Historic Paths Are Strewn with Roses
George Washington grew them. So did Thomas Jefferson. TJ's very interesting gardening book lists the types he tried at Monticello: sweet-briar, damask, Cherokee, moss, monthly, musk, and "wild roses."
Beloved for centuries for their practical uses as well as their beauty, Old World roses were brought to the New World by European settlers who desired a link with their old homeland that was both useful and delightful.
When we think of roses today, we most often imagine a bouquet of red, long-stemmed beauties. In the colonial period, those kinds of roses—called Hybrid Tea Roses—were unknown. Early gardeners would have relied on musk roses, damask roses, and others. Ancient in pedigree, some were imported from China and the Middle East.
What is an Old Rose? Experts say that any class of rose that was propagated before the arrival of the first hybrid Tea Roses (La France, in 1867) is considered an Old Rose. These are some of their more common varieties, dating to the American colonial period:
These five-petaled wild children of the rose family have not been so much cultivated as invited in and encouraged to thrive in gardens. Prized for their simple beauty and the strong medicinal value of their hips, they include Rosa Rugosa (Japanese Rose), Sweetbriar (a.k.a. Shakespeare's Eglantine), and Rosa Blanda (Prairie Rose).
Probably originated by Dutch growers in 17th century. Centifolia means 100-leaved. Another name for it is the Cabbage Rose. Often seen in Dutch paintings of the period. Examples: Juno, Chapeau de Napoleon, and Blanchefleur.
Arriving after 1700, they are called Moss Roses for the fragrant, sticky substance emanating from glands which covers the stems, sepals, and calyx of the plant. Examples: Old Pink Moss, Salet, and Nuits de Young.
Later types of Old Roses include the Noisette (before 1811), Tea Roses (ancestors of our modern hybrid Tea Roses—they were introduced in the West in the early 1800s), China Roses (introduced in the West in the late 1700s), Bourbons (in France by 1819), Portland roses (since 1792), and Boursault roses (early 1800s).
May and June are good times to go on a rose hunt. Pack some water, grab a hat, and check out the beautiful blooms at two of the area's historic sites.
Chatham Manor, a National Park Service property, is blessed with an amazing rose garden. Established by the Devore family in the 1920s on the remains of a colonial garden, the Devore's garden, designed by famed landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, was once so extensive that it required eight gardeners to maintain it. When the Pratts bought Chatham in 1931, they pared down the garden to a more manageable size. They kept the boxwood and the rose garden, which are lovely to this day. These gardens were later restored by the Garden Club of Virginia. Rose varieties you may see include:
|Radiance (Hybrid tea rose, 1908)||Marshall Neill aka 'Maréchal Niel'
|Agnes (Shrub rose, 1900)|
|Alfred de Dalmas aka 'Mousseline'
(Moss rose, 1855)
|Alchymist (Climbing or shrub, 1956)||Dr. W. Van Fleet (Rambling rose, 1908)|
|The Fairy (Polyantha, 1932)||Crimson Glory
(Hybrid tea rose, 1935)
|Hugonsis (Father Hugo's Rose)||Lady Banks—Yellow
|Lady Banks—White (Climber, 1803)|
Belmont, the Falmouth home of artist Gari Melchers and his wife, has a lovely collection of roses. They have published their rose listings online here. Prized as a venue for weddings, Belmont takes excellent care of its roses as well as its other collections and encourages visitors to learn more about them.
Other Local Places to See Roses
In front of the downtown branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library is a fountain surrounded by beautiful pink roses. These shrub or hedge roses have been patented by growers Jackson & Perkins under the name Simplicity. They are easy to maintain, have a slight fragrance, and bloom repeatedly through the seasons.
The next time you're grabbing a cup of coffee at Hyperion in May or June, take a walk across the street to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. They have a lovely collection of hybrid tea roses. The nearby Fredericksburg Baptist Church also has its hybrid teas on the side facing Princess Anne Street.
During the 1700s and later, farm houses and plantations often had a still room where herbal ingredients from the garden were distilled into useful remedies.
Used as a facial toner and also a flavoring, particularly during the Elizabethan Age. This recipe for rose water comes from Carol LaRue
1 cup fresh rose petals
1/2 c water
Bring water to a boil. Pour over rose petals. Let steep for 15 min.
Drain off of rose petals, and store in the dark. (It freezes just fine.)
Sugar stored with fresh, clean rose petals absorbs the delicate scent and taste of roses
Rose Petal Jam
1 pint boiling water
1 lb strongly scented, freshly picked rose petals
1 lb superfine sugar
2 limes, juice only
- Fill a large pan with the boiling water. Add half the rose petals, cover and leave to stand for two hours.
- After two hours strain off the liquid and transfer to a clean pan. Discard the steeped rose petals.
- Add the sugar to the rosewater and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Add the lime juice and remaining rose petals, reserving a handful for later.
- Bring to boiling point, reduce the heat and simmer until setting point is reached. To test for this, pour a little onto a cold saucer. Push it gently with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is ready. If not continue to simmer for a little longer.
- Add remaining rose petals and simmer gently for another three minutes then pour into a sterilized jar and seal. The rose petals should rise to the top leaving clear jelly underneath.
Adapted from the BBC recipe files
Rose Hip Tea
Vitamin C and lots of it—that's what you'll get from rose hip tea. Rose hips are the roses' fruit—what's left behind after the blossoms have passed. Sweetbriar Eglantine, available to grow from seed from Chiltern's in the UK and Angelgrove Seed Tree Company in Canada, has strong hips (seed pods), terrific for tea. But a word of warning—it is an invasive plant! Saveur has an excellent recipe online for a tea made from fresh rose hips.
Potpourri makes a lovely gift. And this Simple Rose Potpourri from The Crafter's Attic is a snap to make. Orris root and rose essential oil are readily available from many suppliers online:
1 quart rose petals
3 tablespoons ground orris root
8 drops rose essential oil
Place in a covered plastic container for 3-4 weeks, stirring occasionally. If the scent does not seem strong enough you may add more oil. You can also substitute dried lavender blooms and lavender essential oil. Store in a pretty jar, or use as you would other potpourri.
Learn More about Old Roses
Check these books and Web sites for information on older roses:
100 Old Roses for the American Garden by Clair G. Martin
Landscaping with Antique Roses by Liz Druitt and G. Michael Shoup
The Old Rose Advisor by Brent C. Dickerson
Click on each title to place a reserve.
The American Rose Society
Intrigued by the possibilities of roses for your garden? Perhaps you would like to become a Rosicrucian—not one of the mystic order, but rather folks who might also be called rose fanciers. The ARS page is the place to go. You can find local rose organizations, such as our Fredericksburg Rose Society.
The Apothecary's Rose
This article from Rose Magazine traces the tumultous history of the ancient rose. Check the sidebar for additional interesting articles.
"Champneys' Pink Cluster Comes to Monticello" from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
Jefferson was a cutting edge gardener who also loved the old roses. This article details Jefferson's roses and those of his successor at Monticello. Monticello's garden shop stocks Damask, China, and Noisette roses in containers.
Old Roses from Rose Magazine
This article gives an excellent overview of the types of older roses and their histories. The parent site also has forums, chat rooms, and reference material.
Rose Prints by Pierre-Joseph Redouté
Pierre Joseph Redouté was a French artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Illustrations from his famous book, Les Roses, are reproduced online here. Click on the image to see an enlargement.
Many companies stock some older roses, but when you're ready to buy, these people are specialists:
The Antique Rose Emporium
These growers in Texas have chosen many of their old rose varieties for their easy going ways. The site also includes the useful Guide to Antique Roses.