Friday, January 28, 2011

Regency Roses by Guest Blogger Amy Corwin

Many folks ask me why I write about the Regency period in England, that very brief time from 1811 to 1820, not realizing what a truly vibrant and fascinating era this was. To some degree, I backed into it as my favorite activities, writing and gardening, cross-pollinated and brought new ideas to both. It’s no coincidence that the heroine in my traditional Regency loved roses and smuggled them from France, even in the middle of the Napoleonic wars. I love roses, too, and as my garden expands, I continue to research the Regency for my writing and Old Garden rose varieties for my garden. It’s through my research that I discovered the importance of the Regency period to the development of the modern Hybrid Tea rose.

While roses have been grown and propagated by man for thousands of years, most varieties of roses bloomed once in late spring, summer, or fall. Although some roses like the Quatre Saisons rose (above) bloomed in the late spring and occasionally in the fall. Most Regency ladies would have known and loved these once-blooming roses including Rosa Gallica, known as the Provence rose, the Phoenician rose, Summer Damask, and Autumn Damask. When these roses bloomed, a single bush would be enough to scent an entire garden and the bushes would be literally covered in flowers. While they may only bloom once a season, they made up for it by producing huge numbers of roses and ladies were adept at collecting and preserving them for cosmetics and food such as candied rose petals or fragrant jellies.

Then, in 1790, the first China roses were brought to England from the Orient. Why were the China roses so important? While their loose, muddled flowers were not as lush and intensely fragrant as the European varieties, they had one sought-after quality: they rebloomed all season. English plantsmen leapt at the idea of producing a full, fragrant rose like the Damask that bloomed spring, summer and fall the way the China roses did.

Crossing the China roses with the European varieties was no piece of cake, though. Despite the arrival of the China roses in England in the final years of the 18th century, it took many years of trial and error to get the varieties to cross-pollinate and reproduce. But they did eventually succeed.

When rose growers managed to cross Slater’s Crimson China with the Summer Damask, they created a new group of luscious roses known as Portland roses. The first variety of Portland rose appeared in 1800. The Portland is known to have been in the famous Dupont nursery in Paris in 1809. Dupont obtained it from England and named it after the Duchess of Portland who may have found it in Italy early in the century. The Portland was a rich red color and if trimmed could be induced to bloom twice a year. Truly a valuable rose!

Sadly, there were never a lot of Portland rose varieties, but they were a lovely and important rose during the Regency.

After the Portland, Parson’s Pink China was crossed with the Autumn Damask to produce the Bourbon rose varieties, starting with Rose Edward in 1817 and followed by Rosier de I’le Bourbon.  Rosa Gallica was crossed with Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China in 1815 to produce the first Hybrid China rose. The Bourbon and Hybrid China roses bloomed more than once a season and were “cutting edge” for the period. Then Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China was crossed again with Bourbon roses and the Hybrid Chinas crossed with Portlands and these varieties eventually led to the pink Tea roses and Hybrid Perpetuals. The first Hybrid Perpeutal, Rose du Roi, was raised by Souchet in 1816 from the original Portland Rose. These varieties were the darlings of British Society until late in the 19th century when the Hybrid Teas took their place.

And they’re still the darlings of my garden. I have several Hybrid Perpetuals, and they are a truly gorgeous, light pink rose with a heavenly fragrance. The bushes are incredibly healthy and bloom all season long. I could not ask for a better-behaved rose, but I most happily digress.

Sissinghurst Castle (above)

When the Rosa Gallica variety was crossed with Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China in 1815, it produced the first Hybrid China rose. Unfortunately for ladies who liked yellow roses, they still did not have their heart’s desire, yellow roses. The only yellow roses that would grow in English gardens at the time, Rosa Foetida, smelled of rotting meat, but in 1900 the propagation of Soleil d’Or filled that void.

So from these historic varieties, it was only a hop, skip and jump of about forty years before the first Hybrid Tea, La France, was created in 1867. The Hybrid Tea is the variety of rose best known today from florist’s shops and formal gardens. However, interestingly enough, recent rose hybridizers like David Austin have been working to turn back the clock and grown roses that look like the many-petaled varieties grown during the Regency while retaining the reblooming qualities of our familiar Hybrid Teas. These English, or shrub, roses are every bit as fragrant, lush, and healthy as the original European varieties so many Regency ladies enjoyed in their gardens.

Truly, what is old is new again, and I hope you enjoyed this brief look at the development of roses during the Regency. The heroines in my Regencies, The Necklace and The Bricklayer’s Helper grew roses or made good use of them in their cosmetics, so they would have known and loved the exciting developments in this lovely plant.


The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book by Graham Stuart Thomas (1994)

The History of the Rose by Allen Paterson (1983)

Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has been writing for the last ten years and managing a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry. She writes Regencies/historicals, mysteries, and paranormals. To be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.

Amy’s books include the Regency romance, SMUGGLED ROSE; three Regency romantic mysteries, I BID ONE AMERICAN, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, and THE NECKLACE; and her first paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR. Her latest release is THE BRICKLAYER'S HELPER. Appearances can be dangerously deceiving.

Visit Amy at


Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

What an informative post. Candied rose petals...who knew? I imagine they were scrumptious. I, too, love roses so especially enjoyed every word of your post.

Amy said...

Hi Vonnie:
Thank you so much for dropping by!
If you ever get the chance to try candied rose petals, do--they are scrumptious. I grow roses without sprays just so I can sample them when I wish.

Thanks again!

Suzanne Barrett said...

Wonderful article and so timely. I love roses and love gardening (currently adding plants to my cottage garden). Sadly, my roses must be grown in pots; they don't like the emitter system.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Amy,
Wonderful post. I too love roses.I only have a small garden, but I have about 30 different roses growing. The deep blood red ones are my favourite. Although there is a lovely apricot coloured rose called Just Joey, it has the most beautiful perfume and stunning blooms.



Janet Mullany said...

Great post! I'm in Maryland and I wouldn't even dare to try to grow roses here (extreme heat and incompetence), but I'm fortunate enough to live very close to the National Arboretum in NE Washington DC. It has a spectacular collection of historic rose varieties. If you're in the area I absolutely recommend going there despite the dodgy neighborhood.

Donna Cummings said...

What a wonderful post--so informative! And since yellow roses are my favorite, I'm glad they made progress on the scent. LOL

I also like your method for making your characters toe the line. :)

Nancy said...

I missed this on the day it was posted, but I adore the information. I don't grow roses, but they are one of my "birth" flowers and I love them.

Thanks to Amy and Lesley-Anne for the blog!

Nancy Haddock

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You're very welcome Nancy! And thanks to everyone for your comments. Amy brightened January for us with her information about Regency roses. I have no luck growing roses, but I'll keep trying--they are so lovely.

Amy said...

Thank you all for your exuberant comments--I love to meet other rose lovers! And thanks again to Lesley-Anne for allowing me this time on her blog.

Have a lovely Valentine's day and I hope every one of you gets a huge bunch of roses in your favorite color!