Last week I went on at length about the difficulties involved in growing any rose other than rosa rugosa, otherwise known as beach rose, plum rose and wild rose. Now we can go forward and spend time with the roses that are hard to grow or as one of my favorite gardening books says, need “a little pampering.” But first some history.
It is the Chinese we have to thank for their early cultivation of the wild rose to some of the species we know today, roughly 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians then took up the task, growing roses for the Romans, shipping cut flowers to Rome via galley. How they actually kept the flowers fresh, since they weren’t crossing the Mediterranean by any motorized means, remains a mystery. T
he Romans loved them, so much so that they began large nurseries in the south of Italy near present day Salerno. As the years went by the rose became less valued for its beauty because people became knowledgeable, especially the Greeks, about the rose’s medicinal value. Extracts were made from dried petals and used for all sorts of ailments. It’s now believed that their major contribution was to disguise the taste of unpalatable medicines.
The rose is part of a much larger family, Rosaceae, which includes strawberries and raspberries as well as peach, almond, apple and apricot trees. A number of traits connect them all; they all sport blossoms that have petals in sets of five and they all bear edible fruit, including the rose, which in fall carries those small, bright red “hips,” a favorite source of vitamin C. Rose hips were made into syrup to supply vitamin C to children in Britain, famous for roses during the long years of World War II.
By the end of the 19th century, all of the elements of the modern rose had been bred. Only one trait, longed for by rose growers, was missing and that was an attractive yellow color. Some Asiatic imports were of a sulfurous yellow but it was a pure shade that breeders were looking for. Frenchman Joseph Pernet-Duche took 25 years to solve the problem, but he did. After endless cross-breedings, he managed to create the rose, Soleil D’Or, Sun of Gold, that was light yellow on the outside with a pinkish center. It took him 12 more years of crossing and back-crossing before he gave the world the first pure yellow garden rose — Rayon D’Or, or Ray of Gold. Both of these roses are available today.
Roses can be divided into groups; the most popular today is the hybrid tea, a type or class characterized by an exceptional range of color as well as fragrance and flower size. Then there are floribunda roses, developed in Denmark, that added hardiness, the ability to thrive in the severe climate of northern Europe. Floribundas bloom continually throughout the season.
Then we have the grandiflora roses, a cross between the hybrid teas and the sturdy floribundas; these are generally a little taller and heartier than the hybrid teas, with a larger number of slightly smaller flowers. The Queen Elizabeth rose is among the most popular. And finally, there are climbers; they do climb, although not really. What they do is sprawl and wait for the nearest human to come and tie them up so that they appear to climb.
Next week we’ll talk about the care of roses, such as pruning, feeding and transplanting.