roses-art - 5/15/97
"Sacred Iron Posies" by Daniel del Cavallo. (medieval roses).
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Tue, 6 May 97 08:41:16 -0000
From: dbronson <dbronson at rny.com>
To: "Mark Harris" <mark_harris at quickmail>
Sacred Iron Posies
or “Gee Dan, why don’t you quit complaining and write an article about it”
being a rant on prosaic desires.
Part 1/2 - Preface to the Windfalls Edition.
This was originally to be a fairly succinct article. I quickly realized, however, that it was growing out of control, and, unless pruned, might quickly overtake the simple shire newsletter it was designed to fit. It continues as a work in progress, but it was decided to run the finished bits now rather than try and string it out into a monthly series - a silly plan for the Windfalls, I think you’ll agree. If parts seem incomplete, or if I make excuses in regard to certain topics being beyond the scope of this article, it’s to avoid taking up the entire windfalls, which may happen anyway...
Part I - The Frothy Introduction.
I’ve spent a fairly long time in the SCA playing fast and loose with authenticity, and really putting the ‘C’ in SCA. When my sainted mother always told me that everyone in the SCA got anal about something, naturally I scoffed. Believing that “together, our pledges could help stop authenticity nazism in our lifetime”, I even took a certain perverse joy in torquing the wad of the occasional uptight authenticity wonk. Don’t conclude from this that I think that authenticity has no place. In competition, I expend no small effort to insure that my documentation is bulletproof. Like an embarrassing personal problem, however, I find that when adherence to authenticity interferes with the reasonable pursuit of a good time, it1s time to get help.
You can therefore imagine my considerable shock upon realizing that I myself have something of a pet peeve in the authenticity department. Turgid prose, you ask? No, it’s even more obscure (and therefore way more interesting than your odd coke-can-hater, or railer-against-sneakers.) It’s something so simple that most people never even give it a second thought, although in all fairness, it arises fairly seldom in the day-to-day SCA. Why don’t I stop beating around the bush? Why aren’t I just shutting up, and getting to the point of this thorny issue? Largely to pad out the article for purposes of filler, but also so I can take advantage of the drama built up by procrastination to add punch to one of my favorite literary devices, the one word paragraph.
By now, you’re saying ‘huh?’ That’s good. That means that you have taken the first step toward admitting that there’s a problem.
Roses in SCA period (which the astute reader will note is actually an anagram of the peculiar title of this article - can you spot the other one?) were not the pathetic, spiritless, degenerate things you see in florist shops and most mundane rose gardens. There were, in fact, only a few varieties available to the medieval European, and these tended to be fairly similar in flower form and growth habit. Anyway, below you will find a brief pedigree of the rose from ancient Rome to the beginning of the serious breeding in the 18th century that led modern roses to the sorry state they’re in - fleshed out with a wealth of needless but amusing detail culled and liberally paraphrased from the wealth of books on the topic I have managed to collect over the many years that this subject has consumed my idle summer hours. Along the way, you’ll learn the difference between the roses your persona may have known, and the degraded homunculi we poor twentieth-century consumers are spoon fed.
Part II - The Glossary.
It occurred to me during writing this that somewhat less than 100% of the audience of this article would be familiar with botany as it concerns roses, or indeed, even gardening. Bearing this in mind, I’ll try to provide a brief list of terms and concepts that will be used in the narrative to follow.
Cane - The rose-specific term for a branch.
Cross - In breeding, synonymous with “hybrid.”
Cultivar - A made-up word meaning cultivated variety.
Habit - This is a catch-all term describing the way in which a rose grows. It can encompass tall, spindly, and climbing, or short, bushy, and dense. It can describe once-flowering or perpetual, it can describe thorny or smooth. You get the idea.
Hardy - A tricky concept, especially when one reads nursery catalogues. Remember - these people are trying to sell you something. They are bound to downplay the tenderness of their plants. There are varieties of rose that can survive almost Arctic cold (like the Japanese R. rugosa) and roses that can’t survive temperatures even close to freezing (like the Chinese R. gigantea.) Hardiness is largely determined by where you live. If, like I do, you live in central New York, hardy means you need a rose that will survive winter dips down to -10Ż or so. Fortunately, the guesswork has been removed by the US Hardiness Zone map. It is a well known reference that slices the US up into zones based on how cold the winters usually get. It can be found in most good gardening books, stores, catalogs, or call your local cooperative extension. I live in zone 5. I tend to buy plants rated for zone 5.
Hips - The fruit of the rose. Needlessly prized for their vitamin C content (it1s not as if we have a shortage of oranges or pills,) they are worth their weight in gold to the breeder. Sterile hybrid roses produce short-lived hips which quickly turn brown, shrivel, and drop off.
Hybrid - A hybrid is the offspring of the sexual union between two species or dissimilar culitvars. In roses, this means that pollen from one species manages to fertilize the ova of another. The resultant seed is grown, and this seedling then represents an intermediary between the two parents. Of course, it1s unbelievably more complex than that, so I1ll leave further education regarding plant genetics as an exercise for the reader.
Nomenclature - It is the practice to refer to plants by their Latin genus and species, the genus capitalized, the species in minuscule, the whole typically printed in italic. When one genus is being discussed, it is common to abbreviate. When a hybrid of well defined parentage and sufficient uniqueness arises, it is typically given a name by the breeder/discoverer, and an Ćx1 (denoting a cross) is placed before the species name. Rosa x kordesii is one example. If there is a recognized variety of a species (some would say “subspecies,”) it is typical to add a non-italic “var.” followed by the variety name. Sometimes, the “var.” is dropped altogether as in R. gallica Officinalis.
Once-Flowering - The opposite of perpetual. See “Perpetual.”
Perpetual - An optimistic term used to describe a roses period of bloom. Usually, it refers to roses that bloom once in spring, and then repeat this behaviour in fall. Very few roses actually bloom continually from spring to frost. Those that do are effectively in the throes of a genetic disease. Flowers and subsequently seeds borne in the fall will never ripen and hence never produce adult plants. This behaviour can hardly be beneficial to the species and results in individual plants wasting a lot of energy by needlessly screwing. Probably as a result, the trait for perpetual bloom is recessive. It’s only occurrence in medieval Europe was in R. damascena bifera, the Autumn Damask. Specimens of this repeated with varying degrees of success but were much prized nonetheless. Truly constant flowering wasn’t introduced until the mid 18th century with the influx of truly perpetual but tender specimens from China.
Single - A term used in reference to the number of petals on a flower. In the genus Rosa, single means “having only five petals”, like most wild species, and the familiar heraldic depiction. Double, then, should mean “having ten”, right? No. After single, the terminology gets fairly subjective. Semi-double means more than five, but less than double. Double means even more. Fully, or very double means even more petals. There don’t seem to be any hard rules. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the accepted terminology for color and scent are even more vague.
Species - An unique organism. One which can be readily distinguished from all others in a significant way, and will reliably sexually reproduce others like itself. Rose species are said to “breed true” from seed, meaning the offspring look much like the parents. Hybrids do not enjoy such predictability. When they aren’t sterile, their ancestry is typically so complex that the seedlings are really potluck. The only way modern breeders can reliably raise marketable hybrid varieties is to grow them by the tens of thousands, selecting the less than 1% that have the right mix of new and/or desirable traits.
Sport - In botany, “sport” was an early term for mutant. When a random mutation occurs in the meristem of a plant, and that meristem grows successfully into a branch or whatever, the mutation is carried along resulting in a portion of the plant having different characteristics from the rest. The simplest example would be flower color. For example, a pink rose may be found growing on a bush whose flowers are normally white. This “sport” may then be reproduced asexually (by cutting, layering, or grafting) and a whole new variety established. Many new varieties of rose have arisen this way.
Suckering - the tendency of a plant to form “suckers”. Suckers are underground shoots that radiate outward from the base of the plant, popping up around it to form new bushes. Many old roses and some new ones can spread in this manner to form mounds and hedges. Desirable in period gardens as a means of increase, in the modern world of specimen planting it is considered a flaw, and consequently a trait that breeders try to downplay.
Part III - Roses before SCA period.
Paleontologists have found specimens identifiable as roses in the fossil records of Europe, North America and Asia dating back around 35 million years - easily old enough to satisfy the most stringent authenticity maven. The living roses they most resemble today are the species Rosa nutkana and R. palustris. When archaeology advanced beyond simply blowing things up, people began to notice the small details. Evidence of roses were predictably among them. For example, the famous and badly restored “Fresco with Blue Bird”, unearthed at Knossos (c. 1900-1700 BC,) clearly depicts a rose in one of its few original fragments. This is thought to be the oldest known picture of a rose. The palace of Nestor at Pylos yielded a group of stone tablets recording details of oil trading. Called the Olive Oil Tablets of Pylos, they firmly place rose-scented oil (and therefore large-scale rose production) in Greece in the thirteenth century BC. The earliest known bits of actual roses are parts of rose wreaths unearthed from a tomb in lower Egypt and dated near 170 AD. These specimens are thought to be R. x richardii, formerly called R. sancta, the Holy Rose, or St. Johns Rose. Of course, there is also much mention of the rose in later Hellenistic literature, but the picture it paints is a child’s watercolor compared to the Redouté painted by classical Rome. Like every aspect of Hellenistic culture, the Romans adopted the Greek love of the rose and warped it into a delightfully obsessive psychosis.
The Romans (when they weren’t too busy vomiting or subjecting innocent lions to Christians,) were probably vomiting on roses, or adorning victorious lions with rose petals. Historians tend to agree on this point (well... perhaps not the specifics, but you get the idea.) Roses or rose petals were variously grown, worn, eaten, drunk, vomited, slept on, sat on, painted, written about, mythologized, awarded, and smeared on boils. Romans made cosmetics from them, perfumed water with them, buried their dead with them, deified them, and occasionally inadvertently suffocated their dinner guests with them. Nero apparently started a fashion for showering his feasts with rose petals to the tune of what we would understand as $400,000 for one feast. This trend seems to have culminated centuries later with the transsexual emperor Heliogabalus who, in an effort to commemorate the beginning of his reign, locked his guests in the feast hall to insure their attention, and then showered them with so many rose petals that several of them suffocated. Few if any other plants permeated Roman society so completely.
Sadly, historians cannot say with precision which varieties of rose the Romans grew. It is however, overwhelmingly likely that they had the basic varieties that are now considered by rosarians to be the “ancient varieties”.
Part IVa - Roses in SCA Period, the “Ancient Varieties”.
The first and most important ancient variety is Rosa gallica, a very hardy, once-flowering species native to southern Europe and ranging from France eastward to central Turkey. Rosa gallica Officinalis, known as the Apothecaries Rose is thought to be the oldest surviving cultivar of the species. It is believed to have been brought to Provins, France from Damascus after the Seventh Crusade by Thibault IV le Chansonnier, King of Navarre, Count of Champagne and Brie [YUM!] in 1250 where it became the basis of a huge rose oil industry lasting from the 13th to the 18th centuries. It is believed to be depicted in the Portinari altarpiece in Ghent Cathedral, which dates from around 1430. It forms a spreading, suckering bush up to 4ft high, and provides an excellent crop of sweetly-scented, cerise flowers in the spring. It is still available through many specialty nurseries.
Rosa damascena and R. damascena bifera
Now things get a bit more complicated. The Gallicas, as they’re known, are simply varieties of a single species. The next most important group, the Damasks, spring from one of two sub-varieties, the Summer Damask or the Autumn Damask, each of which, experts assert, arose as chance hybrids before men knew what pollen really was. Their origins are uncertain, and their introduction to Europe (probably from Syria) appears to have taken place in the late 13th century at the hands of one Robert de Brie from whose chateau in Champagne they were gradually dispersed throughout Europe. The Summer Damask appears to be a natural hybrid between R. gallica, and R. phoenicia - a native of the eastern Mediterranean. Roses of this type flower once in late spring to early summer, as the name implies. They are light pink to white, have very double, informal, cupped blooms, and a thick, heady scent which is usually described circularly as “Damask fragrance”. They just have to be smelled to be believed. Anyone raised on scentless Hybrid Teas would faint. Anyway, the second subtype, the Autumn Damask, arose as a cross between R. gallica, and R. moschata - the musk rose - which can flower a second time in Autumn, and can grow up to 30 feet tall! R. moschata is known from southern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and North Africa. It has single white flowers, a sweet musky scent, and flowers from June to September. The Autumn Damask appears very like it’s once flowering sibling, but produces a second flush of bloom in the fall. Prior to 1781 from Europe to North Africa, it was the only rose known to do so. It was much prized for this reason, and came to figure prominently in a flurry of breeding experiments (specifically the Portlands) which we’ll get to later.
The third and least significant group would be the Albas. Experts are fuzzy on their precise ancestry, and history appears to have glossed them over, but they seem to have arisen either as a natural cross between a Dog Rose (R. canina or a relative) and R. damascena, or possibly R. gallica x R. corymbifera. Their flowers are typically white, rarely pale pink, and sweetly scented. They form large shrubs up to 7 feet tall, and the leaves tend to have a bluish cast. They are once flowering. In period context, it is generally agreed that mention of the “White Rose” refers to varieties of R. alba, as this would have been the only available consistently white garden variety.
The only other group relevant to the SCA are the Centifolias, or Cabbage Roses. These arose as a cross between an Autumn Damask and an Alba around the end of the 16th century as mentioned by Gerard, although solid documentation in the form of Dutch flower paintings doesn’t appear until the seventeenth century. They form large floppy bushes with extremely double pink to white flowers and are typically very heavily scented. All period varieties arose as mutations of the original cross since that original was sterile. A fertile mutant (or ‘sport’) wasn’t discovered until early in the 19th century. Perhaps the most interesting sport of the Centifolia line is the Moss Rose, a rose whose glandular hairs have grown impossibly large and productive, giving the impression that the buds and sepals are covered with moss. The first recorded appearance of this mutation comes from Carcassonne in 1696, and is known as R. centifolia Mucosa. After this, varieties trickled into cultivation until the appearance of R. centifolia Cristata in 1820 after which it appears that new varieties appeared only through hybridization. No fresh sports have occurred since.
All the varieties above shared several traits in common. They typically grew as sprawling shrubs. Their scent was heavy. Their buds were globose or ovoid rather than slender and pointed. Their flowers were cupped and muddled, rather than high-centered and imbricate. They were white, pink, or rarely deep red-brown or purple, and informal in shape. This is the medieval European rose.
Part IVb - ...umm, but what about roses in SCA period?
(Note that this is a brief and incomplete treatment. Writing “A Concise History of the Rose in Medieval European Culture” will be left as an exercise for the reader.)
After Rome fell, the popularity of the rose seemed to suffer a period of decline. The explanation that will fit in this article is that early Christendom connected the rose very strongly with its recently departed Roman oppressors and their pagan gods, and so oppressed the innocent rose in turn. Apparently, it was frowned upon by the early church as well as secular authorities to grow and use them for any purpose other than the medicinal. Naturally, it was monks who kept rose culture alive during this period, growing them for purely medicinal purposes (wink, wink.) For centuries, growing roses appears to have actually been forbidden. With the exception of sparse clues from France, there is almost no mention of the rose in Europe from the end of the Roman period until roughly the time of Charlemagne. Even then, it appears to have still been strictly regulated and was mentioned only in certain official capacities. For example, in 794, Charlemagne founded his “Crown Lands” the agricultural use of which was governed by a regulation called the Capitulare de villis. Paragraph 70 of this executive order begins; “It is our wish that you shall have every form of plant in the garden particularly 1) lilies, 2) roses, etcä.”
By the year 1200, it seems that the rose had become much more wide spread and appreciated, from the evidence of many of the contemporary poets, and as can be seen in the illustrations in the Roman de la Rose. Stylized, stained-glass, rosette windows became a fashionable adornment on gothic cathedrals (particualrly in France) largely because crusaders had seen them in Egypt and Persia - where the rose has enjoyed unwavering veneration. About this time, likely during the pontificate of Leo IX, a tradition began whereby popes would award a sculpted rose made of gold and red enamel or rubies to individuals who had performed some outstanding service to the church. Soon, the rose began to become associated with the cult of Mary, at first as a symbol of purity and modesty, but in later period it came to be a typical adornment in art depicting the Virgin. This practically insured it’s return to fame.
By 1300, rose cultivation in France was already on a considerable scale and use of them for decoration in the home, on banquet tables and for personal enjoyment was rapidly increasing. A number of cities enjoyed special privileges for rose growing, particularly Rouen in France and Florence in Italy.
Contemporary paintings and building decorations make it clear that rose growing in the Renaissance, from about 1340 to the end of the 16th century, had become a major activity. Many of the old roses of the day appear in the works of the great masters, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and most of them can be easily identified.
Also, some authors assert that the resurgence of popularity that the humble rose enjoyed owed much to the rise of Marianism, which adopted the rose as one of it’s symbols. There is probably much merit to this theory, but a thorough treatment of this is vastly outside the scope of this article.
Part V - Roses to the Present Day.
Within what may seem like fairly rigid parameters, there was still considerable variability in the medieval rose. Even so, this wasn’t enough for certain adventurous souls who wanted more out of the rose than it seemed willing to give. We continue out of period now to illustrate how we unfortunate denizens of the 20th century have come to the state we’re in.
Once the principles of rose breeding were understood, hybrids were steadily bred and genes unwittingly tinkered with. Then, toward the end of the 18th century, two things pushed rose breeding out of obscurity and up to the height of fashion. The Empress Josephine touched off a rose breeding craze in Europe with her legendary rose garden at Malmaison. The Portland Roses (crosses between the Autumn Damask and the Apothecaries Rose) arose at about this time. Simultaneously, several unheard-of varieties of rose were introduced to Europe from China - most importantly, the aptly named Chinas and the Teas (named for their tea-like fragrance.) Oddly, the two most influential classes resulting from the clash of the ancient varieties with the ‘modern’ chinas arose mostly outside of Europe. The first of these was the Bourbons (from the Žle de Bourbon,) a cross between R. chinensis (the China Rose) and an Autumn Damask. Next, the Noisettes (from Charleston, SC..) arose under human guidance from a cross between a China, and R. moschata.
Confusing? It gets worse. By the end of the 19th century, rose breeding was getting sophisticated. The holy grail of rose breeders was a fairly hardy, old-world-looking variety that bloomed all season long. Fortunately, the new China hybrids did just that, but couldn’t tolerate cold, and didn’t measure up to the aesthetic of the day. The Bourbons represented the closest thing to the ultimate goal thus far. These, along with Portlands and Hybrid Chinas (R. chinensis x R. gallica) were all variously crossed, and the resultant muddle were classed as ‘Hybrid Perpetuals’. Optimistically named, they typically fell short of their goal, and yet more than a thousand different varieties were raised by the end of the 19th century, only a handful of which survive today. Finally, in the mid 19th century, someone crossed the tender, everblooming Tea rose with the robust, but flawed Hybrid Perpetual to produce the Hybrid Tea, the first example of which is widely held to be ‘La France’, raised by Guillot Fils in 1867. This line of breeding would prove so overwhelmingly successful that it remains the dominant garden rose to this day.
Hybrid Teas do what breeders wanted. They sit there and look pretty and bloom all year long in a steady trickle. Sadly, that’s about all they do. The breeders seem to have downplayed many characteristics that made roses what they were in their monomaniacal quest for some artificial ‘ideal’. Modern Hybrid Teas, for example, do not produce a singe large flush of bloom in the spring like the old varieies do. They are prone to a number of diseases that weren’t much of a problem in older varieties. Most of them have no scent to speak of. Their growth tends to be tall, spindly, and anemic in stark contrast to the vigor and fullness of an old rose bush.
Fortunately for us all, someone has taken this matter in hand and begun to breed modern roses with the perpetual habit of the Hybrid Teas, and the form, color, and fragrance of the old roses. These roses have spawned a new class called “English Roses”, and their now famous creator is David Austin. His roses represent a quite acceptable compromise for the modern gardener in quest of historical correctness. Sadly, a more lengthy treatment of Mr. Austin’s accomplishments would require more space than I can take up. There are, however, several books both by him, and/or about him available in bookstores and libraries. I would encourage the interested reader to seek more information.
Part VI - Seeking more information.
The more wired among you may wish to check out the following links. They will likely answer any questions that this article has raised.
- rec.gardens.roses English Rose FAQ
- rec.gardens.roses Old Rose FAQ
- Hompage of the Heritage Rose Group.
- The Antique Rose Advisor Forum.
- Online catalog for ‘Roses of Yesterday and Today’, a good company that I have dealt with personally.
- ‘Yesterdays Rose’ website.
Part VII - Some nurseries.
Here are a few of the many nurseries that deal in old or English roses. The first three, I have personal experience with and like. Bear in mind that these are small, family run businesses and they need to charge for their catalogs to cover printing costs. The last is a large commercial nursery that sells English Roses in America.
Lowe's Own-root Roses, 6 Sheffield Rd., Nashua N.H. 03062, cat. $2
Roses of Yesterday & Today, 802 Browns' Valley Rd., Watsonville CA 95076, cat. $5
Heritage Rosarium 211 Haviland Mill Rd., Brookeville MD 20833, cat. $1
Wayside Gardens, Hodges S.C. 29695, cat. on request
Part VIII - A brief bibliography.
The following is a mere transcription of the bibliography of period references contained in one of my principal modern resources, namely; 3The Complete Book of Roses,2 by Gerd Krüssmann. This is difficult to find, but easily the absolute best, most complete resource on the topic that has ever been written.
Albertus Magnus. Naturalia. Strasburg, 1548.
Bauhin, Caspar. Pinax theatri botanici. Basel, 1623.
Besler, Basilius. Hortus Eystettensis. Nürnberg, 1613.
Bock, Hieronymus. New Kreutterbuch. Strasburg, 1577.
Brunfels, Otto. Contrafayt Kreüterbuch. Strasburg, 1532.
Camerarius, Joachim. Hortus medius et philosophicus. Frankfurt, 1588.
Clusius, Carolus (Charles d l1Ecluse.) Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Pannoniam Austriam et vicinitatis Historia. Antwerp, 1583.
Fuchs, Leonhart. New Kreüterbuch. Basel, 1543.
Gerard, John. The Herball. London, 1597.
Gessner, Conrad. Catalogus Plantarum. Frankfurt, 1543.
Hildegardis De Pinguia. Physica S. Hildegardis. Strasburg, 1533.
Lobelius, Mattias. Plantarum seu stirpium icones. Antwerp, 1576.
Lonitzer, Adam. Kreuterbuch, neu zugericht. Frankfurt, 1557.
Megenburg, Conrad Von. Buch der Natur. Augsburg, 1475.
Tabernaemontanus, Jakob Theodor. Neuw Kreuterbuch. Frankfurt, 1588.
Tabernaemontanus, Jakob Theodor. Eicones planatarum seu stirpium, arborum, fruticum, herbarum, lignorum, radicum omnis generis. Frankfurt, 1590.
Wonnecke, Johann. Ortus sanitatis auff teutsch Ein Garten der Gesundheit. Mainz, 1485.
I (the author) while retaining copyright, hereby grant permission for the
abovementioned work to be reproduced in whatever form necessary, provided
the recipient of the copy is not charged either money or barter for
reciept of said copy, not even to cover xerograpic costs, etc..., AND
provided credit is given to the author, AND provided this statement
appears at the end of any copies made, so there. This statement of
copyright (c) 1996, Daniel P. Bronson (Daniel del Cavallo.)
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.