Divine Damasks

Rosa × damascena, more commonly known as the Damask Rose, or sometimes as the Rose of Castile, is a rose hybrid, whose parents include Rosa gallica, Rosa moschata and Rosa fedtschenkoana. While thought to have originated in the Middle East, it is now thought that it developed in the foothills of Central Asia. It has been cultivated since Ancient Egyptian times and the Autumn Damask is thought to have been the Four Seasons Rose of Paestum, described by ancient Roman writers. Crusader, Robert de Brie, is credited with introducing the rose to Europe from Syria in 1254, hence its naming after the capital of Syria, Damascus. Others suggest that the Romans brought the rose with them to Britain. The rose below is a very famous old Damask called York and Lancaster.blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-19-13-39-08 There were two types originally. The Summer Damask, a light pink rose, which only flowered in Summer; and the Autumn Damask, R. damascena bifera, also known as Quatre Saisons, which is a rather prickly shrub, with spreading growth and leaves running right up to and enclosing medium pink, loosely-double flowers, borne singly or in small clusters, with a moderate fragrance and some repeat-flowering into Autumn. In fact, the Autumn Damask is the only Old European rose to flower more than once and is used for making potpourri.blogdivinedamasksreszd20img_9496 There is also a white sport, Quatre Saisons Blanc Mousseux, which is very similar to Quatre Saisons, except for the white colour and the fine brownish-green moss on both stems and buds, as is very obvious in these photos below. The stems are very prickly like its parent.blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-19-13-07-38blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-19-13-07-43blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-19-13-09-08blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-19-13-09-19 A symbol of love and beauty, the Damask Rose is highly fragrant with a distinctive Damask fragrance and is grown commercially for rose oil (both rose otto and rose absolute), rose water and other culinary products. Bulgaria (especially the area around Kazanlak in the Valley of the Roses) and Turkey are the largest producers of rose oil, which is used in the perfume industry. Bulgaria produces Bulgarian rose oil or Bulgarian rose otto, while in Turkey, it is sold as rose oil, Turkish rose otto and R. damascena attar. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbDrwg-HWzw.  Rose oil is also produced in Afghanistan (near Kabul), India and France. This is a photo of Kazanlik, the rose grown extensively in Bulgaria since 1420.blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-178 The Iranian physician, Avicenna, is credited with the discovery of the process for extracting rose water from the petals back in the early 11th century. Rose water is used extensively in Indian, Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine for flavouring meat and chicken dishes, jam, yoghurt, icecream, rice pudding, and even Turkish delight and Turrón, a Valencian nougat. It is also used as a skin toner and in the treatment of depression. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEA0HzeQ-vo.

The fresh petals can be used as a garnish  or can be preserved in sugar (gulkand, which is used in Ayurvedic medicine). Rose powder is an ingredient in the Moroccan spice mixture, Ras el Hanout, (http://www.anediblemosaic.com/ras-el-hanout-moroccan-spice-mix/) and there is even a herbal tea made from the petals called zhourat. See: https://mountoftabbouleh.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/i-found-a-perfect-tea-recipe-in-lebanon/.

Damask roses are also important, because of their major role in the breeding of a host of new rose families, including Centifolias, Bourbons, Portlands and Hybrid Perpetual roses.


Deciduous tall shrub, up to 1.5 m height, with a sprawling, lax growth habit and informal shape.

Stems are covered in stout, curved prickles and stiff bristles.

Leaves are pinnate, usually with 5 leaflets only; are elongated and pointy; have a grey-green colour; and are downy underneath.

The buds have elongated sepals, a distinguishing feature of this rose family, as can be seen in the photo of Kazanlik below.

Flowers are relatively small; vary in colour from light to moderate pink and light red; grow in small to medium clusters; and are highly fragrant with a distinctive Damask fragrance. All are once-flowering, except for the Autumn Damask, which has some repeat-blooming into Autumn.

The hips are bright red, long, thin and bristly.blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-189Types of Damasks

There are 19 different Damasks listed in Peter Beales’ book, of which four are very famous. Two are named after the place where they are extensively grown. Kazanlik, also known as Trigintipetala, is an ancient rose, which has been cultivated for many years in the rose fields of Kazanlak in Bulgaria and is used to make attar of roses and potpourri. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lJAXtccPLs and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdEeEp9kgUo. The lax growth does better with support; the foliage is dark green; and the double, shaggy flowers are a warm pink and very fragrant.blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-27-12-50-29blogdivinedamasksreszd20%2014-10-27-12-49-46

Ispahan, or the Rose d’Isfahan, grows wild on the hillsides of Iran and is named after the city of Isfahan, 340 km south of Tehran, Iran, an area once renowned for its gardens and roses, where this particular rose was apparently discovered in a garden. Garden designer, Norah Lindsay (1873–1948), is credited with introducing it to the United Kingdom.  Ispahan is also extensively cultivated in Turkey. It has a very long flowering season, being one of the first old roses to bloom and the last to continue. Its large, semi-double flowers are a rich warm pink, hold their shape and colour well and are very fragrant. They last well as a cut flower too.blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-203blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-184blogdivinedamasksreszd20img_9259 York and Lancaster, R. damascena versicolour, a sport of Kazanlik, is another old Damask from before 1551, with semi-double, scented flowers of variable colour from blush-pink, white, sometimes a mottled mixture of the two colours on the one flower or two different colours on different flowers on the same head. It has grey-green downy foliage and numerous thorns.

blogdivinedamasksreszd20img_9458blogdivinedamasksreszd20img_9643 Madame Hardy was bred in 1832 by Alexander Hardy, the chief horticulturalist at Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and is possibly a Damask-Alba hybrid. It is a lovely rose and has tall upright canes, 2.1 metres in height, with fresh bright green foliage; buds with unusually leafy sepals and a faint blush and distinctive white cupped, fragrant flowers, which open out flat, then reflexed; and have a green eye in the centre. Vigorous and healthy, it only occasionally gets blackspot with stressful weather. I love Madame Hardy, having grown it in our old Armidale garden, and plan to order one for here next year, as it is such a famous and quintessential old rose.blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-183blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-182 Botzaris 1856 is another favourite with a divine perfume. It also has an affinity with the albas and has thorny wood, rich light green foliage and flattish, fully double creamy-white, often quartered, blooms according to Peter Beales, though the specimen I grew in my old garden was a very soft blush pink, which turned white with age, as can be seen in these photos:blogdivinedamasksreszd20img_9454blogdivinedamasksreszd50image-195I will be exploring the Elegant Albas – one of my favourite type of roses – next month, but in the meantime, we will be continuing our exploration of the South Australian old rose gardens, with a visit to the Barossa Old Rose Repository and the Twentieth Century and Heritage Rose Gardens of the Waite Institute next week!

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