– Egyptians shipped rose bushes, housed in earthenware pots, out of the port of Alexandria and to all parts of the ancient world. To Rome it was a six-day trip by boat.
– The Romans desired blooms even in the winter, so they devised a “forcing house or glass house which was kept heated. How many of us thought that greenhouses were a modem contribution to rose growing? To make roses flower early, trenches were dug between rows of roses or around roses and filled with warm water twice daily.
– During the Middle Ages, several varieties of roses survived mainly in monastery gardens where the Benedictine monks would use roses for medicinal purposes.
– Roses were used to make all sorts of salves, lotions, and medicines to treat everything from eye problems to wrinkles to hangovers to the plague! For instance, for a sore throat, doctors would prescribe a hot mixture of crushed rose petals and peppercorns. Sufferers of other ailments might put a pellet made of rose petals on their tongues.
– The Apothecary’s Rose (R. gallica officinalis) eventually became a symbol for pharmacology.
– In those days, rose petals were generally believed to have a purifying effect against diseases such as the plague and were used for preventative measures. People often carried nosegays of roses to freshen foul air.
– As children, all of us have played, “Ring Around the Rosy.” “Ring around the Rosy; Pockets Full of Posies; Ashes, Ashes; We all fall down,” was a reference to the Black Death and people trying to prevent getting this horrible disease and then dying.
– A little known fact is that the Rosary derived its name from the rose hips which were strung as prayer beads by the monks. Later rosary beads were made from the fragrant paste of crushed rose petals. Tapestries and stained glass windows frequently portrayed roses.
– In 1187, Saladin defeated the Crusaders and ordered 500 camel loads of roses that he had distilled into rose water to cleanse the mosque of Omar from the presence of the infidels. The Crusaders themselves also used a salve made of red roses to treat battle wounds.
– The famous War of the Roses, the longest British civil war, was said to have begun when a member of the House of York plucked a white rose (possibly R. x alba semi-plena) as his emblem and the rival House of Lancaster chose a red rose (R. gallica officinalis). One fable says that the two groups stopped fighting when they found a bush bearing both red AND white individual flowers AND roses that were crimson-and-white striped. Thus the York and Lancaster row came into being. In 1485, Henry Tudor accepted Elizabeth Plantagenet, a Yorkist, as his bride. She brought him white roses, and the rose became the emblem of England.
– Two important sources were responsible for this renewed interest in roses. The Moors moved up through Spain and France bringing with them the yellow Persian rose while the Crusaders returned from the ill-fated Crusades with the Damask rose which contributed so much to the European perfume industry. If your own garden is not home to a Damask rose, you may consider adding this extraordinarily fragrant rose to it.
– Tea Roses became popular in the 18th century when Dutch and English tea ships brought back not only tea but rose bushes from China. The name tea roses came from these bushes plus the strong fragrance of casks containing tea.
– In 1798 the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, planned the first complete rose garden in Paris. Her full name was Marie-Josephine. She attempted to grow every known variety in her garden at Malmaison and, in fact, brought about a “Rose Renaissance.” In the 16 years between 1798, when she first started the garden, and 1814 when she died just a month before her 51st birthday, she collected 250 roses from all parts of the world. It is interesting to note that Josephine had botanical “trees” with wrought iron branches hung with crystal vials displaying the most perfect specimens from each bush in bloom.