Antique Roses are generally considered heritage species roses that have been found in the wild, often originally from eastern Asia, including China and Japan and have been the parents or grandparents of our more modern roses. They have beautiful foliage, colourful canes, stems, leaves and autumn rosehips. Often they are powerfully armed with thorns like Rosa ‘pimpinellifolia’.
Among the species roses are the Rugosa roses, Gallicas, Damasks, Portlands, Bourbons and Albas. They often only have one annual flowering in spring but this is followed by wonderful autumn colour on foliage and magnificent displays of rose hips. You hardly have to look after them, simply take pride in being able to trip their names off your tongue to visitors “Oh, do let me introduce you to my special friends Roseraie de l’Hay or Rosa sericea subsp.omeiensis ‘Atrosanguinea’.” Do try them! Here are some that grow well in my garden.
Rosa Mutabilis, its’ common name is “The Butterfly Rose”, a name which you understand at once when you see it in flower as it’s single crepe like petals open pale yellow, changing through orange to a rich pink and finally crimson often showing these stages all at once looking as if a flock of multi-colored butterflies has settled on it. In my garden where it has grown for six years it is a small delicate bush with dark reddish bronze branches of no more than 60 -70cm, but apparently ‘Mutabilis’ will grow to 2m. I have never pruned these bushes as I look forward to the tiny hips in autumn.
Rosa ‘Portlandica’ or the Portland rose, although named in 1782 after the Duchess of Portland it is thought to be a much older rose originating in the Italian region of Paestum and possibly to be the rose that appears on the garden frescos at Pompeii. In the centre of the bright red, semi-double, well scented flowers a burst yellow stamens shine forth. The plant has dense foliage and grows to 90cm. As this rose can have flowers and rose hips at the same time in autumn, I give them a short haircut in spring after the first blooms – removing 80% of the first blooms just passed.
Rosa Rugosa originaly thought to be from China, it is the parent to many wonderful plants including ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ and the Grootendorst cultivars. By far it’s most wonderful features are the very large cherry tomato sized hips (always organic of course) from which can be made many wonderful and healthy (they have much more vitamin C than oranges) jams and vinegars or I even use it in an apricot facial oil. At the very least you can dry a few bunches of hips and have some lovely tea through autumn and winter.
Here are some other old roses that I grow and can recommend. Many of these are perfect if you are planning a medieval or herb garden. I also think that some of the very wild ones like ‘Atrosanguinea’ would look well in ultra modern gardens , contrasting with stone and concrete.
Here I have included some lovely prints from the “Rosarum Monographia” 1820 which would look lovely framed. This book also goes into much depth about the origins of many of the roses mentioned here (you can read it online).