My Mom's name is Rose. Between 1965-1995 she maintained a really nice hybrid-tea rose garden. So I grew up around roses, literally and figuratively.
And then there's that mysterious rose tattoo that appeared on my right arm on July 04, 1976 – the day after our great nation's bicentennial – after a Hunter Thompson-esque trip to Leesville/Fort Polk, LA. I first noticed the tatto on July 05, upon waking up in my underwear on the parlor floor of my buddy Mark's grandma's house in the notorious little farming community of Point Blue, Louisiana. Wandering into his grandma's kitchen (headed for the bathroom) I quickly realized that it was not early in the morning, as I had thought. It was in fact after lunch; and I was greeted by not only Mark's grandma, but also a number of her friends – all gathered around the kitchen table, and busy playing cards, drinking whiskey-laced black coffee and smoking cigarettes rolled out of paper bags. "What's wrong, cher? You don't know where you are? What's dat on your arm?" We all had a good laugh. O but I digress. . .
What I mean to say is that I guess I was destined to become a rose affectionado. And that really came to pass in 1990, when wife Lydia brought home our first antique rose. Now roses, modern roses included, are known for their fragrance; but for the most part, modern roses all possess a very similar fragrance. Very nice, but homogeneous. Each antique rose, on the other hand, possesses its very own unique fragrance, as well as its very own unique flower structure. The first time I sniffed an antique, I was instantly hooked. Aromatherapy is real, ya'll.
Antique roses are divided into a number of classes, including Hybrid Musk, Multiflora, Bourbon, China, Noisette, Gallica, Moss, Tea, Hybrid Perpetual, Polyantha, and more. Think of them as fine wines, each variety and blend with its own distinctive characteristics.
When planning for rose-gardening, almost as important as knowing individual cultivar name and classification is knowing individual cultivar bloom season. Bloom season categories include “ever-blooming” (blooms nearly year round, taking the occasional “rest” during periods of unfavorable weather), “twice-blooming” (usually during spring and fall), and “once-blooming” (usually in spring). And of course it pays to study up on old rose varieties/cultivars that do best in your particular region. One of the better resources for the lower South is Dr. William Welch's Antique Roses for the South (Taylor Publishing 1990).
Presently, Lydia and I have about 22 “old rose” cultivars growing around our place. Here are some of our favorites:
the humble 'Old Blush'
By 1000 B.C., the Chinese were already breeding fancy, double-flowered garden roses. The first of these everblooming China roses to reach the U.S. was 'Old Blush' in 1752. Because of its everblooming habit, because it is so sturdy, and because of its ancient lineage, I suggest that every Deep South antique rose collection should begin with this one.
uber-fragrant 'Champneys' Pink Cluster'
'Champneys' Pink Cluster' is a noisette, introduced in the early 19th century. The noisettes were the first antique rose class to originate in the U.S.; and 'Champneys' Pink Cluster' was the first noisette to be hatched. John Champneys, a rice farmer in Charleston, S.C., crossed 'Old Blush' with a popular European Musk Rose, and BAM! Everblooming (thanks to 'Old Blush'), and perhaps the most penetratingly fragrant old rose that I know. You don't even have to lay your nose on a bloom. You'll be smelling Champneys' Pink perfume long before then. Our specimen is a willowy, 8-foot, vase-shaped shrub.
'Sombreuil' ..... saucer-sized blooms!
The Tea Roses all originated from a native Himalayan species, Rosa gigantea, known for its superb fragrance and huge flowers; crossed with a China rose, and BAM AGAIN! You've got a heavy-flowered, heavy-perfumed, everblooming killer-rose. 'Sombreuil' (introduced 1850) is about as good as it gets – except for its bad-ass play-for-keeps thorns. It is a modest climber (8-10'), and blooms biggest/heaviest in spring, featuring saucer-sized blooms. Outside of spring, it blooms sporadically, and with flowers half or less the size of its spring offerings.
'Souvenir de la Malmasion'.....da' queen of 'em all
Bourbon Roses arose (ahem) from a natural cross between 'Old Blush' and 'Autumn Damask' a European rose. The hybrid plant was born in a mixed rose hedge on Reunion Island (once known as Isle de Bourbon). The Bourbon class was then developed in France. The queen of this class is 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' (1843), named in honor of the empress Josephine (a' Napoleon), herself a fine rosarian, at Malmaison, her country estate outside of Paris.
Personally, 'Maggie' is my favorite Bourbon. In fact, it is my favorite rose, period. 'Maggie' is somewhat shrouded in mystery...sort of like my tattoo...experts believe her to be a Bourbon, but have no idea from when and where she might hail. Bill Welch is crazy about 'Maggie' too. He got his first 'Maggie' cutting (though he had no idea of her name at the time) in 1980, from a farmhouse near Mangham, LA. Welch says the flower fragrance is heavy with black pepper. Me, I get a heavy fruit scent from it. Real heavy/tangy; like maybe with a strong dash of apricot.
'Russell Cottage Rose'
If I remember right, 'Russell Cottage Rose' was the first old rose that Lydia brought home in 1990. Originally introduced in the early 19th century, this Rosa multiflora (a Japanese native, I believe) hybrid is a once-bloomer; but oh what a once-bloomer it is! Lydia gets a raspberry vibe from its heavily fruit-perfume scent. I agree. Welch describes the scent as "intense Damask."
little Miss 'Clotilde Soupert'....petals thin as tissue paper
Polyantha roses developed naturally, as hybrids between Rosa multiflora and China roses. During the 1860s, the French refined this class into “shrub roses” meant for use as landscape hedges. My favorite Polyantha is 'Clotilde Soupert' introduced in 1890. She's a 4' shrub. I was warned that her delicate blooms “ball” in rainy weather, but I went ahead and planted her anyway. And yes, her blooms do ball in rainy weather, but she's so damn worth it! Ultimately, she's such a prolific bloomer, especially in spring, that a set or two of balled flower clusters is no big deal. Just lop 'em off. Gorgeous.
a 25-foot wall of Rosa 'Trier' and Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum sp.) protects our veggie garden from the west...................
'Trier's' medicine-y bloom cluster
Talking about hedge roses, 'Trier' (1904) is the greatest of them all. She's got thorns as sharp and hooked as a blackberry's, but I love her anyway. She is one of the parents of the Hybrid Musk class. Welch's book lists 'Trier' as “5-7 feet” but in our blackjack clay, she morphed into a 9'x15' monster. She's a twice-bloomer, and her blooms possess a strangely medicinal scent – like maybe old-school, black cherry cough-syrup.