Breeders of Note:
In any gathering of newly acquainted rose
afficianados, conversation often turns to trading stories about the
seminal experiences which kindled their interest in roses. For Peter
Beales, it is his "Grandpa's rose," an Alba known to us as "Maidens
Blush." He vividly recalls "being drawn to her by her `expensive'
perfume which seemed to pervade the entire garden each June."
Beales later was glad to be able to use budwood from this bush when he
started his nursery; thereby being able to propagate this treasured
bush to many new locations. And presently, he is comforted that his
"Grandpa's" original rose bush looks ready to easily outlive him (1).
For others, a common shared memory is of large, fragrant, globular,
almost cabbage-like roses that grew in the yard of a neighbor or
relative. They would likely recognize it if they were able to see it
again. But, absent the original bush, visual memories are often
idealized or embellished over time. The actual rose may have been a
Hybrid Perpetual, or perhaps a more modest Bourbon.
But, if their memory is true to the rose, the beloved rose may well
have been, in fact, a "Cabbage rose." The more sophisticated among us
call them Provence roses, or Centifolia roses (after the "hundred
petals" in each bloom).
"It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that man began to
interfere with the progeny of the rose to much effect. The Dutch, in
particular, did much pioneering work, especially in selected improved
strains of R. x centifolia and its hybrids. Proof of this comes from
the frequent appearance of these blowsy many-petalled roses in the
works of the Old Masters, ..."(2).
For centuries, R. x centifolia was deemed to be a species rose.
However, modern science has proven "beyond a doubt that it is a
complex hybrid and not, as previously thought, a true species.
Apparently, the Centifolias are made up of genes from R. gallica, R.
phoenicia, R. moschata, R. canina and R. damascena" (2).
It is said that the "Dutch introduced over 200 varieties of
Centifolias between 1580 and 1710..."(2). Beales understandably
marveled at this prodigious production by such a small country in so
brief and primitive a time. He also wondered to what degree this
achievement might have been facilitated by the utilization of
additional pre-existing, and possibly more sophisticated,
varieties(2). <It should have been a much longer, harder, & less
fecund road had they worked solely with the species roses listed
above>. It is well to remember that, in those days, the Dutch were a
major world power, both economically & militarily. They plied all the
seas of the world; New Amsterdam with its Knickerbockers was just one
of their far-flung ports of call. In all likelihood, their ships were
bringing home all sorts of God-knows-what from everywhere, including
roses, to good "Old" Amsterdam. In such a cosmopolitan environment, an
infusion of "just right, new, exciting, and different" rose genes
would have been much more readily available than to other located
growers out in the farmlands of other countries.
Of course, there are always competing theories. HELPMEFIND.COM notes
that Michael Gibson in his book, "From Fifty Favourite Roses," wrote
that "Research seems to indicate that the centifolias we know
originated somewhere in eastern Europe with both damask and alba blood
in them and first appeared in Holland in the sixteenth century... as a
race they are largely sterile. On the other hand, they throw out
bud-sports with considerable freedom, and it was these that the Dutch
breeders concentrated on until the group expanded enough to become
widely known as Holland roses....."
Whatever their genetic provenance, they came on the scene in a time of
artistic & cultural ferment. Even now, centuries later, most readers
will recognize the phrase "The Dutch Masters," have a vague sense of
what they were, and perhaps be able to name one or two, such as
Rembrandt. The impact these painters had was both wide and deep. Their
favorite, proudly home-grown roses were the Centifolias. That is what
they painted. And, what they painted became widely fashionable. And
then (since they actually are beautiful) they became embedded in the
cultural consciousness as "good," and "desirable." The Centifolias
place among the roses of history was assured.
The widely accepted fashion of the Dutch Masters may explain why these
roses were selected to be planted. But, our contemporaries with the
fond memories were not persuaded by the artists. Rather, those who
grew up with "Cabbage roses," are simply treasuring their own personal
memories and experiences of youth, when the world was young, and all
things new. Amidst them all, these roses often rise to the top of
beloved memories on their own merit.
So, what are these Centifolias which can generate such powerful
memories in the young and unsophisticated ?
Firstly, they are "Centifolias;" that is, they are VERY double blooms
with many petals. They have a globular shape, and their many petals
tend to curve inwards like cabbage, and cover the center of the roses,
a number of which have the green button-eye. The majority are some
shade of pink. A small number, later introductions, may be red, white,
Their hardiness is also an important factor in their widespread
popularity. They are hardy throughout most of the US, growing in zones
Zone 4 thru 9. This easily would have would have made them more
universal than either the tender Tea roses, or some other OGRs, which
have to be tricked into dormancy by leaf-stripping in warm climates,
in order to get blooms. ( I read in Botanica's Roses that `Centifolia
Variegata,' a creamy white bloom with lilac-pink stripes and a rich
fragrance has naturalized in New Zealand for 80 years, making good
Every reference reports that most Centifolia cultivars boast a very
pronounced and pleasant fragrance. Marcel Proust discovered that smell
brings back more, and stronger, memories than other sensory stimuli.
Alors ! Fragrance implants stronger/deeper memories; pleasant
fragrance = pleasant memories.
Centifolias are once blooming, in the late Spring or Summer. Perhaps
the fact that such strong, happy memories could be experienced only
once a year would also have intensified the experience ? Consider how
we today drive some distance in order to enjoy autumn's leafy color
show, and are disappointed in a "bad" year. Autumn would not be so
appreciated if it lasted 6 months. So it may also be with the
Centifolias: less was more.
Most Centifolias are not stiffly upright, nor are they ground covers.
For the most part, they have somewhat flexible canes which arch over
gracefully, especially under the weight of all the "cabbages" they
bear. They may be leggy, floppy, "untidy" or "disorderly" to some
degree. While there are variations, and some "Dwarf Centifolias," most
tend to grow between 4 to 6 feet in height, and a little less in
width. They can be somewhat subject to mildew. Like the Hybrid
Perpetuals, they were bred and grown for their blooms on short stems,
not for their cultural virtues.
In the world of roses, there are classes of roses which are reasonably
distinct. But then upon closer inspection, the boundaries (and the
cultivars) blur and run together. Different authorities include
different cultivars in many classifications. In with the Centifolias,
some include their offspring, the Moss and Dwarf roses. The boundaries
are fluid. Ask 5 experts to list all the Centifolias, and you will
have 5 different lists, albeit with much overlap.
For those interested in more information, "Roses," and "Classic Roses"
by Peter Beales give written & pictorial thumbnails of rose cultivars
which he, in his expertise, places in the various rose groups. So also
do Moody & Harkness in their "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Roses."
The website HELPMEFIND.COM is also a good source of such information
on roses by class.
Here is a very short list of a few good, generally accepted
Centifolias. But be aware that most of them are called by MANY
different names. And some different roses are called by the same name.
If you wish to obtain one, be sure to check if what they are selling
is the cultivar you want to buy.
1- `THE Cabbage Rose,' R. x centifolia, and "The Provence rose" - a
fragrant, pink cabbage rose
2- `Centifolia Variegata,' `Village Maid,' and `Cottage Maid,' among
many other aliases (Described above). This one is more upright than
many; also, it may possibly repeat a little. The HELPMEFIND site has
some beautiful pictures of it, especially ones donated by Jos‚e
Prud'homme's Garden; but note the strikingly different photos by Lee
Sherman's High Desert Rose Garden and by Annie Hernandez.
3- `Tour de Malakoff' the tallest, and very vividly colored. Magenta,
fading to lilac gray. The photo of it at HELPMEFIND by Monika's Garden
shows the appearance of the whole shrub; very nice.
4- `Rose des Peintres' Clear deep pink, about 6 feet tall.
There are many other good, well known Centifolias. Happy rose growing.
(1) - Peter Beales' "Roses," page 11
(2) - Peter Beales' "Roses," page 8