The late 18th century was a time of great excitement: the discovery and introduction of new plant species from plant hunting expeditions to the Orient and the opening up of trade with the East, with the giant clippers of the British East India Company plying their way across the seas back home with cases of tea imports; fancy furniture, cane and lacquer ware from China and Japan and exotic plants and roses like Rosa chinensis (though it used to be called Rosa indica, meaning ‘of China’) in the newly-developed Wardian cases. Native to the Guizhou, Hubei and Sichuan Provinces of China, Rosa chinensis has been cultivated in China since 3000 BC, its blooms depicted in early Chinese paintings of the 10th century. Chinese garden roses display considerable hybridity from this long period of cultivation.
The introduction of China roses in the 1790s changed the Western rose world forever, as they were so different to the Old European roses. Not only were they a different shape with a lighter airy growth and sparser foliage, but their blooms had a different scent and colour and flowered continuously, and their introduction opened up a whole new set of genes to be used in rose breeding, resulting in an explosion in the number of different rose varieties: Portands, Bourbons, Noisettes, Hybrid Perpetuals, Tea Roses and eventually the modern Hybrid Tea roses. Little wonder that European gardeners were so entranced and captivated by these new roses! The photo below is Cécile Brünner, one of my favourite China roses! The early Chinas or the four Stud Chinas, as they became known, were:
Old Blush China , also known as the Monthly Rose or Parsons’ Pink and Pallida (after its parents). It was brought to Europe in 1751, but introduced to Britain by Sir Joseph Banks in 1789, after bringing it back from Canton, China (photo below);
Slater’s Crimson China, also known as the Bengal Rose, introduced in 1792;
Hume’s Blush Teascented China 1809; and
Park’s Yellow Teascented China 1824
See : http://www.vicstaterosegarden.com.au/about-our-roses/rose-stories for more on their arrival.
Unfortunately, these roses are not cold-hardy, so while they thrived in the warmer parts of Europe, like France and Italy, they remained small (60 to 90 cm in height, compared to over 1.8 metres in warmer areas) or had to be grown in greenhouses and conservatories in colder areas.
Twiggy irregular bushes, 1 to 2 metres tall with a light branching habit, purple-brown stems and few thorns;
Glossy, smooth, pointed, pinnate foliage, which has red tints when young; The leaves have 3 to 5 leaflets, 2.5 to 6 cm long and 1 to 3 cm wide.
Continuous flowering of dainty blooms with distinct bright colours: deep reds; maroon; pink; white, as well as warm yellow; saffron; salmon and orange. The colour intensifies with age, rather than fading to pale like the Old European roses. The hips are red and 1 to 2 cm long. The rose photographed below is Perle d’Or.
China roses will do best with fertile, well-manured soil and a sheltered warm north-facing (Southern Hemisphere) position, protected from the wind. They dislike hard pruning, so only remove dead and dying growth. The rose below is Old Blush.Species:
Rosa chinensis var. spontanea
The wild form of the rose, it was first seen by Dr Augustine Henry in 1884 and described by him in The Gardener’s Chronicle in 1902. It was found again in 1983 by Mr Mikinori Ogisu, of Tokyo, in the Chinese Province of Sichuan and was photographed in the Royal National Rose Society’s Journal, The Rose, accompanied by an article by Graham Thomas in September 1986.
Growing into trees up to 3 metres tall, it bears blooms 5 to 6 cm wide, which vary in colour from pink to crimson (the colour being darker in areas of higher altitude).
Old Blush or Parson’s Pink 1781 Parsons’ Pink China x R. odorata ‘Pallida’
Still quite common, Old Blush is a dainty, upright, robust, almost thornless shrub or short climber with dainty, small, loosely informal, pale silvery-pink (deepening with age), continuous flowers in small clusters. The strong scent has been described as being similar to a sweet pea. It was brought to Sweden in 1752 by Peter Osbeck, was growing in Holland in 1781 and introduced in England in 1789. It was found growing in a garden at Rickmansworth, in the garden of Mr Parsons in 1793. Often the first rose to start flowering in Spring and the last to finish in Winter, it produces flowers continuously through the Summer, hence its other name: the Monthly Rose. While usually growing to 1.2 metres, it can be considerably taller (up to 3 metres against a warm wall) in favourable conditions.
Slater’s Crimson China, also called the Bengal Rose, Semperflorens and Old Crimson China
Also known as the Bengal Rose, because it arrived in tea clippers from Calcutta, India, in 1792. Seldom seen today, this rose was important , as it introduced rich pure reds into a gene pool, where the crimsons invariably turned to purples and mauves. Its flowers are truly single, 9 cm across, blood red, fading to crimson, and have a slight tea fragrance. A small rounded bush 1 to 1.2 metres tall in Britain, it will grow to twice the height in hotter climates. It needs a warm sheltered position to do well and prefers warmer climates, where it will flower 12 months of the year.Hume’s Blush Teascented China R. indica odorata
Discovered by John Reeves in 1808, but named after rosarian, Abraham Hume, this rose was sent from the Fa Tee Nursery in Canton in 1810. The fully double blooms are a creamy flesh pink, fading to creamy white, with a pink reverse and a strong tea fragrance and are borne continuously from Spring to Autumn. The original hybrid introduced to the West may very well be extinct, as it disappeared from commerce in the 19th century.
Park’s Yellow Teascented China R. indica ochroleuca, now assigned Rosa odorata var. pseudindica
Named after plant collector, John Damper Parks, who discovered this cloudy sulphur-yellow, scented rose in 1824 on a Royal Horticultural Society expedition to China, it is thought to be the result of a cross between R. chinensis and R. gigantea, from which it inherited its larger, thicker and more waxy petals. The yellow tea roses of the early 20th century were the result of crossing this rose with Fortune’s Double Yellow, a Tea Rose with yellow, buff and red blooms, found by Robert Fortune on the wall of Chinese mandarin’s garden in Ningpo, Northern China, 1845, while a cross of Parks Yellow Tea-scented China with Noisettes produced the Tea- Noisettes. It is likely that the original was lost over 100 years ago. According to Mr. George Gordon (1806-1879), Superintendent of the Gardens of the Horticultural Society at Chiswick near London, ‘Rosa indica ochroleuca‘ was extinct before 1842. The Tea-scented Yellow China, which was widely distributed, was ‘Rosa indica flavescens‘, a seedling of Hume’s Blush. The pale sulfur yellow original was a small shrub, that rebloomed, set hips, and had only a moderate Tea scent. The rose presently in commerce under this name is creamy white, once-blooming, strongly Tea-scented and does not set hips. Here is a photo from the Victorian State Rose Garden at Werribee Park, Victoria:Now for a discussion of the modern day China roses available.
Cécile Brünner Sweetheart Rose/ Mignon and the Maltese Rose
A delightful little rose, bred by Pernet-Ducher, France, 1881, it is a cross between a Polyantha rose and Tea rose, Mme de Tartas. It is often confused with the taller Bloomfield Abundance, but the buds on the latter have long sepals, an identifying feature. Cécile Brünner is only short (120 cm tall and 60 cm wide) with spindly, thornless, compact growth; sparse, semi-glossy, dark-green foliage; and perfectly scrolled, delicate soft pink blooms in clusters in Summer. The blooms are popular with florists for use in corsages and buttonholes. There is a white form, as well as a climbing sport, Climbing Cécile Brünner, which is much more vigorous, reaching 7.5 metres tall and 6 metres wide, growing into trees and scrambling over arches. It is tolerant of most soils and is well-endowed with dense, dark-green foliage, which often hides the tiny shell-pink flowers. The photo below is our Climbing Cécile Brünner over the arch leading to our old guest cottage in Armidale. We have planted another specimen in our new garden at Candelo over the entrance arch on the lane, leading to our front door, and already it has covered one side of the arch totally.
Bloomfield Abundance (Spray Cécile Brünner in the USA)
A cross between Sylvia and Dorothy Page Roberts, bred by Thomas, USA in 1920 and one of the largest bush Chinas at 1.8 metres tall and 1.2 metres wide. Smooth purplish-brown, often spindly wood; dark-green smooth foliage and large well-spaced clusters of tiny compact shell-pink flowers on long stems. Long sepals extending beyond the petals, while those of Cécile Brünner are shorter and fold back to the receptacle.Perle d’Or (Yellow Cécile Brünner ) Dubreuil, France, 1884
A cross between a Multiflora seedling and Mme Falcot, it can grow over 1.8 metres, but is usually more like 1.2 metres tall. Very similar to Cécile Brünner, it has dense growth, twiggy, almost thornless stems, ample rich dark green foliage and clusters of spaced small orange-buff yellow, turning a softer peachy pink, flowers with a slight fruity fragrance.Hermosa (Armosa)
A hybrid between a China Rose and another unknown parent, bred by Marcheseau, France in 1840. The growth is branching and more sturdy than most Chinas with numerous, small, grey-green leaves and it bears small, mid-pink, slightly fragrant globular cupped flowers continuously through Summer. The blooms have a Bourbon-like appearance, though are smaller and more delicate.Mutabilis (Tipo Ideale)
I love this rose, whose beautiful light single papery, loose blooms of variable colours remind me of a host of butterflies. Copper-yellow pointed buds open to single copper-yellow flowers, which turn to pink then crimson with age. A dense twiggy plant, with plum-red shoots and glossy dark green leaves (juvenile leaves are bronze), British descriptions of this rose claim its measurements as 90 cm tall by 60 cm wide, though David Austin has seen 2.5 metre high shrubs against a warm sheltered wall. It performs very well in the warmer climate of Australia, reaching over 3 metres in Walter Duncan’s Heritage Garden in Clare, South Australia. La Landriana, a garden created by Marchesa Lavinia Taverna at Ardea, near Rome, has over 300 specimens of this beautiful rose, covering two acres. See: https://www.romecentral.com/en/luoghi-segreti-vicino-roma-giardini-della-landriana/. What a sight to behold this valley in full bloom!!! Given to Henri Correvon of Geneva by Prince Ghilberto Borromeo of Isola Bella, Italy, in 1896, there is little known about the origins of this rose.
Viridiflora R. viridiflora
Introduced in 1855, this small rose is a sport from Old Blush China, to which it is very similar in growth. A very unusual rose, the petals have been replaced by numerous green sepals, hence its other name, the Green Rose. The bracts also have rust-red tinges, which turn purplish-brown with age, and it’s a very interesting rose to use in floral arrangements.
Use of China Roses
In Chinese medicine, all parts of the rose are used. The leaves and roots are used to treat arthritis, boils and coughs, while the hips are applied to sprains, ulcers and wounds. The flower buds are used to treat dysmenorrhoea, poor circulation, swelling and stomach pains. The other interesting fact, which I discovered in my research, is that China roses can be used as a natural acid-base indicator. The rose petals are soaked in hot water for half an hour until the water turns pink. When added to acids, the colour turns a magenta red, while mixing it with a base will turn the colour to a yellowish-green or green. See:
Next month, we will discuss some of the different types of new roses available to the Victorians after the introduction of the Chinas: the Boursaults, Portlands, Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals.