Old Roses Still Have It: The Enduring Beauty of Yesterday’s Treasures

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Modern roses have claimed the popularity spotlight in polls throughout the country because of their exquisite form and wide range of coloring. 

But some of the older roses still have a certain inherent charm that keeps them at the head of the rose parade and it is doubtful if their true beauty will ever wane. 

Old Roses CharmPin

While many of the old roses are not as glamorous as the modern hybrids, they do have certain favorable qualities which we cannot resist because these roses have existed for decades. Then, too, they have an inimitable rose fragrance sometimes missing from many of the hybrids.

The old roses have an important place in our nation’s history, as well as in our gardens and hearts.

Several General Classes

There are several general classes of these old roses with which every rose lover should be familiar: 

  • Species (wild)
  • Gallica (French)
  • Damascena (Damask)
  • Alba (white rose of York)
  • Centifolia (cabbage)
  • Centifolia muscosa (moss)
  • Borbonia (Bourbon, hybrids of China)
  • Hybrid Perpetual class


Of the species of roses, we find the most appealing and charming shrubs are— hugonis (Father Hugo’s rose) and its hybrid cantabrigiensis, and eglanteria (sweetbrier) and rugosa. 

Hugonis seem to do best with practically no attention, and rugosa repeats its blooms throughout the season and is tolerant of sea air and pruning. One of its hybrids, Max Graf, a trailing, single pink, makes an excellent ground cover.


The gallica produces generous quantities of long-stemmed, well-spaced blooms on compact bushes. They are much slower than the centifolias since their blooms are held erect.


The damasks probably are hybrids of French musk and alba. They have soft, gray-green foliage but rather a weak flower stems.

Most of the albas are strong, erect bushes that submit well to pruning. The flowers are usually quite fragrant. Alba semi-plena is grown for perfume in Persia (modern Iran).


The centifolias, or cabbage roses, generally have long protective sepals and closely curved petals. The flowers are globular, double, and quite fragrant.

Moss Roses in Many Forms

While some do not have the refinement of the other old roses, many are just as beautiful and have a delightful fragrance that far outshines many modern roses. 

There is a period air about the old moss roses; well, there might be, for they were popular before 1750.

Father Hugo’s Rose

Father Hugo’s rose is, perhaps, the most important shrub rose of modern times. It comes from Western China, is quite hardy, and develops into a graceful 7′ feet shrub in the spring with yellow, single flowers on long, slender stems. 


Eglanteria (sweetbrier) is a common rose of Europe, often found in hedgerows with canina. It has sweet-scented foliage and can be grown as a hedge and clipped in early spring. 

In England, it is the only native rose sufficiently popular to be considered a common garden plant, yet it is rarely found in home gardens in this country. 

Austrian Brier

The Austrian brier (foetida’) has been popular in America since colonial times. Its colors are strong, but the fragrance is rather unpleasant. 

From foetida comes the variety Harison’s Yellow, introduced about 1830, which later escaped cultivation during early Westward migrations and naturalized in the far West, leading to an erroneous belief it was a native species. 


Bourboniana is a famous hybrid cross of Provence with China rose. The origin of many Hybrid Perpetual roses is an upright shrub with prickly stems. It blooms freely and persistently. 

Hybrid Perpetuals

The Hybrid Perpetuals are taller and bolder in effect than other roses. They have recurrent blooms and are relatively hardy. 

To enjoy these old roses to the fullest, group them separately from their modern counterparts for the modern roses may overshadow them in size and brilliance of bloom.

Development of Modern Roses

Despite all the scientific knowledge of hybridizing roses, one quality found in the old roses that have been lost in the development and growing of many modern roses is the exquisite natural rose fragrance. It is this inherent quality that so often distinguishes the two. 

Realizing this, modern hybridizers are directing much of their energy toward restoring the classic rose fragrance to modern roses. 

In the future, the finest qualities of the old roses may be merged with the splendid qualities of modern rose hybrids.

44659 by Mark Taylor