Roses have long been a symbol of beauty to humans but they have also been used to depict love, war and religious and political factions. According to scientists roses are at least 35 million years old and garden cultivation of roses likely began in China more than 5,000 years ago. Roses were often used in the art of Babylon and Persia and in early Christianity the Virgin Mary was often symbolized with a white rose.
Roses had a special life during the Roman ages and they were grown for pleasure and for use at wedding celebrations, as medicine, and to make perfumes and fragrant oils. In the 15th century roses became the political symbol of the York (white rose) and Tudor (red rose) families, who were fighting for control of England in what became known as the “War of the Roses”. Napoleon’s wife Josephine was an avid rose collector and established a fabulous rose garden at an estate just outside Paris. It is rumored that she was so attached to her rose garden that an English nurseryman was allowed behind French battle lines during the French Revolution just to care for her flowers.
In the late 18th century cultivated roses were introduced to Europe from China and this set the stage for many of the hybriding activities that created hardier roses with a longer blooming season. This led to a Victorian love affair with the rose that included refined ladies sending roses as means of communication. If a gentleman presented a lady with a red rose it was commonly known as an expression of love. The lady would then respond with a white rose if she was too young, a single rose leaf to say she wasn’t interested, or a yellow rose to offer her disdain to the gentleman. A single red rose in reply was the expression that the gentleman earnestly hoped for, for that meant she too was in love.
In America there are about 35 indigenous species of roses and it was a rose branch that one of Christopher Columbus’ men saw in the water in 1492, just as the captain and crew were beginning to despair of ever finding land. The pilgrims reported many roses being planted during the 1600’s and some Indians at the time were already cultivating wild roses to help beautiful their homes and camping grounds. Rose gardening has been part of our history ever since.
Other notes of roses in American history include the fact that William Penn brought 18 rose bushes back from England when he returned in 1699 and starting in 1731 the Penn family rented land to tenants for one red rose per year. The rose continues to play an important role in America even up to today and every year we all watch in wonder at the marvelous Rose Bowl creations from Pasadena, California. There are millions of Americans who enjoy the simple act of planting roses as part of their backyard gardening activity and thousands of them gather in meetings and on-line to share their rose gardening ideas.
Valentines Day is still best celebrated with chocolates and roses. Roses, especially red roses, the eternal symbol of love from the past until today and likely forever more.