The Damask Roses as Written by Thomas Rivers

The Damask Rose
(Rosa Damascena)
Rosier Damas

The "Damask Rose" is a name familiar to every reader of English poetry, as it has been eulogized more than any other rose, and it colour described with poet's license. The author of Eothen, in that lively book of eastern travel, remarks while at Damascus, that the rose-trees "grow to an immense height and size; those I saw were all of a kind we call damask." He is, however, so enraptured with the roses that he leaves the sober path of prose in the following passage: - "High, high, above your head, and on every side down to the ground, the thicket is hemmed in and choked up by the interlacing boughs that droop with the weight of roses, and load the slow air with their damask breath."

In the glowing descriptions the truth, as is the frequent case in poetry, has been in a measure lost sight of: for, in plain unvarnished prose, it must be stated that the original Damask Rose, and the earlier varieties, such as must have been the roses of our poets, though peculiarly fragrant, are most uninteresting trees: however, we must not ungratefully depreciate them, for they are the types of our present new, beautiful, and fragrant varieties. The original species with single flowers is said to be a native of Syria, from whence it was introduced to Europe in 1573. When Saladin took Jerusalem from the crusaders in 1187, to purify the walls of the Mosque of Omar, which had been used as a Christian Church, he caused them to be washed with rose-water brought from Damascus: according to Sanuto, a Venetian author, 500 camel-loads were used in the process; varieties of it are still grown in the gardens of Damascus.*(see note)

The branches of the Damask rose are green, long, and diffuse in their growth; leaves pubescent, and in general placed far asunder; prickles on most varietiesabundant. To those old members of this family, the red and the white monthly, which by some peculiar excitability often put forth flowers in warm, moist autumns, nearly all our perpetual roses owe their origin, so that we can now depend upon having roses as fragrant in October as in June. The York and Lancaster rose, with pale striped flowers is one of the oldest varieties of this division in our gardens. There is perhaps a little too much sameness of character of some of the varieties of the Damask rose; their gradations of colour are sometimes too delicate to be distinct, but the following are pretty and distinct.

La Ville de Bruxelles is an old variety, with rose-coloured flowers, very large and double: this is a distinct and fine rose. Madame Hardy was raised from seed in Luxembourg gardens, by Monsieur Hardy in 1832. This is not a pure Damask rose, as its leaves have scarcely any pubescence; but a more magnificent rose does not exist, for its luxurious habit and large and finely shaped flowers place it quite first among the white roses: its flowers are, however, too often disfigured by a green bud in the centre.

La Cherie is of a delicate blush, with the centre of the flower pink, cupped, very double, and first-rate quality. Madame Zoutman, or according to some, Madame Söetmans, is a most beautiful rose of a delicate cream-colour, slightly tinted with fawn: although widely different in habit, its flowers much resemble those of that fine Hybrid Provence, Comte Plater. Madame Stoltz is a pretty rose, with flowers of the palest lemon; and Pulcherie, with pure white flowers, cupped, and very neat and elegant in their shape, is quite worthy of culture. All the damask roses are highly fragrant.

The roses of this neat and elegant family have a pretty effect arranged in a mass; like the varieties of Rosa Alba, they are so beautiful in contrast with the dark roses: they also form fine standards, more particularly Madame Hardy, La Ville de Bruxelles, and Madame Zoutman, which will grow into magnificent trees, if their culture is attended to. The pruning recommended for Rosa Gallica will also do for these roses.

The good roses of this family do not bear seed freely, being too double, and it is not now worthwhile to raise seedlings from inferior varieties.

*Note: It is inconclusive that the Damask Rose originated in Syria-many authors have written their views on this subject.

Text from Rivers' Rose Amateurs Guide by Thomas Rivers, 1854