Heirloom roses, also called Old Garden Roses, bring enduring romance back to the garden. Not much is known for sure about European cultivars before the 1400s.
Heirloom roses include Alba roses are 1800s hybrids from the Gallicas and a dog rose, likely the Rosa villosa.
Albas white and pink flowers that are strong scent and hardy, blooms that appear once per season. They grow from 6-10 ft (2-3 m) and have lanky growth with lighter leaves that often have a grayish green hue.
Examples of early Albas include ‘Alba Maxima’ and ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’.
Centifolia Roses, the Rose from Provence
The origins of the Old Centifolia roses remain a mystery. You will see these Heirloom roses in many 1400s masterpiece still life paintings. These hyrbrids came from the Netherlands in the 1600s and bare some similarity to Gallica and Damask roses.
They have flowered large cabbage shaped sweet scented pink flowers and bushes that grow up to 4-5 ft (1.5 m).
Early examples include its namesake “Centifolia’ and ‘Unique'.
Damasks roses are the only repeat flowering heirloom rose from Europe. Damasks are a cross between (Rosa gallica x Rosa moschata) x Rosa fedtschenkoana, originated from Asia and came with East-West trading.
Damasks grow 4-6 ft (1.5-2 m) and have large multi-petal flowers.
The most famous early Damask is ‘Quatre Seasons”.
The Damasks that flower in Autumn are known as Damask Perpetuals and from them came the Moss and Portland roses.
This Heirloom rose has the most unusual stems. As the name Moss suggests, Moss rose sepals, calyces and pedicels are covered with a growth that looks like moss. They have a smell of resin.
Early examples of Moss roses include ‘William Lob’ and ‘Salet’ and they are primarily cultivated in France.
Portlands were the product of cultivation in England and are hybrids of Gallicas and repeat flowering, Damasks. Early Portlands include the famous ‘Comte de Chambord’ which has a touch of China rose.
Bourbons come from a crossing of the old China rose 'Parson's Pink', now better known as 'Old Blush, with the Damask 'Quatre Season' on the island of ‘Ile de Bourbon’. Rose lore is the two were together in a hedge and produce a 'spontaneous hybrid'.
An Ile de Bourbon resident sent several of the offspring to friends in France, including the head gardener of the Duc d'Orleans. The specimens were recognized as first of a new race of roses.
French rosarians continued to cross-breed the new variety and currently there are Bourbons in gardens around the world.
Bourbons tend to be hearty shrubs and make excellent climbers. They are repeat flowering roses, 6-10ft (2-3m) tall, with glossy leaves and large scented flowers.
China roses are the oldest roses and can be traced a thousand years back in time. They are ancient hybrids from Rosa gigantean, Rose chinensis and Rosa multiflora. China’s are short rose bushes, constant repeat bloomers and, in hot climates, they are ever-bloomers.
In the 1700s trade between the East and the West brought Chinas to Europe and a new European group of hybrids known as the China rose was born. Examples of early China roses are, ‘Fabvier’ and ‘Hermosa’.
The Tea Rose came to Europe from Southern China in the 1800s. It is similar to the China rose and shares common ancestors. The most important early Tea rose cultivars, named in part for their tea-scented leaves, are ‘Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China’ and ‘Parks Yellow Tea-scented China’.
Tea roses tend to be small rose bushes. They are tender and do well only in warmer Zones such as 7 or above.
In the 1800s Noisette roses were derived from an American hybrid. ‘Champneys’ Pink Cluster’ and were formed from a cross between the wild Rosa moshata and the Old China rose ‘Old Blush’.
Noisettes are known as hardy climbers with small flowers that grow in large clusters and bloom all through the growing season and year round in hotter climates.
Examples of the older Noisettes are ‘Noisette Carnee’ and ‘Bougainville’. Some later crosses include ‘Mme. Alfred Carrier ‘ and ‘Bouquet d’Or’.
Hybrid Perpetual Roses
Hybrid Perpetual roses are descended from China and Portland crosses, have large flowers and can be vigorous growers. They are rare and hard to find.
Early examples include ‘General Jacqueminot’ and ‘Jules Margottin’.
Old Rose Climbers
Two old rose climbing species were also transformed in the late 1800s. From the Rosa multiflora came the Multiflora rambler and from Rosa mishurana came the Wichurana ramblers.
Examples of early Wichurana ramblers include ‘Alberic Barbier’ and “Dr. W. Van Fleet”. Some early Multiflora ramblers include ‘Tausendschon’ and ‘Goldfinch’.
Seedlings of the Wichurana and the Multiflora turned out to be dwarf shrubs, with no climbing inclination. They were hardy and had large clusters of vibrant flowers. They came to be known as the Polyanthas.
Early examples of these include ‘Katherine Zeimet’ and ‘Maman Turbat’.