As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us are quietly hoping (or noisily hinting) at the possibility of being surprised with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers; roses would be nice….

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Photo credit: ‘The Rose’ – Betty Nudler via Foter.com CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flick.com/photos/bet27/866025567/

Ever thought about the significance of the rose? They have a language all of their own….

Take the colour; each has its own meaning:

Red – for love and beauty
White – purity and innocence; a new start (why they are so often used in bridal flowers)
Yellow – friendship, joy, delight; good health
Orange – desire and enthusiasm
Pink – appreciation; gratitude and love
Lavender – enchantment

The number of stems given says something too:

A single stem, of any colour, shows utmost devotion
Two stems entwined, poses the question ‘will you marry me?’
Six, indicates a need to be loved….
Eleven, assures the recipient they are loved deeply
Twelve, the ‘classic’ number, shows love and appreciation
Thirteen, depicts a secret admirer!

The rose – always a favourite – but did you know, there are over 30,000 different varieties? All originating from the humble and beautiful, wild rose….

Take our native Dog Rose (Rosa Canina), the thorny climber found growing in hedgerows and woodland; with its simple five petaled, lightly scented flower, ranging from white to deep pink. The Dog Rose flowers late Spring through to mid Summer and then produces an abundance of red rose hips. Loved by wildlife, it is an invaluable source of food; nectar for the insects and the hips for the birds, especially blackbirds and redwings. In years gone by the flowers were widely used to make rose water and scented oils; the hip, being high in Vitamin C, used to make syrup and tea. Even today it is still used for medicinal purposes. Do you remember as a child, ever making ‘itching powder’ from the tiny hairs found inside the rosehip? Nowadays, the Dog Rose is used for stabilising soil on land reclamation sites and as root stock for grafted, cultivated roses….

The wild rose is one of the true symbols of our heritage, represented by the Tudor Rose. The War of the Roses was a series of wars between 1455 and 1487, to claim the English throne. The House of York, with the white rose as its emblem and the red rose for the House of Lancaster. Eventually, Henry VII won the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, taking the Crown from Richard III and thus claiming victory for the Tudors….

So, what are the origins of our very own English rose? Well, in the beginning it came to us from Central Asia; it is estimated that its origin dates back between 60-70 million years! Fossil evidence has been found that is 35 million years old. There are some 150 natural species of wild rose, which gradually spread across the Northern Hemisphere. Cultivation began roughly 5,000 years ago, probably by the Chinese although the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all grew cultivated roses as well. It wasn’t until the late 18th Century that cultivated roses as we know and love today were properly introduced into Europe; having said that, long before then, it was Alexander the Great, ruler of Macedonia, who has been given credit for first introducing a form of cultivated rose to Europe….

During the 12th and 13th Centuries, soldiers returning from the Crusades in the Middle East, brought back samples and tales of ostentatious rose gardens. As travel began to increase, merchants and scholars began to exchange different plant species, amongst them roses….

In 1597, the English herbalist, John Gerard, recorded in his book, ‘Herball’, some fourteen different types of roses. In 1629, John Parkinson, pharmacist to James I, noted 24 types growing in his herb garden. In the early 1700s, Mary Lawrence, in her book ‘A Collection of Roses from Nature’, illustrated 90 different varieties….

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Europe saw a kind of ‘revolution’ in the breeding and growing of roses. A certain variety, the Chinese Rose (Rosa Chinensis) had attracted the attention of European growers.

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Photo credit: China Rose. Rosa Chinensis [as Rosa indica] Choix des plus belles fleurs – et des plus beaux fruits par P.J. Redoute (1833) – Swallowtail Garden Seeds via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swallowtailgardenseeds/15202765926/
It was in 1752 that the very first Chinese variety arrived in the West, when a rose named ‘Old Blush’ was introduced to Sweden. Then, sometime in 1789, a captain of the British Navy carried the first flowers to England. 1793 saw the introduction of more specimens, brought in by the Director of the East India Company, Dr. William Roxburgh….

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Photo credit: Old blush’ – Real Jardin Botanico, CSIC via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/realjardinbotanico/9560846241/

The Tea Rose (Rosa X Odorata) was introduced to the West in 1808/09; named because the aroma of its foliage resembles that of the tea plant.

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Photo credit: ‘Hume’s Blush Tea-scented China’ Rosa X odorata) – Cliff1066TM via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/3564804236/

It was during the early 1800s that Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, helped to make roses so popular in Europe, she was passionate about them. In her rose garden, near to Paris, she accumulated some 250 specimens, collecting until her death in 1814. To encourage his wife, Napoleon ordered all the captains of his ships to look for new roses in every land they visited. The English, who were at war with France at the time, not only allowed roses bound for Josephine to freely cross the borders but also granted permission for her chief gardener to travel through the Channel, unrestricted. It was because of Josephine’s enthusiasm and the reputation of her rose garden that rose growers were encouraged to hybridize the rose species : the result, the so many different roses we know today….

….and who says romance is dead….?

Happy Valentine’s Day….

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Photo credit: ‘Precious Moments’ – Flickr_2000 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyber-shot/3050275740/
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Photo credit: Mottisfont Abbey Rose Gardens, Hampshire, UK : The best romantic rose garden in the world : Garden seat framed by rose pergola – ukgardenphotos via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL : https://www.flickr.com/photos/ukgardenphotos/6813960007/
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Photo credit: ‘Rose Garden at Hever Castle’ – Jayembee69 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayembee69/9256388678/

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