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Heirloom Rose Varieties and Their History

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 5

What constitutes an heirloom rose and what are the main varieties? Heirloom roses are known as antique or old garden roses that date back before 1867. This is the year the first hybrid tea was introduced. Heirloom roses have the reputation of being more fragrant that their modern versions, and they have the uncanny ability to be highly adaptable to many climates. All of these antique roses have a unique and intriguing history. Here are the different varieties and a little piece of their past.

Alba These are tall, dense, disease resistant heirloom flowers that bloom only in the spring. They have clusters of medium size pink or white flowers with a fragrant citrus aroma. Pliny the Elder(23-79A.D.) was a Roman author who mentioned white roses in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia. Most botanist agree that he was referring to this rose.

Bourbon These heirlooms are moderately hardy arching flowers with lush fragrant double flower that have a tendency to rebloom. Bourbon roses can also be dwarf plants. The colors of these roses vary between deep reds, pink, blush, and white. These roses are believed to be a cross between the China rose and the Damask. Seeds of the plant showed up in Paris as early as 1819. They are named after Ile Bourbon, now known as the Reunion.

Centifolia They are also know as the Cabbage Rose or as Provence Rose These are hardy heirloom flowers with tall arching stems some of which reach 4 to 5 feet tall. They feature lush fragrant double pink or white June blooms. Some say they could be found in the garden of King Midas. They are derived from roses raised in the Netherlands in the 17th century. They are apparent in many painting created by the Dutch masters.

Damask These heirlooms are extremely hardy and disease resistant. They have fragrant medium to large pink blooms. This rose was named after Damascus in Syria, and brought from the Middle East to Europe by Robert de Brie between 1254 and 1276. Nowadays, these rose bushes blanket the Valley of Roses in Bulgaria.

Gallica It is also known as the French rose and it is the oldest known rose in existence. These heirloom roses were grown in the medieval gardens in the middle ages and these are probably the crown of roses that Julius Caesar wore upon his head. The monks used Gallica rose petals to scent soaps and salves. These roses are cold hardy and disease resistant. Growing to heights of just 3 to 4 feet tall, these roses are compact and bushy with blooms of red, pink, and white.

Hybrid Perpetual They were a dominant class of heirloom roses in Victorian England and they were the most popular roses in northern Europe. They are reblooming hybrids that emerged in 1838. They bear rather large blooms of red, pink, and white a top a large arching cane.

Noisette John Champneys from South Carolina was the first to raise the hybrid Noisette. After sending the seed to his friend Philippe Noisette, they ended up in Paris. Philippe has in turn sent the seeds to his brother Louis who introduced the first Noisette in 1817. The original Noisette roses were small clusters that were climbers. Their colors ranged from white to crimson purple.

China The ancestors of these flowers have been growing for over a millennia in China. They emerged in Western Europe in the 18th century. The China roses rebloom with less fragrant flowers of various ranges of color that has a tendency to darken over time instead of fading.

Portland The Portland rose was named after the Duchess of Portland. This record dates this heirloom rose back to 1775. These plants have repeating blooms, and they tend to be short and shrubby. It blooms from the summer months to mid fall.

Tea These heirloom roses originated in Asia and traveled to the West in the 19th century in ships transporting tea, hence their namesake. These plants are also cold-sensitive and are very resistant to black spots. These flowers tend to flower heavy from spring until the fall Their color ranges from pure white, true yellow, to crimson. They are said to have the scent of tea leaves.

Most old garden roses live long and are disease resistant. They tend to be highly adaptable, cold resistant, and very lush and fragrant. They are reminiscent of a time of old world charm and beauty.



Mar 11, 2011 8:36am
I loved this article and am very interested in heirloom roses. In particular, I am trying to find information about a (at least) 200 year old rose in my grandmother's garden that was transplanted from generations of her people. It is white, lush, blooms in clusters and she always said it was a "Martha Washington" rose. Any info I can find about old roses with this name reference a red rose.
Mar 12, 2011 7:50am
This is a Noisette Hybrid. It got it's name from George Washington who named and planted in his garden in memory of his wife. People have visited the Gardens in the past and got cuttings from it. If I find out more I will let you know. You should get some cuttings from it.
Mar 12, 2011 5:35pm
Great article, my favorite is the Tea Rose, but just last year I added a few knock out roses to my garden. They aren't heirloom, but they are easy to care for.
Mar 23, 2011 12:41pm
I would love some that are climbing roses. Don't you just love that spring is in the air. I spent the weekend planting Golden Mops all around the yard. I need to concentrate on writing, but the great outdoors keeps calling.
Apr 8, 2011 11:17pm
Great article on types of roses. My senior mom and I keep thinking we will add roses to our gardening plans and if we make it this year, this will be a big help. My favorite roses? Any that smell GREAT :)
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