How To Grow Roses

purple_rose-roses-in-gardenThere cannot be many gardens, which do not have at least one rose amongst its list of plants, for few gardens would be complete without the beauty and fragrance these splendid flowers. 

Blooming from spring until autumn, they have never lost their appeal and charm; they are as popular today as they have been throughout the centuries. It seems incredible to learn that the rose goes back throughout history for as long as it has, but fossil evidence has proved that they date back 35 million years.

Wreaths of Damask-like roses have been found in Egyptian tombs; seemingly the same rose called at one time "Rosa sancta" (the Holy Rose) has been grown down to present times in holy places in eastern Africa. Roses are mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer; four centuries later in the 5th century B.C. the historian Herodotus remarked on King Midas's gardens planted with roses in Phrygia. A century after that, Theophrastus recorded botanical descriptions of contemporary roses, noting that the flowers were grown in Egypt as well as in Greece. At about the same time but thousands of miles to the east Confucius commented on extensive rose plantings in the Peking Imperial Gardens.

Two geographical groupings which, at first, developed separately, have had-both in their separation and in their ultimate combination-the greatest impact on rose history: The European/Mediterranean group of species and their hybrids, and the Oriental group of species and their hybrids. 

The European roses are primarily the following: Gallicas, Albas, Damasks, Damask Perpetuals, Centifolias, and Mosses. The mainstream Oriental groups are Chinas and Teas. The European sorts-with one important exception-have only one season of bloom per year, while the Orientals repeat bloom more or less continuously.

Throughout history the rose has been a symbol of love and romance, beauty, war, and politics. In nature, the genus Rosa has some 150 species spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico and including northern Africa. Roses began to be cultivated some 5,000 years ago. They were and to some extent still used today as confetti at celebrations. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C; you will often see them listed as the main source for vitamin C in many commercially available Vitamins.

The delight in their fragrance brought about the distillation-of-rose-essence industry, which still has local importance in a few areas of Europe (formerly France, now primarily Bulgaria). The 'Cabbage Rose' R. x centifolia was created in France in the 16th century from several crossings of botanical roses, with its hundred petals was introduced in Grasse for the production of rose essence. Despite being almost sterile, the Cabbage Rose gave birth to multiple mutations such as the moss rose, covered with green moss like growth on their sepals and stems, or the lettuce-leafed rose, R. x centifolia 'Bullata.'

During the Roman era, a repeat-blooming variant of the Damask rose evidently appeared, the first member of a group, which came to be called "Damask Perpetuals." The roses of these most ancient times in Europe and the Mediterranean were seemingly the Damasks, the Albas, and the Gallicas.

Roman nobility established large public rose gardens in the south of Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the popularity of roses seemed to rise and fall depending on gardening trends of the time.

During the fifteenth century, the rose was used as an emblem for the factions fighting to control England. The white rose symbolized York, the red rose symbolized Lancaster, as a result, the conflict became known as the "War of the Roses."

Roses were prized during the seventeenth century to such an extent that they became a commodity with which to barter.

The culture of growing roses in France began with the introduction of R. gallica 'Officinalis', taken to France in the 13th century by Thibault IV from the Holy Land, the country of the Damask rose. It was believed to be a natural hybrid between R. gallica and R. moschata. The Empress Josephine the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte had such a passion for roses that she established an important and extensive collection of botanical species and horticultural varieties of roses at Chateau de Malmaison, an estate seven miles west of Paris in the 1800s. 

The "beautiful Indian" as she was know was born in the Antilles or West Indies, she was given the names Marie-Joseph-Rose-Tascher de la Pagerie. Was it because of her third name that made her love roses so much? It is said that she brought together 250 varieties, nearly all the known roses at the time. Thanks to her, France would be the country of reference for roses for the duration of the 19th century.

The garden became the setting for Pierre Joseph Redoute's work as a botanical illustrator. In 1824, he completed his watercolour collection "Les Rose," which is still considered one of the finest records of botanical illustration.

Spurred on by this imperial patronage, several French breeders--notably Dupont and Descemet developed several hundred new cultivars in the European groups Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias. Descemet kept very careful notes of the results of particular crosses, and may be said to have been the first in the West to practice controlled cross-breeding. After the fall of Napoleon and the death of the Empress, Descemet had to flee France, history tells us that an ex-soldier of Napoleon's army, wounded in Italy, now prosperous as a hardware-shop owner, indulged his interest in roses and bought what remained of Descemet's nursery and breeding notes after the site of the nursery was ransacked by invading English troops. This was Jean-Pierre Vibert, whose intelligence and industriousness working from 1816-1850 had a lasting influence on the French rose industry.

It wasn't until the late eighteenth century when trade with the Orient permitted the importation of new botanical plants into Europe, that it was possible for cultivated roses to be introduced from China. By the period 1750-1824, four cultivars in particular had been developed. Two were true China roses, one pink, and the other red. 

Two were Tea roses, one blush, and one yellow. Most modern-day roses can be traced back to this ancestry. These introductions were repeat bloomers, making them unusual and of great interest to hybridisers, setting the stage for breeding work with native roses to select for hardiness and a long bloom season.

During the 1830s work continued in earnest on the breeding between the Oriental roses and the Europeans. It was the Englishman Bennett, a cattle farmer converted to rose breeding, who applied the laws of heredity of his previous occupation to the breeding of roses. Due to the laws of genetics, the first progeny of crosses between once-bloomers and repeat-bloomers the next generation bloomed only once. As they were crossed with each other, however, and then back to the Chinas and Teas, repeat-blooming hybrids began to appear. 

These were crossed with Damask Perpetuals. The crosses with the new material were made as work continued in all groups of roses. Never before the 1830's had such a diversity of disparate roses been available--and never since. Almost every available species, no matter how obscure, had varieties and sub-varieties of varying colour or form due to breeding of sports. 

A sport of the Centifolia, the Moss Rose, had appeared a few decades before, and now began to spread its unique array of cultivars over the rose scene as the breeders worked with it. Many of these early efforts by plant breeders are of great interest to today's gardeners.


Breeding experimentation continued. The original, rather weak growing Teas were crossed with Bourbons to make a new, robust sort of Tea. As the search to widen the range of Hybrid Perpetuals continued, they were crossed with the Teas producing a group, which came to be known as Hybrid Teas. Efforts along these lines really got underway seriously in the 1870's, though there had been a few earlier such crosses as well.

Roses have been the gardening inspiration for such influential garden designers as Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West. Their idea was to create gardens on formal lines and then to plant it in the way that produced a rich pattern of tumbling cottage-garden effect. Their designs are timeless, many, which they created, are still in existence, others which had been allowed to become over-grown have been returned to their original splendour and greatly admired for their outstanding design and beauty.

During the Edwardian period the fashion changed, the Old roses had a new rival and where replaced in popularity by the hybrid teas. Strong colours and continuous flowers made the teas appear exciting to the new gardening fraternity.

Then a new group of roses appeared in the 1970s originated from crosses made between certain Old Roses and Modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. Combining the charm and wonderful fragrance of an Old Rose, with the colour range and summer-long flowering of a Modern Rose they drew together the outstanding voluptuous beauty of the Old but stretched out the flowering season providing the modern gardener with the very best of both worlds. 

These are the English Roses, with strong fragrant blooms; even more fragrant than many of the Old Roses, with colours ranging from white, cream to shades of pink, yellow, apricot to peach, lilac to crimson, purple and many shades of mauve.

Whether you choose to grow the Old or the newer varieties the choice is wide and the colour and flower form is extensive. There are specific roses for almost any situation the key is to match the rose variety to the site. All major rose growers catalogues give not only the description of the flower but growing characteristics and location and cultivation advice for optimum success.

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