New old roses for the Centennial Garden

In 2016 a Thurston County Heritage Grant in the amount of $2,000 was awarded to the Centennial Garden Foundation. The grant provides support for a Centennial Garden Improvement Project that has three parts. Part 1 calls for the research, identification and purchase of several varieties of “roses of historic significance” to be added to the current collection at the Centennial Rose Garden on the Schmidt House grounds. Parts 2 and 3 involve refurbishing the garden pathways with crushed rock and replenishing the bark mulch in the rose beds. The project will be completed by the end of 2017. Here we report progress on Part 1.

Online research was conducted to identify varieties of Old Garden Roses (OGRs) of historic significance – in our case this meant varieties that were in commerce before 1889, the time Washington became a state. In other words, if you had been living in the Olympia-Tumwater area at the time of Washington statehood, these are the kinds of roses you would have seen growing around town. So our criterion for “historical significance” was that they be introduced before 1889.

We also wanted to select varieties spanning a range of types of OGRs that were popular back in the 1800s. These would be types such as Gallica, Damask, Alba, Hybrid Perpetual, Bourbon and Moss roses. Keep in mind that today’s popular ever-blooming hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas and miniature roses were yet to be developed or widely available back then. We also sought plants that are tidy, well behaved, relatively disease resistant, and prolific flower producers.

Most of our research was conducted on the web site This site contains an exhaustive listing, with descriptions, of nearly all the rose varieties in commerce today – each one rated against a comprehensive range of traits, with ratings provided by growers of these varieties. Their top rating is “Excellent” and we elected to confine our list to varieties of this quality.

This research culminated in list of about a dozen varieties of OGRs that met these criteria. A few of these were kindly donated by members of the Olympia and Tacoma Rose Societies, leaving about eight varieties to be located on line. Unfortunately, few nurseries that specialize in propagating and selling these Old Garden Roses remain in business. So finding the varieties we wanted has proven difficult. Nevertheless, a few nurseries were identified, roses were ordered, and as of March 31 all have been delivered. A few plants were large enough to be planted directly into the Centennial Garden, while several smaller ones will remain in a member’s nursery where they will be grown and evaluated during the 2017 growing season. Following this evaluation they will be transplanted into appropriate locations in the Centennial Garden.

To give you just a flavor for the kinds of roses we have purchased I offer these examples.

Rosa mundi. Gallica. Before 1581. Rosa mundi is a bud sport (mutation) of R. gallica ‘Officinalis’. It was first noted in 1583 by the herbalist Carolus Clusius. A drawing of it, dated 1640, exists in Paris in the Jardin des Plantes. Conjecturally, it may have been associated with Henry II’s mistress, the Fair Rosamond, who died around 1176. Dr. C.C. Hurst speculates that it may have been given to her by a Crusader who found it growing in a Syrian garden.

Figure 1. Rosa mundi

Figure 1. Rosa mundi. Gallica. Before 1581

Madam Hardy: Damask. 1832. Probably a hybrid between Rosa damascena and R. centifolia, Madam Hardy was introduced by Monsieur Eugene Hardy, curator of the Luxembourg Garden in Paris, and named for his wife. It was one of the most popular roses to be carried west on the Oregon Trail. It is considered by many to be the loveliest of all white roses – with a green button eye resting in its center.

Figure 2. Madam Hardy. Damask. 1832

Louise Odier: Bourbon. 1851. Parentage unknown. Raised by the French breeder Jacques-Julie Margottin, this is a superb and vigorous old Bourbon rose. Flowers have the form of Old World perfection – rosy pink, perfectly circular and camellia-like with legendary fragrance. She blooms from June to October.

Figure 3. Louise Odier. Bourbon. 1851

Alfred de Dalmas: Moss. 1855. Introduced by the French breeder, Portemer. A.k.a. “Mousseline” because the fine texture and creamy blush color resembles French muslin. Like other Perpetual Damask Moss Roses, Alfred de Dalmas has a repeat bloom in autumn. The blossoms have a fragrance resembling honeysuckle or sweet pea.

Figure 4. Alfred de Dalmas. Moss. 1855

Some of these and other ancient roses will be blooming in the Centennial Rose Garden around the end of May and through June. You owe it to yourself to stop by for a visit. The garden is open weekdays from 9:00 to 3:30 pm.

Gary A. Ritchie, Chairman

Centennial Garden Foundation

2 thoughts on “New old roses for the Centennial Garden

  1. Gary,

    Nice job with the article. And you certainly have done the necessary research to satisfy what our proposal required. I had some trepidation that we would be able to find the kind of roses we promised. But you have more than lived up to the promise. The roses you have selected will be an excellent and welcome addition to the garden.

    Jack >


  2. Gary,

    Great job finding roses that qualify for our grant proposal. Will we set aside a certain section in the garden for these new OGRs or will we intersperse them in various beds with the existing roses?

    Pat (he)


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