Bartlett On Gardening: Old Garden Roses

Smith's Parish, a tea rose

We have started this year looking at roses which promise to be as easy to care for as other flowering shrubs. Let's take a closer look at Old Garden Roses (OGR). The American Rose Society defines these as belonging to rose classes in existence prior to 1867. That year the first hybrid tea rose was introduced to the market, ushering in our modern roses.

European Old Garden Roses have one incredibly robust and fragrant burst of bloom in the spring. For centuries the impossible dream was of roses which would bloom repeatedly. Imagine how surprising it must have been to learn that the Chinese had been breeding ever-blooming roses from about the 10th century. All remontant (reblooming), modern roses owe this genetic trait to these roses.

China roses have a compact, rounded growth habit. They produce a profusion of flowers from growth buds sprouting from all parts of the shrub. Inflorescence [editor’s note: the process of flowering] is heaviest in the spring, with a good rebloom in autumn. Warm summer nights, those above 75 degrees, result in decreased flowering. Uniquely, the flowers darken rather than fade with age.

Ducher, the only known white China rose

Tea roses came to Europe from China in the late 1700's. These very fragrant, remontant roses are not as cold-hardy as the chinas and have a taller, more upright growth habit. The large flowers are borne on weak stems. Like the chinas, they bloom heavily in spring and fall, warm summer nights suppressing flower formation. They were very popular from the 1830s until superseded by the more cold-hardy hybrid teas.

Named for their island homeland, the Bourbon class is the result of a natural cross between Autumn Damask and Old Blush, a china rose. Both were used as hedges on the island now called Reunion. Wonderfully fragrant, this small class of roses bears beautifully cupped and quartered flowers. More cold-hardy than the chinas and teas, they were very popular in the mid-19th century.

Souvenir de la Malmaison, a Bourbon rose

In 1802, John Champneys of Charleston, South Carolina, crossed a musk rose with Old Blush. The china parent contributed remontancy and the musk large clusters of blooms. Champneys' Pink Cluster is the first noisette rose. It was taken to France where the class was expanded. Many of the noisettes are climbing roses.

There are many more classes of Old Garden Roses. In addition to their beauty, each one tells a special story.

Master Gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of experience with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.

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