Victorian Roses : Boursaults, Portlands, Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals

With the introduction of China roses to the West, gardeners of the Victorian era (1837 to 1901) were spoilt for choice when it came to new rose varieties: Boursaults; Portlands;  Bourbons; Hybrid Perpetuals; Teas; Noisettes and finally the early Hybrid Teas, the latter three discussed in their own separate posts later on.


I will start with the Boursaults of the Napoleonic era (1799-1815), erroneously thought to be a cross between  the China Rose, R. chinensis, and the Alpine Rose, R. pendulina, this error confirmed by later chromosomal counts. It is now thought to be a cross between R. chinensis and R. blanda. There are only a few types still cultivated today. They were named after an amateur French horticulturalist, Monsieur Jean-Francoise Boursault, who bred the first double Boursault rose. They were popular in Paris from the 1820s on.These thornless ramblers and hardy climbers have a graceful arching habit,  dark red wood, smooth stems, a pointed leaf shape, Autumn foliage and large pink or red old-rose type flowers in small clusters, which bloom profusely and early, and then sometimes again later in the Summer. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to suckering.

I have always loved the appearance and name of Mme Sancy de Parabère, bred by Bonnet, France, 1874, of unknown parentage. The large, double pink blooms are 12 cm across and open out flat. Because the smaller inner petals are surrounded by much larger outer petals, the effect is of a rosette within the flower. They are borne early in the season and only have a slight fragrance. The thornless stems are green, aging to a soft green-brown, and the foliage is dark green.  The plant will reach 4.5 metres in height. Unfortunately, I don’t have my own photo, but you can see it on

I do however have a photo of Morletti, another well-known Boursault, also known as R. pendulina plena and R. inermis morletti, bred by Morlet, France, 1883 (photo below). Less vigorous than other Boursaults, reaching 2.5 metres tall, its foliage and stems are similar to other members of its group, its foliage having lovely Autumn colour. The deep-pink magenta almost double flowers have a ragged appearance. Amadis and Blush Boursault are the only other two Boursault roses commercially available.BlogVicRosesReszd2014-10-19 13.12.50Portlands

Portland Roses are a small group of hybrids derived from a rose, which was named after the second Duchess of Portland (1715-1785). The original Portland Rose, now called Duchess of Portland, has medium to large, semi-double, medium red blooms with a strong Damask fragrance and it flowers every six weeks through Summer and Autumn. Originally thought to contain Chinese ancestry, DNA analysis has now revealed that it is a cross between R. gallica officinalis and the Autumn Damask, R. damascena bifera, whose genes are responsible for the repeat flowering. It was known in Italy as the Scarlet Four Seasons Rose, R. paestana, and was supposedly brought to England by the Duchess of Portland from Italy in 1775. It was then sent to Andre Dupont in France, who used it to breed further Portlands. By 1848, there were 84 varieties growing at Kew. Being the first Old roses with repeat-flowering ability, they had a brief period of popularity, before being superseded by the Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals. Today, only a handful of varieties remain eg Rose du Roi; Comte de Chambord; Arthur de Sansal and Jacques Cartier. Because I have no photos of Portland Roses, I am including this link:

Portland Roses are shorter than Damasks, but are otherwise very similar. They are small, compact, upright shrubs, 1.2 metres high, so are very suitable for small gardens. The flowers have very small stems, so that the dark green leaves form a rosette around the flowers. Even though they are repeat-flowering, they are still very much Old Roses, with respect to their flower, foliage and strong Damask fragrance. They are also sometimes known as Damask Perpetuals. While their beauty alone is enough reason to plant these roses, it is their direct line to the development of Hybrid Perpetuals, and thus Hybrid Teas, which is their main claim to fame.


This rose family takes its name from the old L’Île de Bourbon, now called Réunion, a small island near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where the farmers delineated their fields with hedges of the sweetly-scented Autumn Damask (Quatre Saisons) and the long flowering Old Blush China, growing side-by-side. A chance hybrid resulted and was given the name Rose Edouard. Seeds and cuttings were sent in 1819 and 1821 respectively to Paris, where it was used to breed a rose called Rosier de l’Île de Bourbon, which was distributed in France in 1823 and England two years later. Crossing and recrossing led to the development of a large range of Bourbon Roses.

Bourbons were the first real step towards modern roses, their features representing  the best of both worlds. While retaining the vigorous shrubby growth and character and strong fragrance of Old Roses, the foliage and stems began to look more like those of Hybrid Teas and nearly all are repeat-flowering, blooming in flushes. In fact, they were the most continuously flowering shrub rose up till the start of the 19th century. Their heyday was from 1830 to 1850, with very few bred after 1900. The photo below is Mme Isaac Pereire, a very famous old Bourbon rose.blogcottagegardenrosesreszd50image-206Their growth, stems and flowers tend to follow one or other of the parents:

China type: Twiggy pliable growth, few thorns, reblooming subtle flower forms eg La Reine Victoria (see photo below);

Damask type: Stiffer vigorous growth with arching thorny stems, large, globular flowers with lush fragrance eg Bourbon Queen and Souvenir de la Malmaison.

The colours of their blooms vary from white to bush, pinks and deep reds.BlogVicRosesReszd2014-10-19 13.21.30

Care and Maintenance

With their long arching stems, Bourbons need support over a fence, trellis, arbours and arches or pillars. They can also be pegged down to the ground for maximum flower production. The photo below shows the long canes of Mme Isaac Pereire, which could well benefit from pegging down one day!BlogVicRosesReszd2017-04-17 11.30.34Because of their ability to flower a second time, pruning became increasingly important. Side shoots should be pruned to three eyes and the strong main shoots reduced by a third. Aged and dead wood should be removed. Roses should be liberally mulched with manure and compost and rose fertiliser applied in Spring and after the first crop of flowers. Immediate deadheading is also important. Unfortunately, while their growth is robust, they have poor resistance to black spot.

Bourbon Varieties

I love Bourbon roses and have grown six different types in my gardens. In my old garden in Armidale, I grew all of them, except for Souvenir de St Anne, while my Candelo garden includes the first four.

Souvenir de la Malmaison    J Belize, France, 1843

Named after Empress Josephine’s garden and one of the most popular Bourbons, this rose was bred from a cross between another Bourbon, Mme Desprez, and a Tea rose. It comes in two forms – a bush and a climber, though many feel the climbing form is superior.BlogVicRosesReszd20%IMG_9465 At his Heritage Garden in Clare, rosarian Walter Duncan grows the climbing form over 20 decorative arches, 4 metres apart, forming a magnificent bridal tunnel in the Spring.BlogVicRosesReszd20%IMG_9731BlogVicRosesReszd20%IMG_9467 The foliage is modern in appearance, but the flowers are the Old rose type : large, 12 cm wide, cupped and quartered, blush-pink flowers, which open flat and pale slightly with age. They have a fragrance like a Tea rose.BlogVicRosesReszd50%Image (160) They are reliable repeat-flowerers, but are susceptible to fungal attack and their blooms tend to ball and not open in the rain, so good air circulation is essential, as well as adequate water and fertilising to maintain optimal health.blognovgarden20reszd2016-11-07-10-50-42 For this reason, I have planted my climber in the middle of our main pergola, so a few balled flowers won’t ruin the overall display.BlogVicRosesReszd2017-04-17 11.28.38 It is such a beautiful rose that this minor deficiency can be overlooked and I could not be without it!BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-06 13.05.23Souvenir de St. Anne 1950

Found in a garden at St. Anne’s in Dublin and introduced to England in 1950, this rose is a sport of Souvenir de la Malmaison. Its large, blush-pink, semi-double flowers fade to white with age and are almost single at times. They are strongly fragrant and the rose repeat-flowers well, its flowers lasting into Winter here in Australia. The bush is very vigorous, reaching up to 2 metres in height. It is also shade tolerant and highly resistant to black spot and mildew, which is why it has been designated an Earth-Kind rose. See: I have ordered it this year and will plant it opposite Souvenir de la Malmaison in the middle of the main pergola.

Mme Isaac Pereire    Garçon France 1881

This dramatic Bourbon is one of the most fragrant roses of all!BlogVicRosesReszd50%Image (229) Its large 12 cm wide cupped deep fuchsia-pink and magenta blooms open out flat and quartered with a button eye, its petals fading and rolling back at the edges with age.BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-14 11.49.54 It flowers well into Autumn, which is when it often produces its best blooms.blognovgarden20reszd2016-11-16-09-46-17 It is a vigorous shrub, up to 2.5 metres high with long arching canes and large thick green foliage. I grew it along our front picket fence in Armidale.bloghxroses50reszdimage-236 Another rose I could not do without, I took a cutting from the old rose and now grow it on the shed fence here in Candelo!BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-10 09.25.18La Reine Victoria   J Schwartz   France 1872

A very popular rose in the late 19th century, this slender shrub is 1.2 to 1.5 metres high with blooms just above the foliage, a sign of its close relationship with the Chinas.BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-10 15.04.26 The medium chalice-shaped blooms are lilac-pink on the outside and paler within and have a good scent.BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-18 19.29.31 The petals incurve towards the centre, giving an enclosed effect.BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-13 20.04.43 The rose flowers repeatedly throughout Summer. Unfortunately, it does have a tendency to black spot.BlogVicRosesReszd2016-11-11 16.05.49Bourbon Queen (Queen of Bourbons and Reine des Iles Bourbon)   Mauget France 1834

Comes in two forms – a tall, open shrub, 1.8 metres high, or a climber 3 to 3.5 metres high. Its loosely formed, cupped, medium-pink blooms are deep pink towards the edges and have crinkled petals, exposed stamens and a strong fragrance.BlogVicRosesReszd50%Image (184)Variegata di Bologna  A. Bonfiglioi  Italy 1909

A famous old striped Bourbon, which I grew in my old garden. Its fully double, cupped, globular flowers are white, striped with a dark crimson purple, have a strong perfume and open out flat and quartered. It blooms all Summer with a few late flowers. A dense shrub, 1.5 to 1.8 metres high, or a climber to 3 metres, its ample foliage is susceptible to black spot and mildew.blogcottagegardenrosesreszd50image-170Hybrid Perpetuals

Introduced in France in 1837 as Hybrid Remontants, these roses had their heyday between 1858 to 1899, when they were replaced in popularity by the new Hybrid Teas, bred from a cross between Hybrid Perpetuals and Tea roses.

They were bred from crosses between Bourbons, Portlands and Chinas for the exhibitions in the latter half of the 19th century with specific objectives, like perfect bud formation and repeat-flowering ability. Even though they still only flowered twice in the season, their flowering was more prolific than Damasks, Chinas and Bourbons. There was, however, no regard to the fully open bloom or the growth habits of the shrub, resulting in tall, ungainly, narrow plants with poor disease resistance, although they are still hardier than the modern Hybrid Teas.

Despite this failing, they are still beautiful as cut flowers, with an Old Rose form, many petals and strong fragrance. They vary from white to pink, red, deep maroon and even some pure crimsons, a colour rare before the latter half of the 19th century. In some varieties, the blooms are edged or splashed with white or deep maroon. There were no yellows.

Like their Portland parents with their short flower stems, the huge flowers look like they are sitting on a rosette of leaves, the latter varying from a dull, wrinkled blue green to smooth shiny leaves. In some of the varieties, the stems are thornless and in many varieties, the extra long canes need pegging down.

Hybrid Perpetuals are gross feeders and respond well to generous treatment. They should be pruned to half their height to maintain their proportions, and flower quality and continuity of blooms

There were over 3000 varieties, but only the best survive today. There are only 100 varieties left, with only 50 commercially available. Some of them include:

Général Jacqueminot (General Jack or Jack Rose)  Roussel France 1853

A seedling from a cross between a Bourbon, Gloire des Rosomanes, and possibly an early Hybrid Perpetual, Géant des Batailles, this rose is a prolific pollinator and seed parent, which has produced 520 Hybrid Tea descendants. It is the ancestor of most red roses. Its shapely, pointed clear red buds open to well-formed perfumed flowers on long stems. The vigorous shrub, up to 1.5 metres, has rich-green foliage, but is prone to rust from mid-Summer on.

Gloire de Ducher  Ducher  France 1865 Unknown parentage

Has huge, fully double, blowsy, well scented deep pink-red blooms, produced freely along long arching branches with dark grey-green leaves. Up to 1.8 metres high.BlogVicRosesReszd2014-10-19 13.46.09

Gloire Lyonnaise  Guillot Fils  France 1885

A cross between Hybrid Perpetual, Baroness Rothschild, and Tea rose, Mme Falcot, this rose has creamy-white, semi-double, fragrant blooms, which open flat. The upright 1.2 metre tall shrub has strong stems, which support the flowers without arching and have  few thorns. The foliage is dark green and healthy.BlogVicRosesReszd2014-10-19 13.45.09Paul Neyron   Levet France 1869

A hybrid of two Hybrid Perpetuals, Victor Verdier and Anna de Diesbach, this sturdy and healthy upright bush is only 1.8 metres tall and has large, matt, dark-green foliage and huge, unfading, rich warm-pink scented blooms of a muddled appearance when fully open.BlogVicRosesReszd20%IMG_9529

Reine des Violettes (Queen of Violets) Milet-Malet France 1860

The only Hybrid Perpetual I have grown and that was an error in my order form, when I was mistakenly sent this rose, though I was very happy to accept it! A seedling of another Hybrid Perpetual, Pius IX, this rose is closer to Gallicas than the typical Hybrid Perpetual, with a fully petalled rosette formation, in which the petals curve in, then open out flat and quartered with a button eye. The colour changes from a deep velvety purple to a soft parma violet with age. The 10 to 12 cm blooms have up to 75 petals. The blooms shatter very quickly after reaching perfection, but their fragrance and reliable repeat flowering more than compensate for this small defect. For its best performance, it does need good cultivation. Its upright growth reaches 1.2 to 1.5 metres, but if the long shoots are pegged down, it will flower all along the length of the canes. They have few thorns and grey green soft-textured foliage, which complement the flowers.blogcottagegardenrosesreszd50image-176Next week, I will be discussing Tea roses, another rose variety hailing from the Orient, which grows so well in our warmer Australian climate.


15 thoughts on “Victorian Roses : Boursaults, Portlands, Bourbons and Hybrid Perpetuals

  1. Lovely post! I enjoyed your description of the origins of the Bourbon roses on Reunion island, which I hadn’t known before. Have you been able to attend the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to see the rose displays? I’ve done it once — just gorgeous. I love David Austin’s English Roses and grow a couple here, though I don’t have enough sunny space for a full planting (one is in the ground, two in pots).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed it! Yes, the lack of scent always seems to me to be a failing of cyberspace, or films for that matter, though perhaps it’s best, as I’d only want to smell the beautiful fragrances and scents can trigger so many memories for people! I just adored the wedding arch of Souvenir de la Malmaison at Walter Duncan’s Heritage Garden in Clare. Unfortunately, it is now closed, but I am writing a post about our wonderful few days there later in the year!

      Liked by 1 person

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