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Welcome to the January/Febuary 2001 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see "Other resources on this site". To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only.....not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose. Thanks!

This month's article is one written by Brent Dickerson, a frequent contributor to the content of my site. In this article he gives us a detailed account of what we know of the Damask Perpetual roses prior to 1812. Thankyou, Brent, for the use of this article! (Please note: most of the photos used to illustrate this article are mentioned herein.....I simply used what photos of Damask Perpetuals I had.)

Copyright Brent C. Dickerson 2000-2001.

The Damask Perpetuals through 1812

Part 1. Introduction.

R. damascena biferaAt left: R. damascena bifera
The Damask Perpetuals have long held a special place in the esteem of rose connoisseurs. As the only reblooming old European roses, they ornamented rosariums which, before the arrival of the Chinas and Teas and their developments, would otherwise have been barren of flowers in the latter part of the season. The increase of the group came at a glacial speed at first; and they indeed have never been a populous category, their palmy days of greatest distribution and increase being from perhaps about 1812 to about 1850. In this article, we will examine the veterans of the earliest period, through 1812, to familiarize ourselves with the foundation and first progress of a class of roses which played an overwhelmingly significant part in rose progress.

As with no other class of roses, there are maddening difficulties. Tradition plays against evidence; names jostle one another, being applied first one way, then another, then generally, then particularly, but particularly at odds with the past, a kaleidoscope of usage seeming to hint at meaning without ever quite resolving into comprehensible form. "The Damask Rose," writes Malo in 1821, "commonly bears the name of deux fois l'an [i.e., 'Bifera'], quatre-saisons, tous-les-mois. These diverse names have a greater or lesser value depending upon the botanist. For example, Monsieur Delaunay heaps up, on one side, the names Damask Rose and Quatre-Saisons; and, on the other, those of Tous-les-Mois and Deux Fois l'An. Monsieur Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, for his part, only looks on the Quatre-Saisons and Tous-les-Mois as a variety of the Deux Fois l'An, and he gives as the reason for this distinction that this lattermost rose only naturally blooms two times a year, which is to say Spring and Fall. As to Monsieur de Pronville, he makes the Tous-les-Mois a variety of Damask; and, finally, monsieur Bosc, in one lone article, confuses all four of these appellations." Let us take heart, however, and stroll together through the mists, hoping that some day a clearer trail can be marked!

2. The First 1500 Years.

    "Atque equidem, extremo ni iam sub fine laborum
    vela traham et terris festinem advertere proram
    forsitan et, pinguis hortos quae cura colendi
    ornaret, canerem biferique rosaria Paesti
    quoque modo potis gauderent intiba rivis
    et virides apio ripae, tortusque per herbam
    cresceret in ventram cucumis . . . "

This, from Virgil's Georgics (IV:116-122), has been taken to refer to reblooming roses in Paestum Italy in the Augustan age of Rome. Consultation with skilled Latinists, however, reveals that the pertinent section literally translates as "the rose-gardens of twice-bearing Paestum." Double- or constant-bearing was something of a poetical commonplace for expressions concerning bounteous Nature in classical times. Homer remarks on the continuous bearing through the year of pears, apples, figs, grapes, and olives in the garden of Alcinous in the Odyssey (VII:117 ff.); Hesiod, in Works and Days (lines 172-173) refers to three-times-a-year bearing in the Blessed Isles, for the benefit of defunct heroes. Less poetically, in a classical Florus 1:11:3, we see a reference to Campania, that region of Italy in which Paestum is situated; it tells us that Campania "bis floribus vernat"--Campania twice springs with flowers--everything is repeat-blooming in Campania! If we look for literal truth in this, we could derive some understanding from Ovid (Metamorphoses XV:708):

        "On towards Leucosia and Paestum's headland,
        Where roses love the warmth."

It would appear, then, that the supposed reblooming roses were simply lush-growing plants blooming an extended season along with everything else in Paestum and Campania due to the favorable climate. We should perhaps look upon "twice-bearing Paestum" and "twice-blooming Campania" as making use of the same literary conventions as appear in such expressions as "thrice beautiful" or "doubly accursed"--merely an intensifier, not a statement to be taken literally. This, and the complete absence of more certain statements, puts any claim for truly remontant roses in Paestum, as we mean remontancy, into the realm of the "doubtful pending further evidence." And so, for the time being at least, we bid adieu to the idea that the Romans had roses which were truly twice-blooming or perpetual under normal circumstances; and we see a new truth in Propertius, who advises (IV:v:61) that

        "Sweet Paestum's rose, for life and beauty born
        May wither in the sultry breath of morn."

R. damascena semperflorensAt right: R. damascena semperflorens.
When next do we hear of reblooming roses? Not until generation had succeeded generation for a millennium and a half. On the 15th of November, in 1580, the French essayist Montaigne, traveling to Rome, arrived in Ferrara, Italy, where he saw "several beautiful churches, gardens, and private mansions, and everything that could be called notable--among other things, at the Jesuits', a specimen of a rose which blooms every month of the year; and they indeed found one which they gave to Monsieur Montaigne"--the "one" being presumably a flower rather than a potted plant. Montaigne--or, rather, his amanuensis--mentions it as something remarkable; obviously, this wasn't a rose which was to be found everywhere along his route. What was it? We have no further description, neither from Montaigne nor from any contemporary, though doubtless such a reblooming rose would have been of general interest. Perhaps the plant died before it could be propagated! At any rate, it could have been an early appearance of a Damask Perpetual; considering the wide-ranging travels of the Jesuits, and the quick disappearance of the plant from the horticultural scene as far as we know, it could also have been an early introduction of a China rose, a sort of rose which the French and British were still having difficulties growing in the early 1800s. But we do not know!

And so, we end the first 1500 years of our history of the Damask Perpetual without our guest of honor, not finding it in Paestum, not knowing whether it was or was not Montaigne's rose, and noting that nothing of the sort was listed in Clusius' edition of Dodoens (1557), Sweerts (1612), Parkinson (1629), nor Johnson's edition of Gerard (1636). When will our precious rebloomer appear?--and where?

3. The Monthly Rose and its Varieties.

In 1665, in London, John Rea published the following, under the heading Rosa mensalis: "The monethly [sic] Rose is in all parts thereof very like unto the Damask Rose; it is said that in Italy it beareth seven moneths in the year, but I could never find or hear of any truth that it ever bore flowers in England above three, that was, in June, about the middle of August, and towards the end of September; the Roses are very like the Damask, but something more double, and not all things so sweet." Finally our Damask Perpetuals have appeared in good earnest; and Rea's paragraph is replete with interest. Italy again! Could the rose Montaigne saw finally have been propagated and distributed? Or could the Italian connection just have been a coincidence? Further, though unknown to Parkinson in 1629, by 1665 it had spread enough in England that Rea was asking around as to whether anyone in England had found it to bloom more than three times a year.

But what did it look like? Why, Rea tells us precisely: "in all parts thereof very like unto the Damask Rose." And what does Rea tell us about the appearance of the Damask Rose? Silly--there it is in black and white: " . . . it is so well known, and all the parts thereof, so that it needeth no further description." We obtain some relief to our curiosity by seeing that Rea's 'York and Lancaster' "differeth onely from the ordinary Damask Rose" in the variegation of the flower; but perhaps--noting a certain affinity between Rea and Parkinson (making Rea's new mention of the 'Monthly Rose' all the more significant)--we do best to turn to Parkinson (1629): "The Damaske Rose bush is more usually noursed up to a competent height to stand alone, (which we call Standards,) then any other Rose: the barke both of the stocke and branches is not fully so greene as the red or white Rose: the leaves are greene with an eye of white upon them, so like until the red Rose [i.e., Gallica], that there is no great difference between them, but that the leaves of the red Rose seeme to bee of a darker greene. The flowers are of a fine deepe blush colour, as all know, with some pale yellow threds in the middle, and are not so thicke and double as the white [i.e., the Alba], nor being blowne, with so large and great leaves [i.e., petals] as the red, but of the most excellent sweet pleasant s[c]ent, far surpassing all other Roses or Flowers, being neyther heady nor too strong, nor stuffing or unpleasant sweet, as many other flowers." We can add that Rea notes that the "pale blush almost white" markings on the 'York and Lancaster' blossom appear "upon the Damask Rose colour"--in other words, the darker shade of the 'York and Lancaster' flower is the color of the flower of the Common Damask, which in turn--interpreting Rea--is the color of the blossom of the 'Monthly Rose'. Thus, what the 'Monthly Rose' was was essentially simply a repeat-blooming 'Common Damask'

Click here for part 2

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