An Old Garden Rose is defined as any rose belonging to a class which existed before the introduction of the first Modern Rose, La France, in 1867. In general, Old Garden Roses of European or Mediterranean origin are once-blooming woody shrubs, with notably fragrant, double-flowered blooms primarily in shades of white, pink and red. The shrubs' foliage tends to be highly disease-resistant, and they generally bloom only on two-year-old canes. The introduction of China and Tea roses from East Asia around 1800 led to new classes of Old Garden Roses which bloom on new growth, often repeatedly from spring to fall. Most Old Garden Roses are classified into one of the following groups.
Literally "white roses", derived from R. arvensis and the closely allied R. alba. These are some of the oldest garden roses, probably brought to Great Britain by the Romans. The shrubs flower once yearly in the spring with blossoms of white or pale pink. The shrubs frequently feature gray-green foliage and a climbing habit of growth . Examples: 'Alba Semiplena', 'White Rose of York'.
The gallica or Provins roses are a very old class developed from R. gallica, which is a native of central and southern Europe. The Apothecary's Rose, R. gallica officinalis, was grown in monastic herbiaries in the Middle Ages, and became famous in English history as the Red Rose of Lancaster. Gallicas flower once in the summer over low shrubs rarely over 4' tall. Unlike most other once-blooming Old Garden Roses, the gallica class includes shades of red, maroon and deep purplish crimson. Examples: 'Cardinal de Richelieu', 'Charles de Mills', 'Rosa Mundi' (R. gallica versicolour).
Named for Damascus in Syria, damasks originated in ancient times with a natural cross of (Rosa moschata x Rosa gallica) x Rosa fedtschenkoana. Robert de Brie is given credit for bringing damask roses from the Middle East to Europe sometime between 1254 and 1276, although there is evidence from ancient Roman frescoes that at least one damask rose existed in Europe for hundreds of years prior. Summer damasks bloom once in summer. Autumn or Four Seasons damasks bloom again later, in the fall: the only remontant Old European roses. Shrubs tend to have rangy to sprawly growth habits and vicious thorns. The flowers typically have a more loose petal formation than gallicas, as well as a stronger, tangy fragrance. Examples: 'Ispahan', 'Madame Hardy'.
Centifolia or Provence
Centifolia roses, raised in the seventeenth century in the Netherlands, are named for their "one hundred" petals; they are often called "cabbage" roses due to the globular shape of the flowers. The result of damask roses crossed with albas, the centifolias are all once-flowering. As a class, they are notable for their inclination to produce mutations of various sizes and forms, including moss roses and some of the first miniature roses (see below) . Examples: 'Centifolia', 'Paul Ricault'.
Mutations of primarily centifolia roses (or sometimes damasks), moss roses have a mossy excrescence on the stems and sepals that often emits a pleasant woodsy or balsam scent when rubbed. Moss roses are cherished for this unique trait, but as a group they have contributed nothing to the development of new rose classifications. Moss roses with centifolia background are once-flowering; some moss roses exhibit repeat-blooming, indicative of Autumn Damask parentage. Example: 'Common Moss' (centifolia-moss), 'Alfred de Dalmas' (Autumn Damask moss).
The Portland roses were long thought to be the first group of crosses between China roses and European roses; recent DNA analysis at the University of Lyons, however, has demonstrated that the original Portland Rose has no Chinese ancestry, but rather represents an autumn damask/gallica lineage. They were named after the Duchess of Portland who received (from Italy about 1775) a rose then known as R. paestana or 'Scarlet Four Seasons' Rose' (now known simply as 'The Portland Rose'). The whole class of Portland roses was thence developed from that one rose. The first repeat-flowering class of rose with fancy European-style blossoms, the plants tend to be fairly short and shrubby, with proportionately short flower stalks. Example: 'James Veitch', 'Rose de Rescht', 'Comte de Chambord'.
The China roses, based on Rosa chinensis, were cultivated in East Asia for centuries and finally reached Western Europe in the late 1700s. They are the parents of many of today's hybrid roses, and they brought a change to the form of the flower. Compared with the aforementioned European rose classes, the Chinese roses had less fragrant, smaller blooms carried over twiggier, more cold-sensitive shrubs. Yet they possessed the amazing ability to bloom repeatedly throughout the summer and into late autumn, unlike their European counterparts. The flowers of China roses were also notable for their tendency to "suntan," or darken over time — unlike the blooms of European roses, which tended to fade after opening. This made them highly desirable for hybridisation purposes in the early 1800s. According to Graham Stuart Thomas, China Roses are the class upon which modern roses are built. Today's exhibition rose owes its form to the China genes, and the China Roses also brought slender buds which unfurl when opening. Tradition holds that four "stud China" roses ('Slater's Crimson China' (1792), 'Parsons' Pink China' (1793), and the Tea roses 'Hume's Blush Tea-scented China' (1809) and 'Parks' Yellow Tea-Scented China' (1824)) were brought to Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; in fact there were rather more, at least five Chinas not counting the Teas having been imported. This brought about the creation of the first classes of repeat-flowering Old Garden Roses, and later the Modern Garden Roses. Examples: 'Old Blush China', 'Mutabilis' (Butterfly Rose), 'Cramoisie Superieur'.
The original "Tea-scented Chinas" (Rosa x odorata) were Oriental cultivars thought to represent hybrids of R. chinensis with R. gigantea, a large Asian climbing rose with pale-yellow blossoms. Immediately upon their introduction in the early 1800s breeders went to work with them, especially in France, crossing them first with Chinas and then with Bourbons and Noisettes. The Teas are repeat-flowering roses, named for their fragrance being reminiscent of Chinese black tea (although this is not always the case). The colour range includes pastel shades of white, pink and (a novelty at the time) yellow to apricot. The individual flowers of many cultivars are semi-pendent and nodding, due to weak flower stalks. In a "typical" Tea, pointed buds produce high-centred blooms which unfurl in a spiral fashion, and the petals tend to roll back at the edges, producing a petal with a pointed tip; the Teas are thus the originators of today's "classic" florists' rose form. According to rose historian Brent Dickerson, the Tea classification owes as much to marketing as to botany; 19th century nurserymen would label their Asian-based cultivars as "Teas" if they possessed the desirable Tea flower form, and "Chinas" if they did not. Like the Chinas, the Teas are not hardy in colder climates. Examples: 'Lady Hillingdon', 'Maman Cochet', 'Duchesse de Brabant'.
Bourbons originated on the Île de Bourbon (now called Réunion) off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. They are most likely the result of a cross between the Autumn Damask and the 'Old Blush' China rose, both of which were frequently used as hedging materials on the island. They flower repeatedly over vigorous, frequently semi-climbing shrubs with glossy foliage and purple-tinted canes. They were first Introduced in France in 1823. Examples: 'Louise Odier', 'Mme. Pierre Oger', 'Zéphirine Drouhin'.
The first Noisette rose was raised as a hybrid seedling by a South Carolina rice planter named John Champneys. Its parents were the China Rose 'Parson's Pink' and the autumn-flowering musk rose (Rosa moschata), resulting in a vigorous climbing rose producing huge clusters of small pink flowers from spring to fall. Champneys sent seedlings of his rose (called 'Champneys' Pink Cluster') to his gardening friend, Philippe Noisette, who in turn sent plants to his brother Louis in Paris, who then introduced 'Blush Noisette' in 1817. The first Noisettes were small-blossomed, fairly winter-hardy climbers, but later infusions of Tea rose genes created a Tea-Noisette subclass with larger flowers, smaller clusters, and considerably reduced winter hardiness. Examples: 'Blush Noisette', 'Lamarque' (Noisette); 'Mme. Alfred Carriere', 'Marechal Niel' (Tea-Noisette). (See French and German articles on Noisette roses).
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