The Old Roses

Monday, June 22, 2015 - by Timothy Fraser

La Reine Victoria

Old historic roses differ from modern hybrid tea roses in many ways. Most have a richer, headier and superior scent; they have softer, more delicate tints or have much deeper, richer colourings. They all make larger shrubs than hybrid tea roses, developing a more relaxed, informal shape and requiring less pruning than modern roses.

In our garden of ancient roses, the first variety I wish to focus on is Madame Isaac Pereire, a bourbon rose which is flowering early in our Rose Garden this year. Bourbon Roses, named after the Ile de Bourbon in the Indian Ocean where they were started and first recorded in 1824, were very popular with the early Victorian gardener. The variety is highly valued by those that grow her, and cherished for her powerful fragrance and repeat flowering.

Bourbon rose 'Madame Issac Pereire'

Bourbon rose ‘Madam Isaac Pereire’ - a sumptuous beauty

I suspect that Gertrude Jekyll would have disapproved of the colour as magenta was an anathema to her – but I think she is a beauty! She has a tendency to develop blackspot later in the season, but spraying with RoseClear will prevent this, as well as all other rose ailments.

Madam Isaac Pereire has her roots bedded deep in French history, being named after the wife of one of the Pereire brothers – great financiers and bankers during the reign of Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon III.

Mme Isaac Pereire offers us her best, most sumptuous, luxurious display in autumn when her scent is almost too intoxicating.

Mme Issac Pereire

Bourbon rose, the sumptuous and intoxicating scented ‘Madam Isaac Pereire’ when well-grown on deep and rich soils has no peer – a rose to treasure for all time

La Reine Victoriana

La Reine Victoria

Another Bourbon Rose growing well in our Rose Garden right now is La Reine Victoria. This rose and its sport, Mme Pierre Oger, which also has a special corner in the rose garden, are unique period pieces. The sport is regarded as being more refined than her parent, having more delicate colouring; and, in general, tends to be more popular. La Reine Victoria is a slender, six foot lady of great charm and elegance. Lilac pink and wonderfully fragrant with blooms that flower freely and repeatedly – La Reine Victoria is a rose I most treasure.

La Reine Victoria

La Reine Victoria

Another group of roses is the Hybrid Perpetuals. They have one advantage over the older Gallica and Alba roses – they repeat.

This is Baron Girod de l’Ain, a variety which is the simple result of an accident occasioned in the nurseries run by Monsieur Reverchon of Moulin-a-Vent, France in 1897. The flowers are large with deep, dark crimson serrated petals, each, surprisingly, finely edged with white. The Baron repeats well under good conditions and has a rich fragrance.

rosa Baron Girod de l,Ain scrambling through a Lutyens bench

rosa Baron Girod de l'Ain scrambling through a Lutyens bench

Another remarkable hybrid perpetual is Souvenir du Docteur Jamain, first introduced in 1865. This rose was brought back into circulation by Vita Sackville-West. On a visit to Hollamby Nurseries, Groombridge, Vita found a dying and neglected example of this rose and asked for permission to dig it up. With care and nurture, it thrived at Sissinghurst and was then distributed across nurseries. He has deep, wine-coloured blooms clouded over with murrey purple and is very fragrant. He thrives best out of strong sun, where his blooms fade and burn, so a shady site suits him best.

rosa 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain'

rosa 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain

The China roses, another group of roses represented in our garden, were first introduced over here from China in 1792. This is Old Blush, or ‘the monthly rose’, so-called because it flowers every month from late spring/early summer right through to Christmas, if the winter weather is not too harsh. It has been grown in China for over a thousand years and is known there as Yue Yue Fen, translating to ‘monthly pink’. The petals deepen to a darker shade of pink as they age and they give off a scent reminiscent of sweet peas. No rose garden is complete without this treasure of a rose.

Old Blush - the monthly rose

Old Blush - the monthly rose

rosa gallica Cardinal de Richlieu

the rosa gallica Cardinal de Richlieu

old moss rose William Lobb

and the old moss rose William Lobb

rosa gallica Charles de Mills


rosa gallica Charles de Mills

rosa gallica mundi

rosa gallica mundi

Companion planting

Many old roses have a short-lived flowering period of only a month, but in that month they more than make up for this brevity, giving everything they have into an all-out visual burst. But, I believe that because of the unparalleled characteristics and qualities that emerge in this brief show, they deserve every bit of care, love and attention you can give!

With others, like the Bourbons, the Chinas, the Hybrid Perpetuals, the Rugosas and the Hybrid Musks, repeat or continue to flower all summer.

But they all benefit from companion planting as a backdrop, which both provides continued interest and adds variety to the garden as a whole, as well as enhancing the floral and foliage display of the roses.

The roses in our White and Rose Gardens enjoy the company of rosemary, hardy groundcover geraniums, ferns, catmints, ladies mantle, grasses, knotweed and other perennials. We have used these to soften the roses. Variegated and modern plants are avoided because they would jar with the ‘old’ feel of the garden.

Architectural plants are used sparingly and plants that would create a sharp contrast in foliage are avoided, but appear infrequently. This helps to create a very soft, almost unplanned planting feel in many areas of the garden. Amongst this relaxed and haphazard scheme, the garden’s structured elements rely on formal beech and box hedges, as well as a subtle peppering of statues and vases.

centaurea montana - the cornflower

Centaurea montana – the cornflower - mixes well with old roses

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