To appreciate the implication of roses as garden plants, it helps to know a little of their extensive history. The first Romans were true lovers of them. They carpeted their floors and showered their guests with rose petals, bathed in rose oils, drank rose wine, decorated warriors with rose garlands and treated their sick with medications made from these petals and hips. When the supply of these was not sufficient to meet demands, they built heated greenhouses so they could have flowers 12 months a year.
Evidence of the devotion set to the these by early Christians is seen in stained glass windows in hundreds of medieval churches throughout the world. This tradition continues in modern churches today. Even the word rosary, a series of prayers reliving the life of Christ, originally meant rose garden. Throughout history, from writings by Confucius several hundred years before the birth of Christ to England's War of the Roses in the 15th century, these have been a part of world events.
However, these that held such attraction long ago did not look much like the modern hybrid teas and grandifloras most of us grow today. These garden of Josephine, first wife of Napoleon, at Malmaison, their motherland in France, is still in existence. This garden contained almost 250 different roses, mostly rose species and natural hybrids. Quite a number of these roses are still in existence today, although they are not widely distributed through commercial outlets.
The large collection of these gathered by Josephine at Malmaison was an important step in the development of today's present roses. For the first time, horticulturists could observe in one location the tremendous diversity of these family. From the Orient came ever-blooming China roses such as 'Parson's Pink China'. From Reunion, an island country in the Indian Ocean, came the semi- double, pink Bourbon, which were also ever-blooming. These were stunning in contrast to Europe's Gallica roses, which, although extremely fragrant, bloomed only in early summer.
Even though these breeding had been going on for centuries, many of the roses displayed at Malmaison were natural hybrids and species found in nature. Consequently, the true lineage of many these is uncertain and often confusing. Even still, horticulturists found the possibilities at Malmaison exciting. They began creating their own crosses, changing these gardening forever. Hybrids between ever-blooming China roses and Rosa moschata led to the Noisette roses. At the same time, the Hybrid Perpetual was developed from mixed parentage. These were crossed with Tea roses from China, resulting in the first hybrid tea rose. Soon, the era of modern roses was in full swing.
In North America, roses were also making an impact. There are about 35 species of roses that are native to the United States. As far back as the early 1600s, American Indians in the Northeast were planting roses to add flower color to their villages. Many native American roses, including californica, setigera and palustris, are rugged plants that are supremely adapted to the climates of their origins. In this current age of conservation when plants are required to thrive and look attractive with a minimum of care, as well as reduced amounts of water and fertilizer, these native American roses are ideal subjects.
In addition to native species, early settlers in North America also introduced many roses originating from other parts of the world. In the late 16th century, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, brought 18 rose plants from England to the new world. He later wrote a book for pioneers about the value of roses as medicinal plants.
Today, roses are big business. These is the world's most popular flower, and the national flower of the United States. Each year commercial rose growers produce millions of plants that are sold throughout the world. To meet the demand for new varieties, rose hybridizing and variety testing continue as important parts of the rose-growing process.
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