As part of rose fortnight we thought we’d give you a guide to this iconic flower.
Roses are one of the most loved flowers. Due to their ties with romance, they are especially popular in bouquets at Valentine’s Day. But people all over the world grow roses, from the miniature varieties that thrive happily in pots to the huge climbers.
We spoke to Interflora florist Neil Whittaker, of Design Element Flowers in Irlam, Manchester, to find out more.
Fossil evidence tells us that the rose is around 35 million years old. But in comparison, the cultivation of roses in gardens is fairly recent. It began about 5,000 years ago in China.
Roses are all over our history – images of roses have been found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians, they grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and in King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.
During the Middle Ages roses were mainly grown for their medicinal purposes. They were said to treat all sorts of inflammations and sicknesses. The Roman writer Pliny recorded 32 disorders that responded to treatment with rose preparations.
Wild roses have been growing in Britain for thousands of years, but more hardy varieties were brought over from China because of their ability to bloom repeatedly. Until the 1800s roses had only been used in Europe for medicinal purposes.
Soon rose gardens began popping up all over Europe so everyone could enjoy the brightly coloured, strongly scented flowers.
The roses we know today are the result of hybridisation with the roses from China. They are bred specifically for their ability to bloom repeatedly. The hybridisation of roses began in the 17th century and is still continuing today. Countless varieties have been introduced and the number is still growing.
Types of rose
Hybrid Tea roses are known for their perfect blooms and gorgeous scents. They are great repeat bloomers, as long as you deadhead them.
Grandiflora roses are one of the larger types, with large blossoms which often grow in clusters. As well as growing tall, they also tend to spread out so bear this in mind when planting them.
Floribunda roses are very hardy and extremely easy to grow, they bloom repeatedly and have a lovely bushy shape to them.
Polyantha roses are similar to Floribundas but older. They were never as intensely bred, which makes them much less hardy. But they bloom all season long making them a very rewarding rose to grow.
Shrub rose is a common term for low growing roses that often have old-fashioned blooms. They are cold and disease-resistant but have very little fragrance.
Miniature roses are compact rose bushes with small flowers and leaves. They are great for small gardens or growing in containers. Most varieties don’t give off much of a fragrance.
Climbers and ramblers are very pliable and can be trained to grow on a trellis or arch. They are great for adding vertical colour to any garden, but they are especially good for small gardens with little floor space.
Antique garden roses are the ancestors of the modern roses we know today. They are loved for their old fashioned blooms and are relatively easy to grow.
Rugosa roses are very hardy and are great by the seaside or in less than ideal soil types. They usually continue surviving even if they are neglected.
Neil Whittaker says: “There are new varieties of roses coming out all the time, which is really exciting for florists. I love Rosa ‘Esperance’, a large headed rose that looks cream and green when tight but opens up to reveal a pale pink centre. It is fabulous in arrangements and very popular as a wedding flower.
“Roses offer something for everyone – there are so many styles and colours available from blowsy, scented garden varieties to miniature spray and tea roses. They are both beautiful and incredibly versatile and can be used in so many different ways.”
Roses in medicine
Long before they were used to brighten up a garden, roses were used to treat all sorts of ailments. In medieval times rose water was widely used. It was claimed that it could cure trembling, constipation, skin infections and insomnia.
Rose petal infusions could apparently help with acne and sore eyes. Arab doctors gave rose jelly for tuberculosis.
In medieval times pot pourri made from roses was used to freshen rooms and clothes. Roses were also used in bouquets and garlands to ensure that nasty smells were kept at bay while brightening up a room.
Today, roses are used to treat a number of ailments from coughs and colds to rheumatism.
Back in Victorian times the rose was a big part of the language of flowers. It was a time that showing deep emotions was frowned upon, so people learned to express themselves using flowers. So when an open white rose was sent the sender was really asking ‘will you love me?’
Neil Whittaker adds: “Many people are aware of different meanings for different colours of the rose – yellow for friendship, red for passion and so on. It harks back to the Victorian days when the language of flowers was fashionable and messages could be sent by suitors depending on the type and colour of flowers sent.”
The meaning of roses has changed a little; take a look below at our modern meanings of roses:
• White roses – purity and innocence
• Red roses – passion and love
• Yellow roses – friendship
• Pink roses – perfect happiness
• Orange roses – fascination
• Coral roses – desire
Red roses can mean congratulations and thank you, but on Valentine’s Day, February 14, they’re usually reserved for messages of love. Neil says: “Despite the enormous variety of flowers to choose from on Valentine’s Day, a dozen red roses remains the classic choice to express romantic feelings.
“There aren’t any hard and fast rules about using different colours together in arrangements. The colour schemes can be linked back to the colour wheel, which many people remember from school art classes. Contrasting schemes that use opposites, such as purple and yellow, work well.
“Monochromatic schemes use different tints, tones and shades of one colour and polychromatic schemes mix many different hues in varying amounts. You can also use colours to achieve different visual effects, for example grouping ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ colours.”
The red rose is the national emblem of England and is associated with St George’s Day, April 23. It is also the national flower of several American states and the province of Alberta in Canada. The rose once served as the national emblem of Honduras too.
How to grow and care for roses
Neil says: “For cut roses we always advise customers that they can double the vase life of their roses by trimming the stems by a quarter of an inch or so every couple of days. Many people think roses don’t last more than a few days but if they are bought from a reputable florist and looked after there is no reason why you can’t get 7-10 days from them.”
As for garden roses this depends greatly on the type of rose you are trying to grow, some might be hardier than others.
You should select a site with at least four hours of a sun a day and roses grow best when their roots are not in competition with other plants, so make sure they have adequate space. But if you are planting ramblers they tend to grow well near trees.
If you have the space then English roses and Antique roses all look great planted in groups of three or more, as they will grow together to form one dense shrub.
Try and plant with about 50cm between each rose plant in the group and one metre away from other plants.
Because roses are so versatile they grow in all sorts of soil types. But you must prepare the soil well before planting; make sure you add in compost or well-rotted manure to help growth.
Neil Whittaker says: “When we sell indoor rose plants we advise customers that they can be planted outside, after flowering, in well-drained soil. Adding a root growth product, such as Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi, to the soil is also a good idea to help the plants establish a strong root system.”
If the roots of your new rose plant are bare make sure you plant them as soon as possible and don’t let the roots dry out. When planted the base of the stem should be 7.5cm below ground level.
Containerised roses should be soaked for 30 minutes before planting and then watered generously until the plant has established itself.
Mulch the plant in spring preferably using well-rotted manure as this will help to encourage strong growth and more flowers.
The best way to have healthy roses is to plant disease-resistant varieties, such as the Cheshire or Lady X, both Hybrid Tea roses. Neil says: “Many suppliers carry rose varieties that have been specially bred to resist disease, which is worth looking out for.”
Excessive nitrogen can also make roses more susceptible to disease. An occasional spray can help, especially at the start of the growing season. Prevention is better than cure, so try using a preventative fungicidal spray to ensure that your roses stay fungus free.
Deadheading is very important with roses, as most are repeat bloomers and will only do so when you remove the dead flowers. Deadheading regularly will help the roses to continue producing beautiful flowers throughout the season.
Neil says: “Whether the plant is indoors or outdoors we also recommend that a specialist rose plant food is used during the growing and flowering seasons, along with regular deadheading to help prolong flowering.”
You should prune your roses in the winter. It’s best to do this in January or February, although it can be left until early spring if you live in a particularly cold climate. On all plants the weak, old and dead stems should be removed to provide room for new growth.
For more information on Neil Whittaker or Design Element Flowers visit www.designelementflowers.com or call 0161 775 7039.
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