This year, 2018, could easily be declared The Year of the Rose.
Roses have featured prominently at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, where a gigantic marquis packed fill of rose varieties was a central attraction, and at Chelsea Flower Show, where the incredible ‘This Morning’ Rose was unveiled in celebration of ITV This Morning’s 30th birthday.
Roses also topped my Great British Flower Poll 2018, knocking Hycacinthoides non-scripta (Bluebells) and Paeonia (Peonies) off the top spot, with a whopping 15 per cent of the vote to crown them best British flower. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to talk more about roses, their fascinating history and their impressively diverse modern varieties.
The rose family of plants (Rosaceae) dates back to the Eocene period of geological history.
Their long period of evolution has resulted in a huge variety of related plants, with everything from peaches, strawberries and cherries, to apples, almonds and ornamental garden roses (Rosa) belonging to the rose family.
Roses have long been part of human culture.
Evidence shows that rose gardens were cultivated as far back as 5,000 years ago in Ancient China and Japan, and documents from Ancient Roman times suggest that roses were grown year-round for medicine, foodstuffs, perfume and ornamentation. Thus, the rose goes down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘oldest cultivated decorative plant.’
The rose has long been a symbol of love and romance. In mythology, the rose is a symbol of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (or Venus, her Roman counterpart) and is said to have been turned red by drops of her blood splashing onto its originally white petals as she rushed to save her lover, Adonis, from certain doom.
The rose—and particularly the red rose—is still considered a potent token of love and, according to some sources, UK residents in 2013 spent an estimated £262 million on roses for Valentine’s Day.
Another ancient myth, which has Eros (aka Cupid) offering a rose to Harpocrates (goddess of silence) in exchange for secrecy, led to the rose being a symbol of secrecy in England throughout the Middle Ages.
Fresh roses were hung above meeting places or pictures of roses painted on the ceiling of council chambers to indicate that the meeting was confidential.
The Tudor rose has also been a symbol of England since the 15th century Wars of the Roses, in which two royal houses battled for the throne.
The wars ended when Henry Tudor defeated the House of York, to become King Henry VII of England, cementing his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York and uniting the two warring houses.
Since the House of Lancaster’s emblem was a red rose (Rosa gallica officinalis) and the House of York’s a white rose (Rosa x Alba), the Tudor rose brings the two together with a ring of red petals encircling a white centre, representing unification of the two dynasties.
This hybrid red and white rose is emblazoned on buildings throughout England to this day, one of which is Hampton Court Palace, home to the famous flower show!
Wild roses typically have five petals, but over the course of time, humans have interbred species with one another to produce a vast array of roses with a huge variety of petal numbers, flower shapes, foliage and hip variations, and flower colours (including bi-colour and stripy blooms).
In the 1500s, English rose varieties (like Rosa gallica officinalis and Rosa x Alba) were limited, with beautiful flowers, but short once-a-year flowering seasons and few colour variations. This all changed in the 1700s when foreign roses began to arrive by the bucket-load from Europe and Asia and be intermixed with English cultivars.
From this point on, roses were selectively bred to combine the best features of different varieties into one bush.
The repeat flowering habit of China Roses, such as ‘Slater’s Crimson China,’ was combined with the dainty flowers-to-die-for and delicate fragrance of Tea Roses, like ‘Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China,’ and these properties were, in turn, combined with the frost hardiness and double-flowers of our native British varieties.
Ta-da! The modern garden rose was on its way.
Hybrid Tea roses
Hybrid Tea roses are what many people think of as the classic rose.
They have a high centre formed of a tight cone of inner petals, with abundant layers of petals opening out from the flower’s central core.
They are well-fragranced, come in a bewildering array of colours and their blooms appear in several distinct flushes throughout summer and autumn.
A beautiful Hybrid Tea with fantastically fragranced, large and abundant romantic red blooms is the ‘Alec’s Red’ variety.
Another incredible rose of this type is the award-winning ‘Double Delight,’ which has large, deliciously-scented bi-colour red and white flowers that do an excellent job of approximating the Tudor Rose in reality!
Floribunda roses are actually a hybrid borne from Hybrid Tea and Polyantha (a now largely unavailable type) rose varieties.
While they are not quite up to Hybrid Teas in flower aesthetics, size and fragrance, their flowers appear in large trusses and are continually present on the bush throughout the season—a characteristic that they get from the Polyantha parent variety.
Since they are hardier and more tolerant of wet conditions than their more delicate Hybrid Tea cousins, Floribundas are a wonderful choice for providing colour in the garden.
The cup-shaped golden blooms of ‘Amber Queen’ or split-centred elegant pink blossoms of the ‘City of London’ variety are both excellent additions to borders and make for excellent cut flowers.
Grandiflora roses are a further hybrid of Floribunda and Hybrid Tea roses.
As a consequence, they often have more attractive, larger flowers than Floribundas, but are less fussy and produce more buds than Hybrid Teas.
A favourite of mine is the ‘Fragrant Plum’ variety, the showy double blooms of which have a Turkish-delight-pink middle surrounded by petals of deeper Barbie-doll-pink and have strong fruity scent.
If you have rose bushes in your own garden, but are not sure what type they are, take a note of:
Flowering habit – do flowers appear in trusses or singly? Flower size – small, large or medium? And flower shape – high-centred or open? This will help you to determine which category they fall into.
In 1998, the miniature rose
was taken into space!
Years of selective breeding have, of course, also led to patio, climber, miniature, shrub and ground cover roses all being introduced into the Rosa family. You can grow them scrambling up a wall, in containers surrounding your seating area, or tumble them over an archway. Anything goes.
Today, you might say, there is a rose for every occasion.
‘This Morning’ rose
Recent years in the horticultural world have seen a trend away from the traditional rose flower shapes of the Hybrid Teas and their close relatives, towards a more open bloom.
Look at the World Federation of Rose Societies Rose Hall of Fame and you’ll see that the classic rose looks of the winners in the early 2000s, such as ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ and ‘Ingrid Bergman,’ has given way to the Japanese anemone-like flowers of more recent winners, such as ‘Sally Holmes’ and ‘Cocktail.’
The ‘This Morning’ Rose continues this flower fashion, with its sweet unfurled blossoms in a triangulate of colours, from its Mackintosh yellow stamen, to its deep school-sports maroon heart and geisha pink petals.
Brimming with nectar and pollen and with an extended flowering period (June to November), it is a perfect late food source for our precious pollinators.
The ‘This Morning’ rose was cultivated by Harkness Roses, whose virgin white climbing rose, ‘Starlight Symphony,’ has been named Rose of the Year 2019 by the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show judges.
I selected it from a final array of roses that had made it through the tough checks at Harkness to be considered for the honour of receiving This Morning’s good name. Hugely versatile, the chosen rose can be placed in a pot on the patio, trained up a garden wall or grown as a shrub in a bed or border. Order your ‘This Morning’ rose now and it will arrive in October. This is the ideal time to be planting new roses in your garden, since the soil is still warm, encouraging enough root growth to ensure the plant survives the winter, ready to burst into bloom midsummer next year.
To find out more incredible facts about roses, see my video 5 Unusual Facts about Roses.
So, there you have it. Roses have been winning the hearts of humankind for centuries and, with the remarkable range of modern day varieties available, they’re sure to keep on winning our hearts for centuries to come.