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An exploration of the types of roses and uses in the Georgian era

We often see rose gardens, especially with climbing vines, in our historical romance novels, but how accurate was that to the Georgian era?

Short answer? It wasn’t.

While garden roses had been popular in China for centuries, they were more practical than ornamental in England. Roses were grown like a crop, used for their petals rather than their beauty, used to make rose water, perfumes, oils, cooking spice, and medicine.

As the pleasure gardens of the Georgian era rose in popularity, the hybridised cabbage rose was added as an ornamental feature, and soon after sold on city streets in a bundle of other scented flowers to be hung in a wardrobe for sweet smelling linen and protection against moths. In 1790, we have the arrival of the repeat flowering China roses which was soon after hypridised for the “tea rose,” because it smelled like a cup of green tea.

The garden rose craze came late, very late, well into the Regency, in fact. It was Napoleon’s wife Josephine who began this craze, as she wished to domesticate roses for her gardens. She had a variety imported and commissioned paintings of the garden roses.

The interest in hybridising for the ideal English garden roses thus began, but it wasn’t until the Victorian era we see the rose gardens we so often read about in hist roms. The Victorian era saw an entire Language of Flowers developed, new hybrids, including variegated, gardens specifically for roses, the development of rambling roses, and more.

The Georgian era saw none of this. Climbing roses had not even been cultivated yet. Yellow roses were still known only in China. Roses did have an important place in history, medicine, hygiene, and culinary arts, but not in the private garden. The colours seen would only have been red and white, and they would have been found in apothecaries, kitchens, and the housekeeper’s cupboard.  

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