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15th July 1997 The Rose Garden
Pink Leda

Damask Roses

by Lloyd Chapman

Of the old european roses, the Damask is one of the most enchanting, the family of foliage and fragrance.

This family, with origins going back to pre-christian times probably originated in Persia, and was brought to Europe by the crusaders. Whether or not the city of Damascas figures in its origins, we'll never know for sure.
In Jerusalem in the 12th century, the Sultan Saladin used 500 camel loads of Damask rosewater to purify the mosque at Omar after expelling the crusaders.
By the 14th century the Damask rose had arrived in France, where it would have received considerable attention.

Today, the majority of our rose fragrance still comes from R. Damascena Trigintipetala, the Kazanlik rose. It is still grown extensively in Bulgaria. You'll need 3 tonnes of petals (1.2 million blooms) to distill 1kg of attar, the foundation of rose perfume. Worse still, you must harvest it in the short summer flowering season and then only in the early morning before the heat of the sun has diminished the fragrance. The writer and family had an enjoyable summer in 1995 producing rose water and a little oil from a number of fragrant roses. We tried the roses that we believed the most fragrant : Albertine, Gertrude Jekyll, Gloire de Guilan, Kazanlik, Mme Isaac Periere and Paul Ricault, then sought the opinion of a trained perfumier, who unerringly selected the haunting fragrance of Kazanlik. Even today it reigns supreme ! We were surprised to find that some notably fragrant roses produced very inferior rosewater and oil.

Damasks are tallish shrubs with hooked thorns and wonderful foliage. Once you have seen Damask foliage in the spring, you will understand the beauty of the old rose and the subtlety of its foliage. None of the glossy excesses of modern roses, Damask foliage is healthy matte downy soft-textured often grey-green and readily recognisable.

Fragrance is undoubtedly a personal thing. The Damask fragrance is the most sought after and most identified with the rose. It is described by Beales as "spicy, somewhat lingering, differing completely from the softer more delicate fragrance of the Gallicas".
David Austin sees Damasks as the chief source of the 'Old Rose' fragrance in the modern rose, few of which approach the subtlety and complexity of the Damask fragrance.
We see damask fragrance as being quintessentially 'old rose', reminiscent of grandmothers, of hand cream and nostalgia.

With few exceptions, Damasks are pastel pink in colour. There are a few whites, but certainly not the luscious purples of the Gallica family. The form varies from sparsely-petalled near single blooms to cupped and layered excesses.

Peter Beales lists 19 readily-available Damasks. We offer twelve this year. Early last century, at the peak of their development there would have been literally hundreds of Damasks available. They deserve your attention if you can only find room for one, Ispahan is a good starting point. You will soon understand the need for more.

Here are some favourite Damasks from our garden - click on pictures to see an enlargement.
Autumn DamaskThe Autumn Damask  R. damascena bifera 'Quatre Saisons'
This ancient rose is the odd one out, in that unusually for the family it repeats its flowering. This rare attribute made it particularly useful for early hybridists who sought to produce new remontant roses. Clear pink richly perfumed blooms, nice grey-green foliage. Sprawling growth habit and prickly.
York and LancasterYork and Lancaster   R. damascena versicolor Unusual in that it has two-toned flowers of white and blush pink that vary considerably. Its colouring gives rise to the name, which embodies the white of the house of York and the red of Lancaster who fought the Wars of the Roses. A rather straggly sprawling shrub that can achieve 2 metres. Probably from pre-Shakespearian times, and of historical interest. Possibly a sport of Kazanlik. Not for the cottage garden.
Gloire de GuilanGloire de Guilan
This is one of our enduring favourites. Large sprawling shrub, grows to over a metre high and a metre wide. Clear pink flat quartered blooms with glorious rich fragrance. Has been used for rosewater production. Never fails to attract attention in bloom.
IspahanIspahan Pompom des Princes
A wonderful sight in full flight - tall elegant shrub smothered in masses of soft deep pink blooms. Longer-flowering than most, it will bloom for up to two months. Good fragrance. Ispahan has great age, growing wild on the hills of Persia. Everyone should grow Ispahan, a memorable shrub.
La Ville de BruxellesLa Ville de Bruxelles  1849
Vigorous bush with outstanding foliage. Blooms are cupped, quartered and richly fragrant, deep pink. It was a star in our garden last year. This is a hybrid, with some Centifolia parentage, but still typically Damask in style.
Madam HardyMadam Hardy 1832
Pure white, button eye, exquisite fragrance, what more can you say ? Once more a hybrid with some Centifolia parentage. Said to be one of the best white roses.
Pink LedaPink Leda  Painted Damask
Fat buds are quite red, giving no indication of what is to come. Blooms are pink with crimson edges.
BotzarisBotzaris 1856
Flat quartered creamy-white blooms with a hint of pink on a shorter compact bush. Intriguing button eye. Often mistaken for Mme Hardy. Notoriously healthy.
Copyright Lloyd Chapman, winter 1997

More pictures of Old Roses from Trinity Farm in the Garden Gallery.

More articles by Lloyd Chapman

Purple Ramblers    January 2002
The Endless Charm of Rugosas    June 2000
Winter care in the Rose garden    Winter 2000
The Three Graces in the Rose Garden    Sept 1999
Alba Roses   January 1999
Hybrid Musks   June 1998
Single Roses  December 1997
Moss Roses  September 1997
The Glory of Wichuriana Ramblers    June 1997

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