Old Garden Roses

The magnificent old garden roses, the first cultivated ornamental roses, charm us with their large, softly hued and highly fragrant blooms.

The year 1867 is the dividing line for old-fashioned and modern roses, as it is when the first modern hybrid, the “La France” hybrid tea rose, was introduced. But what primarily distinguishes modern from old garden roses is the fact that most of the former bloom only once a season, while the latter tend to be repeat bloomers.

According to horticultural classification practiced at the time, all roses belonging to a class established before 1867 are known as old garden roses. Those introduced after that date may be designated as old garden roses if they belong to an existing class or have the same characteristcs.

The name of each group of old garden roses refers to its parentage, with each group being descended from an ancient rose and sharing some of its characteristics. For instance, the gllica roses are all descendants of Rosa gallica.

Bush Roses boast brilliant colours in continuous blooming, uniquely shaped buds and a compact bearing. They are not particularly hardy in Quebec’s climate, and require adequate winter protection. There are three main groups of roses in this category: Hybrid Teas, Floribundas

Hybrid Teas: Extremely popular, with their perfectly shaped and brilliantly coloured large blooms. They are either continuous or recurrent (or repeat) bloomers, i.e. flowering two or three times in a season. Their flowers, one on each stem, are usually double and come in every hue, some of them highly fragrant. Floribundas: These roses are the most prolific bloomers of all modern roses, flowering in profusion continuously from June to October. Their clusters of double or semi-double blooms come in an extremely wide array of colours. Mass plantings of these bushes make particularly striking arrangements. Grandifloras: These roses, with their clasters of flowers, combine the robustness and abundant blooms of the Floribundas with the classic shapes of the hybrid teas.

Old garden roses, delights of yesteryear

Gallica Roses: Probably the forerunner of all cultivated roses. Rosa gallica is the ancestor of this group, which produces deeply shaded flowers, ranging from purple to reddish-blue and violet. Their striking blossoms are short-lived however.

Alba Roses: Their foliage is soft and downy, and their blossoms white, cream or pale pink. They are all descendants of Rosa x alba, which has all but disappeared from the wild.

Centifolia Roses: Produce primarily pale pink, very round, very full-petalled double blooms, with their petals tightly packed like cabbage leaves, which is why they are also called “cabbage roses”. They were named “centifolia” because their flowers were said to have 100 petals. Their ancestor is Rosa x centifolia.

Moss Roses : Derived from a mutation of Rosa x centifolia. Rosa x centifolia “Muscosa” has mossy tissue covering its buds. This trait was then transmitted to all the roses in this category.

Damask Roses: The blooms of these are mainly pink and white, sometimes quartered, in the form of a cup of flattened rosette, and are borne in clusters. This category can be divided into two sub-groups: summer damask and autumn damask roses, all of them descended from Rosa x damascena.

Bourbon Roses: Rosa x borboniana, the ancestor of this group, was discovered on the Isle of Bourbon (now Reunion Island). The Bourbon roses bear mostly pink, double or semi-double, cup-shaped blooms.

China Roses: Probably the ancestors of hybrid tea roses, the China roses have pointed buds and their blooms come in a wide array of hues. This group, descended from Rosa chinensis, has played a key role in the development of roses over the years, giving us modern hybrids with recurrent blooms, brilliant hues, including red, and a more compact bearing, ranging from miniature to climbing forms.

Portland Roses: Also called “damask perpetuals”, the Portland roses are descended from a cross between a damask and a China rose. Their flowers are smaller than those of the damask roses and they bloom again in autumn.

Hybrid Perpetual Roses: Descended from crosses between different groups of old garden roses, these hybrids are considered the forerunners of our modern roses. They bear pointed buds and large, cup-shaped blooms on long stems, and come in a wide range of colours – from white to pink, purple and reddish-brown.


The Rose Garden of the Montreal Botanical Garden is home to the most important groups of hardy old garden roses in the history of rose cultivation. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

red rose

Red rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

white rose

White rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

garden rose

Red Garden rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com


A long rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

white new rose

Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

pink roses

Pink roses. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

bush rose

Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

yellow rose

A yellow rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

sad rose

A sad rose. Photo: © ProvinceQuebec.com

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