Deliciously fragrant, romantic and rich in nostalgic overtone, roses have a classic beauty that cannot fail to enchant. You’ll have to search far and wide to find someone that doesn’t have a soft spot for roses – they really are a lovely flower.
Roses are far more than pretty blooms, though: they are also excellent value for money, outperforming virtually any other flowering plant with a season of interest that stretches from May to the first frosts. Few flowers are so versatile, having such a wide a range of growth habits. And, all that any rose demands in return is sunshine, feeding, pruning and well-drained soil that is neither too acidic nor alkaline. In fact, the family is so vast the most difficult part is choosing the right one!
If you love all kinds of roses then read on, as we are going to look into this gorgeous flower’s past and find out the history of the rose…
Where do roses come from?
According to their heritage, character and habit, Old garden roses fall into 15 groups bearing evocative names such as Gallica, Damask, Alba, Portland, Moss, Bourbon and Hybrid Perpetual. There are very few flowers in the world that inspire passion, poetry and prose to the same extent as Old garden roses. Gallicas were grown by the Greeks and Romans, and have long been a religious emblem in the east.
In the meantime, roses had been cultivated in China for centuries, and when four roses arrived in the early 19th century, they were slowly interbred, transforming the European roses. One of the most notable changes was from a single flush to repeated flowering throughout summer. By the 1890s Hybrid Teas, also known as ‘modern roses’, had evolved and begun to inspire the rose gardens of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
The oldest varieties
Gallicas are one of the oldest garden varieties and make great garden plants as they are extremely tough and hardy. They have dark leaves and a bushy habit with beautifully formed flowers in shades of blush pink to the deepest purple. Some lovely examples of these are the ‘Charles de Mills’ or ‘Duchesse d’Angoulême’.
The Damasks are amongst the most perfumed of the Old roses and were once highly prized as the main source of rose water. The Damasks formed an important parent to the rose breeding program due to their prolonged flowering. Examples include ‘Ispahan’ or ‘Quatre Saisons’.
Portland roses suit small gardens – they offer repeat flowering and have lovely blooms, foliage and fragrance. Examples of these include the ‘Rose de Rescht’ or ‘Comte de Chambord’.
Centifolias are so named for possessing 100 petals. Centifolias form lax, thorny, open shrubs and double flowers of such size and beauty that their heads are charmingly bowed under the weight. The plants thrive in hot conditions, but the blooms are prone to rain damage – the ‘Fantin-Latour’ and ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’ are two beautiful old-fashioned roses.
Moss roses are in fact Centifolias that have developed a moss-like growth on their buds – these were especially popular with the Victorians. The ‘William Lobb’ variety has a rich perfume, growing to an impressive width and spread of 2m by 2m.
Bourbons, were named after where they came from, an island in the Indian Ocean. This is a diverse family and includes members such as the exotic crimson flowered ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’, cupped, pink ‘Louise Odier’ and shell like flowers of ‘Reine Victoria’ which has long pliable stems that can be woven through dome-shaped, hazel supports. Varying from shrubs of around 1m (3ft) to vigorous climbers, the flowers are usually double and scented — some of them heavily.
Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals form the link between true Old roses and Modern hybrid teas.
Hybrid teas and floribundas
A favourite among modern roses, Hybrid tea roses have large shapely flowers in jewel-like colours borne on upright, stiff stems, often produced singly. Hybrid teas make excellent cut flowers, expeically as many flower profusely from spring until autumn. ‘Just Joey’ and the deep red ‘Loving Memory’ are good examples, looking best when the lower bare stems are hidden by perennials such as catmint, hardy geraniums or alchemilla.
Floribunda roses are markedly different, producing masses of flower clusters over a long flowering season. They include iridescent ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ which is about as close as rose breeders have come to producing a truly blue rose.
Miniature and groundcover
Patio or miniature roses grow well in containers – provided they are properly fed and watered. Varieties may be compact, but they flower profusely and are easy to grow.
Groundcover roses are also low-growing, but have lovely dense foliage that spreads wonderfully to smother weeds. They have become more and more popular in recent years as they are free-flowering and excellent for edging drives or paths. There are many to choose from but amongst the prettiest are ‘The Fairy’, which is a gorgeous deep pink and from the Flower Carpet family. The white ‘Kent’ or lemon yellow ‘Gwent’ are two from the series named after English counties.
English Roses bred by David Austin are designed to be used in mixed borders where the graceful, busy forms give repeat-flowering flushes of colour. The shrub roses are equally at home in a dedicated rose garden, or dotted amidst herbaceous perennials. Amongst the most celebrated are the pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and clear yellow ‘Graham Thomas’, both named after famous British gardeners. These two are both vigorous enough plants to be trained into climbers. Many of the English rose varieties make find standards, too.
There are many options as to where they can be used – you can add them as a centerpiece between lower growing roses and lavender, grow them in a parterre or small courtyard, or above bulbs and perennials. Bush varieties such as ‘Munstead Wood’ grow as standards and give valuable height – they are traditionally seen in rows each side of a path.
These really are great value what with their ability to scramble, clamber and cascade. Climbers can be differentiated from rambles by their larger flowers and stiffer stems, lending themselves to being neatly pruned. Since most climbers are repeat-flowering they make a natural choice for growing on pergolas and against walls.
There are some roses that can really put on massive amounts of growth and become gigantic specimens – these are big rambling roses. They tend to be less highly bred plants, and because of that are very often resistant to disease. They usually flower just the once, bearing smaller blooms that hang in large trusses. Rambles are supple, making them ideal to train up through trees, cascade over walls and along fences or pergolas. Amongst the most rampant of the rambling roses, are: ‘Rambling Rector’, ‘Bobbie James’, and ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’.