Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Blogger Amy Corwin on Rose Growing during the Regency

When folks ask me why I adore the Regency period (early years of the 19th century) so much, I invariably think of roses. The Regency -- and the Empress Josephine -- are among the most critical influences on roses as we know them today.

Before the Empress Josephine began her gardens at Malmaison in 1799, roses were grown mainly for medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatic reasons. The Apothecary's Rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, is named thusly for a reason: The celebrated, rich, deep pink Apothecary's Rose was considered an essential component of any herb or kitchen garden. It was used in cooking, medicine, and cosmetics.

However, the Empress Josephine changed that. Josephine adored roses and when she acquired Malmaison, she set out to create the world's first, and largest, garden devoted to roses. And despite the war with England, her principal source of roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery located just outside of London. Josephine wanted a specimen of every rose known in the world and in 1804, she was able to convince Lewis Kennedy to provide her with the newest Chinese roses: Slater's Crimson Chine, Parson's pink, and Hume's Blush Tea Scented China.

Although Josephine could not know it at the time, and in fact, never lived to see it, those Chinese roses eventually became the parents -- when hybridized with once-blooming European varieties -- of our modern roses as we know them today: our Hybrid Tea roses, that bloom throughout the growing season. Naturally, with the Empress growing such extraordinary specimens, the race was on to create rose gardens to rival hers, both in France and in England. What was the darling of the Regency?

The Gallica rose.
During the Regency, there was a positive explosion of Rosa gallica hybrids. Regrettably, many of those have been lost over time, but a few lovely roses remain available. What were the Rosa gallica that the Empress Josephine and rose growers in England might have known? Let's look at a few.

Rosa gallica is an extremely old species. It tends to be low growing (which in my mind makes it a perfect specimen for today's smaller garden) and bears rich red, dark pinkish, purple, or streaked flowers. They have an incomparable fragrance. Rosa gallica is in the lineage of almost all modern roses and is certainly one of the most beautiful.  And although Suzanne Verrier in "Rosa Gallica" indicates that perhaps as many as 167 of the 250 rose varieties grown at Malmaison might have been gallicas, it may be a bit unlikely, based upon research by Jules Gravereaux and others, since she was collecting and growing so many other roses, as well. Unfortunately, since there was never an inventory made of the roses in the Empress Josephine's gardens while they existed, we may never know.

That doesn't mean that Gallicas are any less important. In fact, I would not hesitate to claim that the Gallicas are to the Regency period what Hybrid Teas are to ours: the most popular rose grown.What were some varieties? Here are a few that the Empress Josephine and other ladies during the Regency would have treasured.

The Apothocary's Rose, Rosa gallica Officinalis
This is the ancestor of many of our modern roses. Throughout history, it was considered essential to any herb or medicinal garden. It is definitely a survivor and can still be purchased (thankfully). It has semi-double blossoms in rich violet crimson with a prominent center of gold stamens. The fragrance is intense and remains after you dry the petals, so it is a wonderful addition to potpourris. This rose is often referred to as the Rose of Provins and has been one of the most important historical roses.

Agatha, Rosa gallica Agatha
Some experts class the "Agatha" gallicas as a distinct group, and some authorities say that nearly ¼ of the Gallica roses grown at Malmaison were Agathes. Agatha is a fragrant, rich pink rose with double blossoms (lots of petals) veined with deeper rose. Foliage is elongated and gray-green and the canes are nearly thornless. The rose can reach nearly six feet to under good conditions.

Enfant de France, Rosa gallica 'L'Enfant de France'
While the origin of this rose is unknown, several experts claim this rose was one of those grown at Malmaison. The rose is dark rose with lilac overtones and has double blossoms.

La Belle Sultane, Rosa gallica Maheka
This is another rose that experts believe was grown at Malmaison. It forms a tall shrub about 5' tall, with flat flowers that are almost single (have 5 petals). The blossoms have a rich fragrance and are velvety purple-crimson. This lovely rose is one of the few still in available from some nurseries.

Quate Saisons d'Italie, Rosa gallica 'Rosier de la Malmaison'
The gardens at Malmaison certainly grew this variety. This rose is a double rose, similar to Portland-type roses. The very fragrant blooms are crimson and full of petals. It is one of the few early roses that is produced consistently throughout the growing season. This hardy rose can reach a height of four feet.

I hope this gives you a taste of the quintessential Regency rose: the Gallica. It is certainly one of the most lovely and historically significant roses in the world.

Thank you,
Amy Corwin


Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has been writing for the last ten years in addition to managing a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry.  She writes Regencies/historicals, mysteries, and contemporary paranormals. To be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.

Amy’s first Regency, SMUGGLED ROSE, received a 4-star review by “The Romantic Times” and her second Regency, I BID ONE AMERICAN, received a perfect score of 5 from  Long and Short Reviews. Her third Regency, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, is out now from The Wild Rose Press and her first paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR, comes out in November, 2010.

The Bricklayer's Helper
A masquerade turns deadly when a murderer discovers the truth behind the disguise.

After her family perishes in a suspicious fire, Sarah hides her identity by working as a bricklayer's helper. But her disguise can't keep her safe when someone discovers she survived the flames. Alone and terrified, Sarah pins all her hopes on William Trenchard, the only available inquiry agent with Second Sons. William, however, seems far too handsome and frivolous to solve the mystery, and Sarah fears that involving him may be her final~and fatal~mistake.The pair are in for a wild ride as they try to solve a decade-old mystery of murder and deceit in Regency England.

Appearances can truly be deceiving.

Find The Bricklayer's Helper at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon's Kindle store.


  1. These photos are gorgeous! And The Bricklayer's Helper sounds intriguing. A mystery in a setting that I enjoy! Will definitely check it out.

  2. Hi Amy,
    You are my kind of woman. I love roses and historicals. In my garden I have about 30 different varieties, so I loved reading about the Regency roses. My favourite roses are the deep blood red ones, because they always have such a gorgeous perfume. Another one that I like is called Just Joey, it has large apricot coloured blooms and the most beautiful perfume.



  3. Ohh...the Bricklayer's help sounds great I'm gonna have to try it. Love historical mysteries!

  4. We're looking forward to interviewing you over at The Mojito Literary Society in November!