Modern Roses twelve lists something over 30,000 named cultivars of roses. Of those, considerably less than one percent can be found at the local nursery or big-box store. Perhaps not more than ten percent can even be found in commerce around the world. The great embarrassment of riches in the variety of roses that have been built up over centuries of work by rose breeders is reduced immeasurably by other factors. With its catalogue of roses running into the thousands, one of the forces fighting the disappearance of good roses for more than two decades is Vintage Gardens Roses.
David Austin’s work revolutionized rose breeding. Even rose breeders who once might have believed that the only rose they could ever sell would be a high-centered hybrid tea style rose came to understand that cold hardiness, vigor in cool summer climates, and resistance to blackspot and mildew had all become necessary qualities in commercially successful roses. The form of the plant became important, too.
With so many new things happening at once near the turn of the twentieth century, it’s very difficult to characterize the progress of rose development or of rose gardening very simply. It was developing on many fronts. Hybrid tea roses were being developed. Hybrid perpetuals still ruled the show benches. Climbers and ramblers were being planted widely in Europe and the US alike. Polyanthas and shrub roses popped up in gardens and parks across Northern Europe.
New Forms, New Colors
As the ninteenth century wore to a close, the destiny of roses had been changing for some time thanks to new forms and colors. One of the early tea roses, Safrano, was blessed with an unusually elegant form in bud. It is the high-centered bud that we associate today with the most photogenic of the cutting roses. Most tea roses have the same form in bud. And most of the hybrid tea roses released into commerce today have that too. For more than two decades around the middle of the ninteenth century tea roses remained distinct from hybrid perpetual roses – partly because interbreeding them is fraught with difficulties. In any case, the breeding of new tea roses would continue along a parallel path through the first several decades of the twentieth century.
“I have loved only Napoleon and roses” Jean Pierre Vibert a French breeder of roses in the month of his death, January1866 at the age of 89. The Quest for the Rose p 105.
The rose has been cultivated in the west at least as far back in time as the Babylonian civilization. At the start of the nineteenth century, China was about as far along in rose breeding as was the west, so it is not unreasonable to believe that the culture of the rose might be at least as old in the far east. There are stories about Romans cultivating great fields of roses and using their petals in imperial celebrations. There are stories of knights returning from the crusades and bringing with them garden roses from Persia and Assyria. There are reasons to believe that the roses painted by Rembrandt’s contemporary Rachel Ruysch were special cultivars of local (Dutch) breeding. Indeed the rose has been entwined with human culture for millennia; but the real start of rose history, of large scale distribution, and of intense rose breeding begins with Empress Josephine’s garden at Malmaison.