Heirloom Roses: Antique Beauties
Admired for their fragrance and large, beautiful blooms, heirloom roses have delighted fans for centuries. Also known as “antique” or “old garden” roses, heirlooms include those roses that existed before 1867 when ‘La France,’ the first hybrid tea rose was introduced, marking the start of a new era of “modern roses.”
As modern rose gardening developed, so did the hybridizing of rose varieties. Today, about 80% of all roses grown are from the modern classes of roses. Encouraged to produce hardier specimens with larger blooms and heavier producing plants, rose growers cross-pollinated their specimens. The results are the ever popular and prevalent hybrid tea roses and floribundas in today’s gardens. Although beautiful in their own right, they do not possess the heady fragrance or the big, full blooms that the old garden roses are noted for.
Old is New Again
Heirloom roses are poised for a comeback as these vintage flowers lure us with their full bloom form and wonderful fragrance, as well as being as simple to grow as modern roses. Actual heirloom varieties are hard to pinpoint and fall in several categories: Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias, and Moss roses.
Gallicas are the oldest of the old garden roses, having been grown by the Greeks and Romans and later bred by the Dutch and French as many of the names indicate. Gallicas have been involved in the development of all four other classes of old garden roses and have influenced, at least to some small degree, nearly all garden roses to the present. Their great colors range from shades of pink, reds, and purples to crimson red with stripes. The single, double, or semi-double blooms are held either singly or in groups of three. The bushes are easily recognized as low suckering shrubs with foliage that is oval, pointed and has a rough texture that is typically dark green in color. These roses can be grown in poor, even gravelly, soil and demand a minimum of attention.
The Damask rose dates back to Biblical times. They originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and were introduced to the Europeans by the Crusaders. Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans all grew this extraordinarily fragrant, perfume-like rose. Damasks have a mixed parentage originating from a natural hybrid between the Gallica rose and a wild species rose. Damasks are very cold hardy as some can be grown in Zone 4. They are very thorny and have a rather lax and arching growth habit reaching three to seven feet tall. Most only bloom once a year and require good fertile soil to look their best.
La Ville de Bruxelles
Albas are the most elegant of all old roses with tall, slender, upright growth. They produce blush pink or white flowers and gray-green foliage. Albas are very hardy and thrive under difficult conditions, even partial shade. Alba roses have a strong, rich perfume that gives them special appeal in the garden and as cut flowers. Cold hardy for Zones 3-9.
Great Maiden's Blush
Centifolias are also known as cabbage roses because of the size and shape of their blooms. As their name suggests, their blooms contain up to 100 or more petals. Developed by Dutch breeders between the 17th and 19th centuries, they are the classic old garden roses often reproduced in artists’ prints popular today. Centifolias have lax, open, and rather lanky growth with a mixture of large and small thorns. The leaves are large, rounded, and broadly toothed while the flowers tend to be heavy and globular. They benefit from support to stop them bending too near the ground. They are once-blooming, very fragrant, and very winter hardy.
Moss roses were popular in Victorian England. They are actually Centifolias and Damasks that have developed a distinctive, moss-like growth on the sepals with a pine-like fragrance. The mossing adds elegance to the flowers and is a result of a sport, or mutation, in the plant. The majority of Moss roses were bred over a short period of time, from approximately 1850 to 1870. Moss roses have inherited the strong fragrance of their Centifolia ancestors and pruning should be as recommended for the Centifolias. They are found in almost all colors with some varieties as repeat bloomers.
Alfred de Dalmas