Antique Roses

When I first developed an interest in roses, these were simply called “old fashioned”. That is the name I always used, and it comes naturally to me to refer to something like a damask or alba as old fashioned rather than antique. But times change, and now they are officially Antique. Though for me, they are still ,and always will be, old fashioned. Perhaps it’s me that fits that description.

Remember This Date: 1867

Antique, old fashioned, heritage, heirloom, Old Garden roses. Call these what you will, they are all the same… roses bred or in existence prior to 1867. Why that date? because that was when the very first ‘modern rose’ was released, the Hybrid Tea La France.

The only trouble with such a precise date is that you then technically shouldn’t call a rose bred in 1868 an Antique, even if it is part of a family that goes back before that date. Some of the Moss roses for example were being bred right up to 1880, but they shouldn’t be classified as “modern roses” just because they happened to be created a couple of years too late.

An example of this, is an old Moss rose called “Soupert et Notting”. There is a photo of that further down the page. This was bred in 1874 so I suppose it meets the criteria of being called a modern rose. But I refuse to do so 😉 Speaking of Moss roses, have you ever noticed how most of them have French names? The French were very passionate about a lot of things back then (they had finished cutting off aristocrats heads about 80 years previously) and they contributed greatly to the popularity of roses. Viva la France!

The Moss rose, Soupert et Notting
The Moss rose, Soupert et Notting

Making Sense of Rose Classifications

It’s confusing for anyone other than fulltime rosarians… how exactly are roses classified? Here is the beginners guide to rose classification.

First, let’s remember that important date, 1867.

  • Rose types (or classes) prior to 1867 are classed as Old Garden Roses.
  • Roses after that date are defined as Modern Roses.

So far, so good. Within that broad definition of Old Garden , we have the classes. Gallica, Alba, Damask and so on. And within that, the different varieties. And in the modern roses, it’s exactly the same thing. We have the various classes such as Hybrid Tea. Anything in the definition of Modern Roses that cannot be placed into a type can be classed as a shrub rose. This is really a catch all for those roses that simply will not fit into a type.

An example of that is David Austins English Roses. It’s a complex subject, and this guide only gives the very basics.

Bourbon roseAntique: Bourbon Rose. These are hard to find, and a bit finicky to grow. But they are highly perfumed with that typical “old rose” scent, and look wonderful in a mixed bed border.

More History On The Old Fashioned  Roses

Around 1820 was the time that crosses between European and China roses began. This was the beginning of a whole new era in roses – my favorite! Prior to this time, roses from the west had a short single bloom in summer, and a limited color range. The Oriental roses on the other hand were repeat flowering, with more colors, but tended to be less hardy in the colder European climate.

So began the period of crosses between the varieties – breeders of the time were looking for a hardy, repeat flowering rose. Also missing, was a true deep yellow…although it was still another 60 odd years until a good yellow was produced. The following are a few of the well known types that were produced from 1820-1900 (approx).


Repeat Blooming Roses

Cross a single bloom rose, with a repeat bloomer, and what do you get? Actually, you get another single blooming rose. But cross that back with repeat blooming varieties, and you begin to see more repeat varieties …that was the start of what I consider the “golden age” of rose breeding. Never before (or since) has so much rose breeding taken place, particularly by the French.

Bourbon Rose

The original “old fashioned rose”. This variety started as a chance cross between a China rose, Parsons’ Pink’, and the red ‘Monthly Rose’ (the original Damask Perpetual). The Bourbons combined repeat flowering with good fragrance, and improved vigour.

Hybrid Perpetual

These began to come onto the scene around 1830. The hybrid chinas, noisettes etc, were crossed with what was the hardiest rose of the time – the Damask Perpetuals. And so was born the Hybrid perpetual. At first, the color range was from a bluish white through to darkest red, but a true white, and deep yellow still eluded breeders.

A great French hybrid is the Jacques Cartier rose, released in the 1800s.

R. hemisphorica was known since the 1600s, and is the only known old rose with true deep yellow blooms. However, it was extremely difficult to cultivate)


The rose pictured on the left is “Tuscany Superb“, a lovely maroon Gallica. I have conflicting years as its breeding date. 1848 or pre 1837?? Take your pick!
The picture on the right is “Duchesse D’Angouleme“, two examples of the beauty of Gallicas.

Old Hybrid Teas

The first Hybrid Teas began to appear after about 1860. It occured to breeders that to achieve some of the results they were looking for (more shapely blooms, maybe even a pure white or deep yellow), a cross between the Tea roses and the Hybrid perpetuals might yield results.

Yes, they may lose some hardiness, but they may gain something different to what they had up until that time. And so it proved to be. The first of the Hybrid Teas tended to be a little sickly,and had a few problems such as nodding flowers, but it was the beginning of the rose we see today!