Roses - French beauty & history

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 24/06/2016 | 00:00

Andrew Collyer.
Andrew Collyer.

Keep weeding the vegetable beds

Deutzia discolor 'Major'

Two great passions of the French kicked off last week and neither involve food or wine. One was the start of the European football championship which is being held in France. The other was the start of the rose flowering season.

The French have had a love affair with roses going back as far as can be remembered, the French rose, Rosa gallica, is the oldest known garden grown species dating back to the Greeks. But it was the late 1700's that really saw the French become world leaders in both knowledge and breeding of roses. Throughout that century and beyond French breeders were responsible for popularising and hybridising countless rose varieties.

In 1780 they had produced more than 2000 varieties by a decade later that number was nearer 5000. In that latter part of the century one of the main instigators of this trend was Napoleon's wife Empress Josephine who had a collection of some 250 different roses in her gardens in Malmaison. As a good husband and a man of some influence at that time Napoleon ordered his captains to seek out new rose varieties for his wife from around the World.

Subsequently Tea roses, China roses, Rugosa roses and Bourbon roses were all collected and brought back to France where they were crossed and hybridised producing a spike in the number of new varieties. When others with the means and of standing throughout Europe heard of Josephine's rose garden it set a trend, both out of respect and also no doubt envy, of rose growing and breeding across the continent. From that time on we have never lost our love affair with the genus Rosa or for our desire to hybridise it. Thanks to Empress Josephine the number of rose varieties is now around 30,000 and counting. Nearly 11,000 of those are named Hybrid Tea roses.

Many of the old French rose varieties are still in existance today and are obvious by their French names. Prefixes like Madame or Mme is oftened used. Titles for nobility Duchesse and Comtesse are common. Souvenir is used for 'in memory of', or sometimes just French places or names that where significant are used. And of course for our benefactor there is a rose in her honour. Rosa 'Empress Josephine' which naturally comes from the Rosa gallica stable. Described by rose experts David Austin Roses as ' a beautiful rose and the finest in its class'.

Most of these roses fall into the category of 'Old Roses' these are broken down into the gallicas, damasks, albas, centifolias and mosses. They tend to flower just once but prolifically in summer and are highly fragrant. There are a few exceptions to this however and the 'Old Rose' repeat flowering types are the Chinas, portlands and bourbons but don't let that put you off the once flowering types.

Of the repeat flowerers R. 'Reine Victoria' is warm pink and a good repeater about 1.5m x 1m. R. 'Souvenier de la Malmaison'-in memory of the famous garden- is soft pink 1m x 1m. R. 'Isaac Pereire' is purple crimson 1.5m x1.5m. All are bourbon roses.

Once flowering suggestions include R. 'Mme Legras de St. Germain' an alba rose ivory white flowers very fragrant, I have this trained as a small climber over an arch. R. 'Charles de Mills' a gallica rose, purple crimson very fragrant and very tough 1.5m x1.5m. R. 'Nuits de Young' very dark purple with yellow stamens 1m x1m. This is a moss rose which I just love as their buds before flowering are laidened in a curious furry moss like covering. R. 'Mme Hardy' is a Damask rose which has the most beaufully shaped white flowers with a spicey lemon scent 1.5m x 1.4m. R.'Fantin Latour' is a centifolia rose with shell pink flowers 1.2m x 1.2m.

Look out for these old roses in good garden centres in the shrub rose sections, they are roses of great quality, beauty and history.

Wexford People

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