The genus rosa is like a glittering gemstone where each facet reflects its own sparkle, each type of rose reflecting the interest of its admirer.

And there are many admirers of ‘Heritage Roses’, an all embracing term which covers a diverse range of roses which are also known as ‘old fashioned roses’, ‘roses of yester-year’, ‘cabbage’ roses, shrub roses, old garden roses, and classic roses.

Old roses are survivors. They have survived because they are tough; they have been loved and handed around among friends, or down through generations. They are genuine antiques.

They range from original species, the earliest garden roses, and shrub roses. They are classified under a wide range of rose groups – albas, damasks, gallicas, moss, and centifolias (or cabbage roses) – all originating from Europe. The Tea roses, chinas and rugosa roses, which grow so well all around Australia, came from India, China and Japan. All these roses are the ancestors of our modern roses.

Species roses are the source of all roses. The history of the rose can be traced like a family tree through living examples of species through various classes into the present day.

Species develop into attractive shrubs and rambling climbers with masses of flowers, most producing decorative rosehips (or seedpods) in colours of yellow, orange, red, and even black, and change their foliage to attractive autumn tones with the seasons. Even the foliage has fragrance, which pervades the air for many metres from the plants, of a distinctive aroma of incense, to sweet apple.

Species roses are the toughest of all the roses grown. They are resilient enough to even survive droughts, and known return to new growth after bushfires.

There are many reasons why people grow Heritage roses.

In the garden they add grace and elegance, blossoms festoon through trees and over arches. They are an intrinsic part of the popular cottage garden. They can add authenticity to the garden of an old historic home or cottage. When picked they blend more easily than modern roses in a softer, more natural manner and of course their fragrance is so pure and strong as to be unforgettable.

Their colours blend together in softest hues; there is no clashing of colours. It is interesting to note the old roses developed genuine striped petals 100 years before the modern varieties. The striking bourbon rose ‘Variegata di Bologna’ with its cherry-purple and pale pink stripe, and ‘Vick’s Caprice’ with its subtle two tones of pink stripes, are two favourites.

The Rosa Rugosa group are finding favour at present with their deep green healthy foliage and incredibly bold rich red hips. The white ‘Rugosa Alba’, or pale pink ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’, cherry pink ‘Scabrosa’ and deep magenta ‘Rugspin’ are interesting hedges or shrubs for low maintenance gardens.

There are many thornless roses in the old roses. Climbers such as the yellow and white banksias, pale pink ‘Kathleen Harrop’ and rich pink ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ are delightful climbing over arches or on verandah posts.  The soft apricot ‘Crepuscule’ is very popular being evergreen and thornless, and I must repeat ‘La Marque’ as also nearly thornless. The gallica group are thornless and several hybrid perpetuals also.

Yes, it is true many heritage roses flower only once in the spring, but the anticipation of the first flowers, and the enjoyment of their delightful fragrance and interesting flower forms, their charming blend of colours, will be remembered long after the last petal falls.

But these old roses are such a diverse group; it is possible to select varieties to give continuous flowering for 12 months of the year.

The unique Australian bred rose ‘Lorraine Lee’ is a winter flowering rose, I grow the climber ‘La Marque’ with its large double white fragrant blooms and it flowers until mid winter. The evergreen climbing ‘Rosa Laevigata’ with its huge single white blooms has been known to begin its spring display in early August.

If you are interested in the curiosities of the rose world there is Rosa Chinensis Viridiflora or the Chinese Green rose, the Chestnut Rose or ‘Roxburgii Plena’ a truly botanic curiosity yet charming flower and useful garden plant.

Or perhaps in these stressful days a little rose-hip tea will calm us. (gathered from the species roses) Or make rose water as a skin refresher on hot days using the flowers from the Damask rose Kazanlik.

Then there is the charm of the little sweetheart rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ who has been made into posies for the past 100 years – and is still as popular.

A rose fragrance can quickly bring back memories of Grandma’s roses, or the climbing rose over the outside loo. Without doubt Heritage roses can mean different things to different people, reading of roses through history, the arts, poetry, even Shakespeare had something to say about ‘sweet eglantine’, and these same roses can be grown and enjoyed.

So what are heritage roses. They have been appreciated, and collected, and grown in gardens, above all other flowers, for thousands of years. They are not roses for exhibition or competition at rose shows, nor roses for the florist. But they are sheer delight when freshly picked from the garden and placed in an old jug on the table. Who can resist burying their nose in such a bouquet?

I hope I have revealed to you today the fascinating world of old roses. They are uniquely beautiful, delightfully fragrant, very hardy and versatile garden plants. What more could we want.

In times of stress, or just to relax, we all need to walk in the garden and stop to smell the roses.

What are Heritage roses? They are an affair of the heart.

Created  21/10/2006