Roses remain one of the nation’s favourite flowers, loved for their beauty and fragrance.
Here at Interflora we’ve built up quite a knowledge bank on this most attractive of flowers, so – here’s our definitive guide to roses.
A history of roses
Fossil evidence tells us the rose pre-dates humans and is more than 35 million years old. In comparison, garden cultivation of roses is fairly recent. It began around 5,000 years ago in China.
The ancient Greeks and Romans identified roses with their goddesses of love – the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus.
Roses appear in both Roman and Greek murals. It seems the Romans liked to shower important guests with rose petals and fill their mattresses with them.
The Romans also used roses in medicine. The philosopher, Pliny, believed the rose gall – a reddish yellow ball formed on rose plants by the egg of the gall wasp – would cure everything. It was used to ward off whooping cough, was said to cure hair loss in men and could relieve kidney stones.
Wild roses have grown in Britain for thousands of years. Others were introduced during Roman times and many rose varieties were brought over from Jerusalem by the crusaders. Roses were widely grown in medieval monasteries to be used in medicine.
The roses we see today are the result of a hybridisation with roses from China, chosen for their hardiness and ability to bloom repeatedly. The hybridisation of roses began in the 17th century and since then countless varieties have been introduced. More and more continue to appear every year.
Today one of the main centres for producing roses, mainly for the perfume industry, is Kazanlak in Bulgaria. Each year, to celebrate the harvest, the people of Kazanlak hold their annual Rose Festival.
Locals dress in traditional clothing to sing, dance and pick roses. Then everyone heads to the rose museum, where the rose queen is crowned.
Kazanlak isn’t the only place to hold a rose festival. Tyler in Texas, known as the rose capital of the USA, also holds an annual celebration. Other festivals also take place in Portland in Oregon and St Lucia.
Rose oil is one of the most widely used in perfumes and aromatherapy products. But to get just 30g of rose oil you need about 125 kg of rose petals.
Rose varieties today
Thanks to hybridisation there are now hundreds of different roses available in a rainbow of colours. They can be grouped into four main categories:
• Small flowered
• Medium flowered
• Large flowered
• Spray roses
In recent years the dominant varieties of roses have included:
• Black Bacarra – with burgundy-black petals
• Circus – a bicolour yellow
• Toscanini – a peach variety
• Milano – a pretty purple-pink
• Cezanne – a beautiful mix of pink and cream
• David Austin Roses – these are the English Roses guaranteed to bloom fully and are available all year round. These cut roses have the fragrance of established garden roses.
The earliest varieties of roses remain as popular as ever. These include:
• Rosa Gallica, introduced to Britain by the Romans
• Rosa Damascene, brought back by the crusaders
• Rosa Spinosissima, a wild 17th century variety
The main countries producing cut roses for the UK are Holland, Colombia and Kenya.
The meaning of roses
During Victorian times discussing deep emotions was generally frowned upon. This led to the development of sending messages in the flowers you sent. Different flowers, colours and the number of flowers could all mean different things. They would be sent to convey deep emotions that couldn’t be talked about.
Roses played a huge part in this secret language. They were taken very seriously and an intricate set of meanings developed.
The Victorians’ language of roses:
• A red rose bud – budding desire
• An open white rose – will you love me?
• An open red rose – I’m full of love and desire
• An open yellow rose – don’t you love me any more?
Roses – their modern meaning
Today roses are still used to communicate feelings. With more colours readily available, more interpretations have developed.
Red roses can also mean congratulations and thank you. But on Valentine’s Day, February 14, they’re usually reserved for messages of love.
The number of roses can play a big part in the meaning of your bouquet too.
• 1 – love at first sight
• 2 – mutual love between both
• 3 – I love you
• 4 – I love you very much
• 5 – I love you, I miss you
• 7 – I’m infatuated with you
• 9 – together as long as we live
• 10 – you are perfect
• 11 – you are my treasured one; the one I love most in my life
• 12 – be my steady
• 13 – forever friends or you have a secret admirer
• 15 – I am truly sorry, please forgive me
• 20 – I am sincere to you
• 21 – I am committed to you
• 24 – you are always on my mind
• 100 – I am totally devoted to you, until death
The red rose is the national emblem of England and men and women often wear it on St George’s Day, April 23.
It is also the national flower of the Untied States and Maldives, as well as being the official flower of several American states and the province of Alberta in Canada. The rose once served as the national emblem of Honduras too.
Roses in medicine
In medieval times rose water was widely used to cure a number of ailments. It was claimed that it could cure trembling, constipation, skin infections and insomnia. Some even said it was a cure for drunkenness.
Rose petal infusions could apparently help with acne and sore eyes, while Arab doctors gave rose jelly for tuberculosis.
During the middle ages, when proper sewage systems were unheard of, pot pourri made from roses was used to freshen rooms and clothes. Sweet smelling roses were also used in bouquets and garlands to brighten up rooms and festivals while keeping nasty smells away.
Today, herbalists use roses to treat a number of ailments, from coughs and colds to rheumatism. For more information visit Neal’s Yard Remedies.
Growing and caring for roses
Roses are relatively simple to grow and, if looked after properly, will flower all summer long. Make sure you know how to prepare soil for your roses and how to feed, mulch and water them.
Choosing your variety
With so many types to choose from, Clay Perry, the highly acclaimed flower photographer, says you should go to a specialist nursery. That way you can see roses growing and get expert advice on choosing the ones right for your garden.
No matter how small or large the space you have for roses is there will be a type that fits. And if you choose well enough you can enjoy a summer-long flowering season.
Getting the best results from your rose plants
David Austin, a world-renowned rose guru and the man widely credited with bringing us English Roses, gives us his tips for getting the best out of your roses. The following is from his book Handbook of Roses 2009/10:
Planting time: Containerised roses can be planted all year round.
Planting position: Select a site with at least four hours of sun each day. Make sure the roots of the rose will not be in competition with the roots of other plants, especially trees and hedges. The exception to this rule is ramblers, which grow well near trees.
Planting distances: If you have the space, English roses, old roses and other shrub roses look superb planted in groups of three or more of one variety. They will grow together to form one dense shrub. This will provide a more continuous display and make a more definite statement.
Plant about 50cm apart within the group and about one metre between plants of other varieties.
Soil type: Roses grow in a wide range of soils but they do appreciate good soil preparation. The addition of well rotted manure or garden compost before planting will help growth.
Planting: Plant bare root roses as soon as possible. The roots should never be allowed the dry out. When planted, the base of the stems should be about 7.5cm below ground level. If immediate planting is impossible, keep the roses in a sealed bag or box in a cold but frost-free place.
Containerised roses should be soaked for 30 minutes or so just prior to planting. Water generously until the plant is well established.
Feeding, mulching and watering: Feeding, generous mulching and occasional deep watering will help encourage strong growth and more flowers. Mulch in spring, preferably using well-rotted manure or garden compost.
Preventing disease: The best way to keep your roses healthy is to choose a disease resistant variety. Excessive nitrogen can make roses more susceptible to pests and diseases. An occasional spray can help, especially at the start of a season before symptoms develop. Beware of frosts the night after spraying as the will scorch the leaves badly.
It is best to prevent disease and bugs than to try and cure them once the infection appears. Fungal diseases in roses are best prevented with a preventative fungicidal spray.
Aphids also present a big problem to roses. The most natural way to keep them at bay is to encourage ladybirds into your garden as they will prey on the aphids, keeping the population down.
Winter pruning: Pruning is very easy. In the UK and other countries with mild winters January or February is the best time. In countries with colder winters pruning should be delayed until spring growth is just starting.
On all plants remove very weak, old, woody and dead stems.
Rose cultivation: English Roses
David Austin transformed the world of flowers when he developed a breeding programme the produces roses that bloom fully and are available all year round. English Roses also have the fantastic smell of garden roses.
Not only are these roses superior in their smell and flowering ability but they have also proven to be among the most disease free varieties. Commonly known as English Roses, they have rapidly become some of the most highly desired flowers in the world.
Uses: Ideal for gift bouquets, home arrangements and all kinds of special occasions. Their glorious, garden-inspired style sets them completely apart from other roses.
Derivation: English Roses are a comparatively new group of roses, which were first introduced in the 1970s. They were a cross between certain Old Roses, Modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas.
Form: The English Rose mimics the Old Rose – cup or rosette-shaped with lots of small petals that may turn downward to provide a domed flower. The foliage of English roses is diverse and pleasing in itself.
Growth: Natural, shrubby plant growth makes the English rose perfect for the garden. Usually no more than 5ft in height, they may be bushy or gracefully arching. Some stand upright, creating the prefect backdrop behind other flowers.
Fragrance: English Roses produce a variety of distinctive fragrances, which is one big reason for their popularity. Tea rose, musk rose, myrrh and fruity smells are just a few of the delightful scent notes you might notice and enjoy.
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