The natural result of hybridization between two native hedge roses in the early 1800s was the Bourbon roses. Bourbon roses were the first of the Old Garden Roses to have a repeating bloom period, and the wide range of the form and color of these roses made them fragrant and fashionable.
In spite of the bourbon roses' susceptibility to blackspot or mildew diseases, their characteristics of repeat blooming, dense growth habit and beautiful fragrance made them much admired and Bourbon roses are still widely grown to this day.
Bourbon Roses - Characteristics
The actual glory days of the Bourbon roses extended from 1830 to 1850 and very few new varieties were introduced after 1900. They are the very popular amongst the current old rose growers, however, due to their easygoing charms.
Nowadays, old rose enthusiasts adore Bourbon roses. The best known of the group are the Bourbons 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', 'Mme. Isaac Pereire' and 'Reine Victoria'. The initial days of the group are little known and poorly studied even by their greatest aficionados, a common phenomenon in rose history. It's easy to see that the arching growth inherited from its Damask ancestors is a distinctive feature of the Bourbon. Bourbon roses also received their heady fragrance and the lush flowers from the same ancestral connection. The keen inclination to bloom repeatedly is likely a throwback to Chinese ancestry. In fact, the subtle influence of a Chinese ancestor is also evident in the flower form. An individual and distinctive Bourbon, however, is not to be found at all. Their wide variety ranges from the just mentioned arching growth to the very dwarf China-like growth of the cultivar 'Hermosa'. One of the oldest Bourbons still available is the latter variety, first appearing by 1835. Their choices in colors range from deep reds all through pinks to blush and white. Let's wade deep into the unclear waters of the past to try to salvage some tales of the origins of Bourbon roses.
Bourbon Roses - Origins
Since their emergence, many stories certainly have emerged about their origins. The most authoritative and credible derives from the custom of the inhabitants of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion (then called the Ile Bourbon) to grow certain varieties of roses as hedges. A contemporary botanist, Monsieur Breon, said that the hedges comprised of "one row of the Common China Rose (this is probably 'Old Blush'), with the other row of the Red Four-Seasons (probably the red 'Tous-les-Mois' Damask Perpetual common at that time)." From this account, Bourbon roses are believed to be the result of a cross between the Damask Perpetual and the 'Old Blush' China rose.
'Rose Edouard' is named after a certain Monsieur Edouard Perichon who apparently founded and created a hybrid variety of the rose on planting one of these hedges. The Prevost fils' written in 1828 has the following description of the 'Rose Edouard' (translated from French) which roughly states: "That the first ancestor was brought from France and could be considered the Type of the species. The long and divergent canes were armed with much-hooked thorns. Those horns had a glandular base. The leaflets were oval, large and cordiform at their base. The ovary was oboid-oblong, glabrous and had a glaucous tip. The corolla was medium-sized, hypocrateriform [which is "like an antique cup"]. It could either be double or lightly double, intense and colored bright deep pink."
Bourbon Rose Care
At any rate, despite their origins, the Bourbons continue to be seen as a rose of Old World charm and beauty, a vigorous producer needing little care once established. They are highly fragrant and do make lovely hedges and garden separators, growing up walls and trellis, preferring full sun to partial shade, however a modest amount of shade is tolerated. Bourbon roses are not heavy feeders and once trained to their location, require only gentle pruning to help encourage new blooms and prevent overly sprawling habits. When the rose lies dormant, you can prune lightly or if need be, you can prune aggressively back by up to 1/3. To renovate the plant, prune one in four or five shoots close to the base of the rose trunk.