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Characteristics of Old Garden Roses: Bourbon Roses

Bourbon roses are generally believed to be the result of an accidental cross between the china “Old Blush’ and the autumn flowering damask, ‘Quatre Saisons’. The name comes from the island where they arose, Ile de Bourbon, now called Reunion, located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. Farmers on the island planted the two kinds of roses in boundary hedges and the spontaneous hybrid that resulted was the first bourbon rose, perhaps ‘Rose Edouard’, Bourbon roses were first introduced into France in 1823 and became very popular in Europe between 1830 and 1850 because of their intense fragrance, and beautiful color and form. 

The plants are generally vigorous, and have an open habit with arching stems and glossy leaves. Colors include pink, white, blush and deep red.  Climbing forms are available. Unfortunately, they tend to be susceptible to mildew and blackspot making them more suitable to dry climates.

Flower Size: 3-5”

Petal Number: Double to very full

Flower Form: Round, cupped-to flat; may be quilled and quartered

Flower Substance: Moderate to thin

Flowering: Repeat

Fragrance: Strong

Stem: Sturdy; purple

Size of Bush: 2-20’ tall

Disease Resistance: Poor; very susceptible to blackspot and mildew; susceptible to rust

Hardiness: Zone 6

Here are some bourbons that have excellent American Rose Society (ARS) ratings and are available from on-line sources.

‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’: Large, double, cupped pink flowers on 5-7’ tall scraggly, thorny bush; ARS rating 8.5

‘Reine Victoria’: Cupped, rosy pink flowers on slim, erect bush 6-7’ tall; ARS rating 8.3

‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’: Large soft pink flowers with 65-75 petals start out cupped and open to flat; almost continuous bloom; compact, 3’ tall and wide; ARS rating 8.7

‘Zephirine Drouhin’: Climber with loosely cupped cherry pink flowers with 20-24 petals; thornless; continuous flowering; ARS rating 8.0.

Rose pointer

Recommended Reading:

Amercian Rose Society Encyclopedia of Roses
Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener
Gardening at Sissinghurst