In The Garden: Old 'cabbage roses' have a wonderful scented charm
Some varieties of old roses have been around for hundreds of years, and are quite familiar from paintings of centuries ago. These roses are commonly called 'cabbage roses', because of the flat cabbage-like shape of the flowers, or 'moss roses' if they have a mossy growth of fine filaments on the stems just behind the flowers.
These varieties have wonderful scent. Of all the scented plants that grow in the garden, the rose is still a favourite with many people because few flowers, if any, can match its sweet but elegant perfume, unsurpassed when drawn fresh from a sun-warmed bloom.
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The old roses, mostly raised before 1900, are usually double-flowered and full, and carried in a great mid-summer flush of flowers. But a major contribution to breeding these old roses has been made by an English breeder David Austin. His varieties aim to combine manageable size and disease resistance with good colour, old rose shape and old rose perfume.
And he has been outstandingly successful with popular varieties such as single 'Graham Thomas', yellow, 'Mary Rose', pink, and peachy yellow, 'Teasing Georgia'. In spite of these new introductions, a wide range of old roses is still seen in gardens, either as old surviving plants, or more recently planted due to the renewed popularity of old roses.
There is also a good range of old varieties to be found now in garden centres, much more than a decade or so ago. It is a good idea to see these varieties in flower in a garden centre before buying.
Many kinds flower around now and there is an excellent display in St Anne's Rose Garden in Raheny in Dublin, which is free to the public. Some kinds flower only once, others repeat-flower.
It is common to see old roses growing out of a hedge along a country road, surviving long after a cottage it was planted beside has gone.
People often have had an old rose in the family for years, pieces of it rooted and transported to a new location and passed on to younger generations.
Among old roses there are several groups, generally linked to a species from which they were bred. The cabbage roses and moss roses go back at least three centuries. Gallica roses were bred from a species cultivated in France from the early Middle Ages. Damask roses, which are sweetly scented, are thought to have arrived in Europe at the time of the Crusades. Alba roses, mostly pale pink, have been grown since the 15th Century.
If you want to raise an old rose, this can be done from cuttings now. Choose a flowering shoot about 25cms long. Remove the flower and take the leaves from the bottom half.
Insert it in a pot of peat and coarse sand mix and cover with a plastic bag. Most will root within a few weeks.
When white roots emerge from the bottom of the pot, wait a couple of weeks and then transfer the cutting, now rooted, into a larger pot by itself.