and Napoleon had
purchased together, Malmaison. In that year, he had divorced her to marry a
woman who could bear him an heir.
Josephine's love of plants is legendary. She obtained
bulbs in Holland, woody plants from the Orient-and she continued to buy plants
from English nurseries even while the English and French were at war. She
obtained a passport for her London nurseryman so he could accompany her plants
across the English Channel during wartime.
Above all, Josephine adored roses. Her given
Marie Josephe Rose Tacher de La Pagerie, and she was called Rose until she
became involved with Napoleon (he didn't like the name). One legend says that
she always carried a rose which she used to conceal her bad teeth when she
Her fondness for roses led her to spare no expense to
develop new cultivars to add to her rose garden. Even as she obtained plants
from around the world and employed a fleet of gardeners, her finances were
rocky. It is said that upon her death in 1814, her debts totalled 2.5 million
Francs. (That's a LOT of plants!)
One of the plants that arrived in Europe from China
the 1790s was a rose. Its DNA was soon integrated into the hybridization
program by Josephine's horticulturists. Because of the China rose's repeat-blooming
habit, Josephine is credited with introducing this trait into the roses we grow
The practice of cultivating roses in display gardens is
another legacy of Empress Josephine. Hers is believed to be the first example
of a stand-alone, all-rose garden.
The introduction of China roses represented a turning
point in rose history. Repeat-blooming roses are now the norm. The descendents
of those early China rose crosses comprise what we call now call Old Garden
Roses. OGRs share the traits of their parents-the wild and ancient roses I
wrote about last month-as well as the Chinas. Here are descriptions of some of
the Old Garden Roses.
are responsible for the repeat-flowering
trait of modern roses. They are derived from Rosa chinensis, brought to Europe
by explorers in the late 1700s. Wild China roses have either single or loosely
double flowers in shades of pink, red and peach-though only a few old China
cultivars remain today.
Not to be confused with hybrid tea roses, tea roses were
also brought from China in the early 1800s. Tea roses are so-called because
some say the flowers smell like fresh tea leaves. Tea roses result from a cross
between Rosa gigantea and R. chinensis, the parents of the first tea, 'Hume's
Blush Tea-scented China'. The old teas need abundant feeding and warmth.
Flowers range in color from pink to peach, yellow and orange. These roses,
crossed with Hybrid Perpetual roses, resulted in the Hybrid Tea rose that is so
were crossed with repeat-blooming
China/Gallica hybrids around 1835 to create the class of roses known as Hybrid
Perpetuals. Flowers and form are highly variable, from single to double flowers
on lax or upright stems. Only a few original cultivars have survived, probably
due to overall weakness. The ones that have survived, however, have excellent
scent and lovely red, cerise, yellow and white flowers. Their broad, matte
green leaves are prone to mildew.
from a China and a Damask cross were sent from the
Isle of Bourbon to France, and the first Bourbon cultivars were introduced
around 1820. The best Bourbons
resemble their Damask parent, and have good disease resistance. There are a
number, however that have the weakness of their China rose parent and are
susceptible to mildew and black spot. Bourbons produce repeated flushes of
flowers in shades of pink, magenta, fuchsia and white-with a rich, heady
Noisettes were bred in the
United States in the early
1800s when a farmer, John Champneys, grew a musk /China rose cross called
'Champneys' Pink Cluster'. A French nurseryman living in the US, Philippe
Noisette, grew seedlings from Champneys' rose and selected a repeat-flowering
plant he named 'Blush Noisette'. He passed 'Blush Noisette' on to his brother
in France-and the Noisette class was born. Noisettes are vigorous plants to ten
feet or more; some are climbers. They carry clusters of double flowers in
shades of white, pink and yellow,
and are almost always in bloom. Noisettes are very disease-resistant but are
not very hardy.