Old Roses in Eggenberg

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Blooming majesties

Every year in June an extraordinary “garden caprice” dating back to the Biedermeier period bursts into bloom to form a masterpiece of gardening in Eggenberg Park. The caprice in question is Jérôme Count Herberstein’s Rose Mound, originally created in the 1830s. A path winds its way through picturesque contrasts of dark conifers and magnificent old rose bushes right up to the summit with its welcome shade of a Chinese-style parasol.

The term may be used very loosely today but the simple fact is that “Old Roses” are back in fashion. Many of them consist of varieties bred in recent decades. Even so, they attempt to capture the charm of the historic rose, especially the shape of its flowers and its wonderful fragrance. Among the many thousands of roses which have been created, we use the term Old Garden Roses to refer to the historic varieties, which were introduced before 1867 – i.e. prior to "La France", the first Tea hybrid. These are the only varieties you will find on the Eggenberg Rose Mound, or, to be more precise, the varieties which were known and established before 1837.

A brief introduction to rose cultivation

The oldest roses have been known since ancient times. Grown in Mesopotamia and Egypt, they were already cultivated to excess and imported from Egypt – in entire shiploads – in the days of the Roman Empire. Regarded as symbols of luxury, they were used as decorations at all kinds of festivals and celebrations, and they were used in many different forms. Hence the Gardens of Paestum, noted for their beauty, became a popular place to visit during the flowering season. Rome had garden roses such as Rosa gallica and Rosa x damascena. The most prized rose of all was the repeat-flowering "Rose of Cyrene" (Pliny), probably Rosa x bifera, called the Autumn Damask. It survived the fall of the Roman Empire, was brought to France during the crusades, and has been known as the "Rose des Quatre Saisons", or "Four Seasons", ever since the 13th century.

Despite all this, only a few rose varieties or classes were known in Europe up to early modern times:

Rosa ALBA. The White Rose, a hybrid of unknown origin even though it has been known since ancient times. Alba roses are robust, particularly winter-hardy shrubs. They grow almost two metres high, feature grey-green leaves and have a refined, not very intensive fragrance. The colour range is from white to delicate pink.

Rosa GALLICA. The French Rose, one of the oldest cultivated varieties and particularly important for medicinal purposes and perfumes. Rosa gallica Officinalis, the Apothecary’s Rose, was grown in all the monastic herbaria of medieval times. Its two-coloured mutation, Rosa gallica Versicolor – the famous "Rosa mundi" – is still one of the most distinctive flowers today. Gallicas are highly fragrant and very hardy, vigorous shrubs. Hues range from pink to mauve.

Rosa x DAMASCENA. The Damask Rose, a natural hybrid from Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata, has also been known since ancient times. After returning to Europe with the crusaders, this rose was soon cultivated for its wonderful fragrance and the rose oil which could be obtained from it.

Rosa CENTIFOLIA. Centifolias or cabbage roses with “one hundred” petals. These already complex hybrids were particularly cultivated in 17th - 18th century Holland. The rose has huge, closely packed flowers and features a wonderful fragrance on high, rather lanky shrubs. It is the classic rose of Baroque flower painting.

Rosa CENTIFOLIA MUSCOSA. The moss rose, with its characteristic “mossy” sepals, emerged prior to 1720 through natural mutation in centifolias.

The introduction of Asian roses

Alongside old wild varieties these were well-known forms of roses right up to the outbreak of a veritable “breeding boom” at the turn of the 18th and 19th century. Their colour range extended from white to pink, crimson and mauve only: there were no red or yellow garden roses. With one single exception all these varieties were only once-flowering.

China roses were first brought to Europe by trading companies and explorers and soon became widely known. Their introduction marked a major turning point in rose breeding for a number of reasons: They brought the DNA for remontancy (the ability to flower more than once during the course of a growing season or year), they had yellow and scarlet red colours, they were climbers, they featured the Tea rose fragrance and they also represented a new form of bud with a high pointed centre. But they also had their disadvantages. Frequently, they were not very winter-hardy. They were smaller and quite susceptible to disease. Even so, Rosa CHINENSIS – the Chinese or Bengal rose – revolutionised rose breeding. Its genetic material is present in all modern roses.

As a result, and starting from France, the rose grew to become the queen of flowers. A decisive role in this development was played by another regent, France’s former empress Joséphine. She assembled the biggest collection of roses known at the time in the highly praised gardens of her Château de Malmaison. Joséphine was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about flowers. The circle of important botanists, artists and gardeners she gathered around her made major contributions to rose breeding and taxonomy. Joséphine encouraged and supported the flower painter Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), probably the most important source of our knowledge about historic roses thanks to his meticulous illustrations for Thory’s standard work Les Roses (1817-24).

Joséphine’s enthusiasm laid the foundation for an outburst of rosomanie in the gardens of the French aristocracy, one which would soon be imitated right across Europe. Typical of this development is the example of Johann Hieronymus Count Herberstein. His Rose Mound in Eggenberg and the precious new roses he imported from France after 1833 followed precisely the same fashion.

Old Roses in Eggenberg
Rosa gallica officinalis
Rosa gallica Versicolor
Rosa gallica Tuscany
Rosa Francofurtana
Rosa moschata
Rosa Centifolia Muscosa
Rosa Centifolia Petite Hollande
Rosa Centifolia Bishop
Rosa Centifolia Ombre Parfaite
Rosa Alba Königin von Dänemark
Rosa Alba Felicite
Rosa Alba Chloris
Rosa Gallica Duchesse d'Angouleme
Rosa Damascena Marie Louise
Rosa gallica Belle sans Flatterie
Rosa Centifolia Bullata
Rosa Gallica Cramoisi Picote
Rosa Damascena Celsiana
Rosa Indica Old Blush
Rose Reine de Bourbons
Rose du Roi