And now for something completely different...Roses!
When I'm not writing books, I'm gardening, and somehow or other, I stumbled into roses. Ouch. When I started growing roses, I discovered the old garden varieties grew best for me and I became increasingly intrigued by the history of roses. In fact, I became so engrossed in roses that I even included them in several of my books, including Smuggled Rose and A Rose Before Dying.
Below are some of my notes about roses and their fascinating history. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps discover a few old garden roses you'd like to try out in your garden.
I'm not the only one fascinated by roses. This flower has been described, and treatises written about how to grow roses by many ancient writers, including:
· The Greek, Theophrastus
· The Romans, Varro, Columella, Palladius, and Pliny.
· The entire fourth chapter of Pliny's 20th book on Natural History is devoted to the rose.
Roses were used among the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others in their religious, public, and even their private lives. The Romans apparently preferred to propagate roses by cuttings, since this yielded blooming plants much more quickly than raising them by seed.
Many of the Roman and Greek writers refer to the roses of
The number of rose varieties may have been limited in ancient times to a few spring/summer blooming varieties, but they had a lot of "tricks" to get them to bloom in off seasons. Pliny wrote that in
Nero was so extravagant that it is recorded that at one fete alone he spend more than four million sesterces, or one hundred thousand dollars (probably more now, due to inflation) in roses alone. The roses were used to wreath their crowns, for garlands, and to cover their tables, couches and the ground. They used them to surround the urns containing the ashes of the dead.
Heliogabalus used so many rose petals at his banquet that some were suffocated on their couches.
Lucius Aurelius Verus had a couch made with four cushions made of very fine net, and filled with rose petals.
Rosalia is a Roman feast celebrating the rose, held each year on May 23.
A rose suspended over a Roman banqueting couch was used to indicate to guests that the conversation was sub rosa and therefore, confidential. This convention was maintained well into the Middle Ages.
Romans often got their winter's supply of roses from Egypt, but eventually learned how to produce roses in winter through the use of green-houses heated by pipes filled with hot water. During the reign of Domitian, this process for forcing roses in winter was so successful that they looked down with scorn on anyone who continued to import roses from
Roses were cultivated in
In order to ship roses, the Egyptians in
The earliest rose concoctions were Greek in origin. They steeped rose petals in olive or vegetable oil. Later they learned that slowly heating rose petals in water could produce rose water, but it doesn't smell very strongly because not all of the oils in the rose can be dissolved in hot water.
Greeks often planted garlic near the roots of roses and thought this helped the fragrance.
In the East, the author Abu-Abdallah-ebu-el-Fazel described four roses: the Double White with more than 100 petals; the Yellow; the Purple; and the flesh-colored which is the most common of them all. He also says that the number of species is large, with the Mountain or Wild; the Double which is variegated with red and white shades; and the Chinese. The Double, he says, is the most beautiful and have 40-50 petals.
The Moors in
Choose one which is used to periodical waterings, then deprive it of water entirely during the heat of the summer, until August, and then give it an abundance of moisture. This will hasten its growth and cause the expansion of flowers with great profusion, without impairing its ability to bloom the next spring as usual.
Or, a second method: In October, burn the old branches to the ground, moisten the soil for 8 days and then stop watering. Alternate periods of moisture and drought as many as five times and in 60 days, or before the end of autumn, the roots will have thrown out vigorous branches which will be loaded with blooms, without impairing the plant's ability to bloom again in the spring.
Roses were widely cultivated in the Middle Ages and often worn by knights at tournaments as the emblem of their devotion to grace and beauty.
The Crusades introduced new roses into
When Saladin retook
The demand for roses was so great in
Among the New Year gifts to Queen Mary in 1556 was a bottle of rose-water.
In an account of a grant of a great part of Ely House, Holborne, by the Bishop of Ely, to Christopher Hatton, for twenty-one years, the tenant covenants to pay, on midsummer-day, a red rose for the gate-house and garden, and for the ground (fourteen acres) ten loads of hay and ten pounds per annum; the Bishop reserving to himself and successors free access through the gate-house for walking in the gardens and gathering twenty bushels of roses yearly.
By the Renaissance, the Dutch and Flemish painters discovered roses and painted the lovely Centifolia. If a rich buyer wanted a yellow "Rose of Provence" (Centifolia) they could certainly have one! (Even if it didn't exist in nature!)
John Gerard's Herball in 1597 listed 16 different roses, grown in his Holborn garden.
John Parkinson (apothecary to King James I) published Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris in 1629 and lists 29 roses.
Mary Lawrance's work, A collection of Roses from Nature (the first monograph on roses) in 1795 listed nearly 90 roses.
Pierre-Joseph Redoute published Les Roses between 1817 and 1824, and expanded the list of cultivated roses to nearly 170. The is probably the most famous and influential work on roses.
By 1848, some 1,500 different roses were listed, described, and offered for sale by William Paul's "The Rose Garden" catalogue. There were nearly 800 Alba, Centifolia, Moss, Damask, and Gallica Roses. But, by the time of the 10th edition in 1910, this list of old roses fell to below 90 roses or around 20%, and the bulk of the roses were now as we know them: Hybrid Teas and other remontent classes.
This is obviously just a glimpse of the history, but at least it shows you what a valuable and wonderful plant the rose truly is. Can you imagine being able to lease land by just allowing the owner to come and pick roses from the gardens?