Roses are blooming – Part 2

July 2013, Roses are blooming Part 2…..

Last week the history of old roses started with the gallicas, the oldest and most influential group. This week the history continues with a look at some of the other groups that exist today.

Albas are another ancient group of roses and DNA analysis has shown that they arose from a cross between Rosa gallica and Rosa canina. They were brought to Britain by the Romans and used for medicinal purposes in the Middle Ages. They are   very tough shrub roses, resistant to pests and able to survive cold winters. The word alba means white but there are pale pink forms and all of them have a lovely fragrance. Rosa alba is also known as ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’ and also ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’ meaning Nymph’s Thigh’. (Whoever thought of that name clearly had an over-active imagination!) At Sissinghurst we have a semi-double alba called ‘Semiplena’ as well as a fully double form called ‘Maxima’. Albas were never a large group but some lovely hybrids were created in the early 19th century such as ‘Queen of Denmark’ in 1826 and ‘Felicite Parmentier’ in 1834.

Alba 'Maxima'

Alba ‘Maxima’

Alba 'Queen of Denmark'

Alba ‘Queen of Denmark’

The damask is yet another old rose that can claim to have Rosa gallica as a grandparent. Thanks to DNA testing we know that damask roses have three gene pools ie. a natural crossing between Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata (the musk rose) which then crossed again with Rosa fedtschenkoana. It’s thought that this crossing must have taken place in a cultivated area somewhere in Asia as these three roses do not naturally grow together. It became known as Rosa damascena, as according to tradition it was brought back to Europe from Damascus by the Crusaders in 1254. Damask roses tend to be either white or pink and have an amazing perfume. Most damasks flower only once but in the 16th century a damask growing in Italy was found to be repeat flowering. This became known as the Autumn Damask (Rosa damascena bifera). Examples of damasks that we grow at Sissinghurst include ‘Mme Hardy’, ‘Ispahan’ and ‘Leda’.

Damask 'Ispahan'

Damask ‘Ispahan’

Bourbon Roses
Bourbon roses take their name from the Ile de Bourbon (now Reunion) in the Indian Ocean. In 1817, a rose was discovered that was a cross between the Autumn Damask and the ‘Old Blush’ China rose (Rosa chinensis). It arrived in France by 1819 where the enthusiastic rose breeders set about trying to create new varieties. Initially, they were unsuccessful but eventually between 1830 and 1850 they created some wonderful hybrids that had beauty, fragrance and vigour. We have some lovely Bourbons including the slightly crazy looking ‘Variegata di Bologna’, ‘Boule de Neige’, ‘Madame Pierre Oger’, ‘Honorine de Brabant’, ‘Zephirine Drouhin’, ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, ‘Zigeuner Knabe’ and ‘Mme Lauriol de Barney’. Vita was incredibly romantic and found the history of Bourbon roses enthralling. In 1957, she wrote ‘ If you were born with a romantic nature, all roses must be crammed with romance, and if a particular rose originated on an island the romance must be doubled, for an island is romantic in itself.’

Bourbon 'Madame Pierre Oger'

Bourbon ‘Madame Pierre Oger’

Bourbon 'Zigeunerknabe'

Bourbon ‘Zigeunerknabe’

Centifolias and Moss Roses
Also known as the Cabbage Rose, centifolias are supposed to have more than 100 petals in every flower. It was first developed by a Dutch nurseryman in the late 16th century and is thought to be a hybrid between a gallica and a damask although the exact parentage is not known. Colours vary from rose-red to white as well as striped and spotted ones. We grow ‘Juno’, ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’, ‘Fantin Latour’, and ‘Petite de Hollande’

Centifolia 'Fantin le Tour'

Centifolia ‘Fantin le Tour’

Centifolia 'Chapeau de Napoleon'

Centifolia ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’

In the late 17th century, a natural mutation occurred in Rosa centifolia, causing the rose to develop a strange mossy growth on the flower stems and buds. This rose was named Rosa muscosa. A similar mutation was found on the Autumn Damask and these two groups of roses became known as moss roses. The mossy growth is sticky and fragrant, smelling of pine needles. Examples include ‘Tour de Malakoff’, ‘William Lobb’ and ‘Nuits de Young’.

Moss 'Blanche Moreau'

Moss ‘Blanche Moreau’

Moss 'Celina'

Moss ‘Celina’

So now you know your Albas from your Bourbons, why not come to Sissinghurst soon and see them for yourself, for surely there can be no lovelier place to spend a day than a Rose Garden in bloom.

Helen, Gardener

2 thoughts on “Roses are blooming – Part 2

  1. This was a wonderful read. I am sooo excited to come see them for myself. I am hoping to come next summer, so can you tell me the best time to come. I definitely want to see the roses in bloom. However, I’d also like to see as many of the other flowers in bloom as possible in one visit. Is late June better or early July? or when?


    • Hi Sam – sorry for the delay. We’d love to see you here, and are sure you will like it. It’s very hard to advise when to come, because the seasons are so unpredictable. This year it has been late but long, last year just terrible, next year it could be early, so the best we can do is say late June or most of July will see the garden full of flower – which flowers is a little more of a mystery. August and Septemeber also see many late annuals and perennials, so we are well worth visiting then.

      I’m sorry that this doesn’t give a golden answer, but I’d be wrong to say for certain. I hope we see you here soon, all the best, Matt


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