I sat three-quarters of an hour in the flower-garden, while Fanny cut the roses; and very pleasant it was, I assure you.
The Rose garden as we know it today is quite different to how a rose garden would have appeared two hundred years ago. The modern hybrid shrub rose is the result of intensive interbreeding of roses by Rosarians.
It was the discovery of new ‘China’ roses in the early nineteenth century that was the catalyst to breeding our modern rose bush which can be identified by five main features – its upright spare branches, bright coloured flowers, large blooms, shiny leaves and perpetual flowering.
The regency era rose bush was indeed more of a bush some of them up to six feet tall and shrubby in nature. Their flowering season, typical in all old roses, was a short summer flowering when the entire bush would be covered in hundreds of blooms. In fact there is a very ancient French suspicion that early flowering of roses denotes bad luck – It was commonly believed up until 50 years ago. But no doubt along with the decline in popularity of the old roses there was also a decline in the popularity of this suspicion!
The history of the rose itself is fascinating and if you are interested in pursuing this further there is a short bibliography at the base of this page. I am going to skip straight into the seventeenth century where there is a jump in the status of the rose. Around this time its status switched focus from being a predominantly medicinal plant – listed in most herbals, to being a predominantly decorative garden plant, and the object of breeding experiments to find new types.
Sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century a new type of rose had been found as ‘sport’ (a branch or off-shoot of a parent plant) on a cabbage rose. It was called the moss rose because of the mossy nature of the sepals (covering of the bud) and stalks. It became so popular that in 1824 a contemporary writer notes that he got most of his Moss Roses from England.
We know that the eighteenth century was the explosion of rose breeding because in 1724 we hear that notable gardener, the Duchess of Beaufort, was only able to assemble sixteen types of roses for her collection, by 1828 there were 2,500 varieties – these were old rose varieties as this pre-dated the introduction of the China rose. By 1902 the rise in Hybrid tea-roses had been so complete that a catalogue listing roses had only 36 old roses out of the approximately 1,900 listed .
The empress Josephine had a great interest in rose growing and breeding and her gardens were a haven for rosarians from 1803-1814 with many new types being breed there.
One mention should be made here of the British rose enthusiast the Duchess of Portland, whose name graces a little remembered rose type, the “Portland” rose. This was one of the first fore-runners of the perpetual flowering rose. It found its way to Britain in the late eighteenth century, probably from Italy. It was commonly known as Rosa Paestana. In the early nineteenth century it crossed back to France where leading rosarian du Pont successfully breed from it to create other roses of its type, and honoured the duchess by calling the genus ‘Portland Roses’ in 1816. It was damask rose crossed possibly with a crimson China.
The following this is a list of the main types of roses available in Britain in the Regency era. Where possible I have given the date of introduction to Britain and a photo of the type. For many Roses there is no date of introduction, or no photo. I have, therefore given a short description of what the particular rose type looks like. I would just like to note that while the seeds for the Bourbon Rose were discovered on Mauritius in 1817, they were not available in Britain or Europe for some years, and Noisettes were developed after the period of this article as well.
As I final note I would just like to add, that this is in no way a comprehensive list. It is to describe what the types are like and show, where possible some examples. In some cases I have just named particular roses and their dates of introduction. With over 2,000 old roses at this point I cannot possibly hope to name even 10% of them.
For those in England, or traveling there, there is a wonderful Georgian Garden in Bath – to be found just off the Gravel Walk leading to Brook Street in Bath. A correspondent has told me “it is very beautiful but small and may be of interest to fellow “historical gardeners.”
Finally – for a good Web site on Garden History try The Garden History Society.
Another for those keen on early roses you could try the French organisation named Rosa Gallica – their aim is to promote the study and rediscover’ the old gallicas.
It is thought that this white rose was so prevalent in Britain when the Roman’s arrived that it was why they called the country ‘Albion’ after this white rose. Often it has pale pink flowers. It has grey-green foliage, a sweet scent, but its bushy foliage make it a hedge plant. The Jeanne d’arc (1818) is a good medium sized bush of double cream flowers with good fragrance.
Alba, Semi Plena – known as the ‘Rose of the Yorks’. A luxuriant shrub which can be grown in the shade. It is very fragrant and grows to around 6 feet. It is used for making attar of roses.
Maiden’s Blush (Cuisse de Nymph)- fifteenth century – the name of this rose was changed to ‘Maiden’s Blush’ in Victorian times as the ‘Thigh of Nymph’ was considered a little risque.
Queen of Denmark – first sold 1826, although the first seeds seen in 1816 and developed by du Pont in France. It is the offspring of Maiden’s Blush.
The Banksia roses come in three colours, white, yellow and pink. The white was introduced to Britain in 1807, the yellow in 1825. They are vigorous climbers with virtually no thorns and shiny green leaves typical of their Chinese origins. They have virtually no smell, although some claim a faint scent of violets on them.
The last rose in summer, these were the basis for the perpetual hybrid roses of today. Because of Chinese restrictions quantities of these bushes were very limited at first.
Old Blush – introduced to Britain around 1789. Dusty pink clusters with a silvery reverse on the petals. It can grow as a bush of about 6 feet, or trained as a vigorous climber. It has sported the mutabalis.
Mutabalis – early 1800’s, this rose was painted by Redoute and has the same growth habits as its parent ‘Old Blush’ but is a five petal single with the marvellous characteristic that the flowers change in colour from yellow to pink over time.
This is also known as the cabbage rose, but is called centofolia for its hundred petals. Most centofolia’s have a loose arching habit. Usually pale pinks with drooping heads. Provence rose – cultivated before 1600, long arching habit, pink flowers. Petite de Hollande, is a small tidy bush of pale pink clusters of smallish blooms, 1800.
Centofolia – also known as ‘The Old Cabbage Rose’, to most herbalists it was ‘The queen of Roses’. It has a heavy fragrance, nodding blooms an arching growth of up to five feet. It was known prior to 1600.
Has some of the largest blooms of old roses, they are bright pink that tend towards mauve as they age and are best known for the intensity of their fragrance amongst the damasks is the ‘Apothecary’s’ rose.
Marie Louise (1813)- a lax shrub or about 4 feet high, good to train over a wall.
These are extremely hardy vigorous roses, it is a red rose and can often be distinguished by its green button eye. One of the most popular and oldest types of gallica is the beautiful Rosa Mundi – or R. gallica Versicolour
Rosa Mundi – One of the oldest of the Gallica’s, this multicolored rose can be found in the Georgian Garden in Bath.
Charles de Mills – date unknown but a typical pattern of gallicas, the dark scarlet, short petals green button eye. It has a slight fragrance and grows to around 4 feet but is a rather sloppy shrub needing some support.
‘Old Velvet Rose’ is now better known as ‘Tuscany’ but is mentioned as far back as 1597 in an apothecaries book (as Velvet Rose). It is 4 foot shrub very similar to the Gallica Officianalis, or the original Gallica.
The sport of Centofolia or cabbage roses, they tend to be very short, not growing more than two feet. The original mutation is a type called ‘old pink moss’ . These bushes are highly susceptible to rain damage. Old Pink Moss, circa 1700 is a warm pink rose and very aromatic.
Shailers White Moss, 1788. I was unable to find a good picture of Old Pink Moss, but this white moss as a sport from Old Pink Moss, so the form is the same although the colour differs. It is also known as White Bath and or Clifton Rose. The flowers have a blush at the centre on opening. It is a fragrant 4 foot shrub.
As said these lost popularity as the hybrid perpetuals were bred, but the first of the perpetuals and used to help breed the first of the Hybrid perpetuals. A very exciting finding by Rosarians of the time. The roses tend to be look like Damasks but have shorter growth – around 4 foot height in shrubs. The stems of the roses are short so the leaves form a rosette at the base of each bloom.
Rose du Roi – 1815, big round buds of rich royal crimson and double flowers mottled with purple and highly scented.
Growing Old-Fashioned Roses in NZ, by Barbara Taylor, 1996
Roses for a French Garden: Roses of Old Akaroa, by Jessie Mould
The Charm of Old Roses, Nancy Steen, 1966
The Complete Rosarian, Norman Young, 1971
Roses, P J Redoute, reproduction, 1986
The Ultimate Rose Book, Peter McHoy, 1997
The Rose, Jack Harkness, 1979
Old Roses and English Roses, David Austin, 1992
The Old Shrub Roses of, Graham Thomas, 1955.
Regency Roses was written by Anne Woodley, hostess of The Regency Collection. It is reprinted here by kind permission of The Ladies of Reeneacting. A website providing historical and re-enacting information, along with recipes, fashion tips and more!
Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk