The Ancient History of Rose Gardens

The Ancient History of Rose Gardens

Aug 12, 2020

Roses have been a part of history since the earliest of time. The same delicate, yet striking beauty that we love was also admired by those here before us long ago. In fact, Roses are said to be over 35 million years old.

There are over 150 Rosa species native to areas in the Northern Hemisphere including Alaska, Africa, and Mexico. However, Roses are said to derive from Asia, and many of the modern roses we know today originate from there.

Which makes you think - how were roses used throughout past centuries?

According to Greek mythology, Roses were created by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. However, the influence can be seen across almost every culture and time period. In ancient times, roses were used for celebrations, burials, medicinal purposes, and as a natural perfume.

In Ancient Egypt, rose petals can be found in tombs and paintings. It’s even said that Cleopatra VII used roses during her public appearances, and loved for their aroma to follow her wherever she went. Many of the Egyptian rose references derived from Alexander the Greats’ rule which increased their popularity throughout the country.

classic art, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Ancient Rome, rose

During the Roman period, roses were outsourced from the Middle East. The Roman emperor, Nero, would dump tons of rose petals on his guests during his events. The rarity and minimal access led to Roman nobility seeing the rose as a status of wealth, and led to the creation of large public rose gardens. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, roses lost their popularity for a brief moment.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that a resurgence of rose popularity emerged thanks to the events taking place in England. Faction groups fighting to gain control of England used roses as a symbol for their respective group. Those who were a part of York were symbolized by the white rose, and the red rose symbolized Lancaster. This historical conflict was deemed “War of the Roses.”

Fast forward to the 17th century, Roses were extremely high in demand. In fact, the demand was so high that roses and rose water were used as a form of currency! Empress Josephine Bonapart was a rose enthusiast, and created one of the most extensive formal rose gardens in the world.

Josephine hired gardeners and collected 250 rose varieties from the world to place in the renowned Malmaison garden which sits right outside of Paris, France. She even created a few new species of her own, and the garden is one of the largest collections of roses today!

Les Rose panting of Rosa damascena

"Les Rose" is a watercolor collection of paintings by Pierre Joseph Redoute of Empress Josephine's extensive ancient rose collection.

The American Rose Society has designated two categories for all roses - ancient or antique roses and modern roses. Antique roses were cultivated before 1867, and modern roses were created after. The year of 1867 also marked the creation of the hybrid tea rose.

Gardeners today admire modern growing roses for their re-blooming capabilities and hardiness. While modern day roses planted today lack the fragrance ancient roses possess, they don't have many issues with disease control.

Fast forward to the 20th century and beyond, there are many rose gardens around the world that flaunt the symbol of beauty and love. The United States is home to many extensive rose collections including the White House Rose Garden in Washington, DC, The Gardens of American Rose Center in Louisiana, and the Huntington Library in California.

Huntington Library Rose Garden in California

Portland's International Rose Test Garden in Oregon is used for testing and growing new shrub roses and rose bushes. Formed in 1917, the Portland Test Garden is the country's oldest operating garden and boasts over 550 varieties of roses.