Famous Roses, the Queen of Flowers

by Unknown

A few flowers stand at the head of all others as being general favourites; the rose, the lily, the violet have been popular for ages, and to these we may now add, probably, the chrysanthemum. The rose has been called the 'queen of flowers.' It was probably one of the earliest garden plants grown in Eastern lands. Splendid festoons of roses are said to have been one of the sights of the celebrated hanging gardens of Babylon. At the present time roses are largely grown in India to produce the expensive attar of roses, the Damascus kind being chiefly planted; and very often the perfume of large rose gardens may be smelt a long way off.

The old Romans were very fond of roses, and quantities of them were grown in the times of the Emperors, especially near Capua and Præneste. The Emperor Nero is said to have spent ten thousand pounds on roses for one night's supper. The rich nobles carpeted rooms with roses, and piled their petals round the dishes at table. In more modern times, Blanche of Castile instituted the custom of presenting a basket of roses to the French Parliament on May-day, but this has long ceased.

Both in France and Italy, and also in Britain, many new roses have been raised, some nearly black, others of curious shapes. The first yellow rose was brought to England from Turkey by Nicholas Lets, a London merchant; other varieties have come from farther East. Scotch roses have been famous for centuries; they are usually very fragrant, and well guarded by sharp spines.

Roses are still grown for the market in some parts of the South of England, even as near London as Mitcham, in Surrey, a place famous for its fragrant plants, such as lavender and peppermint. Many roses are brought to our island from the flower farms of South France; some come from Holland, a country which supplies us with most of our bulbs.

When we walk about in London City as it is now, we can hardly fancy that it had an abundance of beautiful roses in the olden time. Yet they used to be particularly plentiful on the west side, where the Old Bourne and River of Wells flowed down to the Thames. The gardens of Ely House, of which we have a memory in Hatton Garden, now a street, were so full of roses during Tudor times that the flowers were measured by bushels. During the long and unfortunate Wars of the Roses, the white rose was taken for an emblem by the Yorkists, and the red kind was displayed by the Lancastrians. The Yorkists said that they chose the white because it represented the purity of their cause, and the Lancastrians gloried in their red flower since it told that they were ready to give their heart's blood to obtain the victory. In Shakespeare's Henry VI. there is a scene in the Temple Garden, in which the two parties pick these roses, to show their opposition.

Not only is the rose our national emblem, but it also appears on the collar of St. Patrick's Order, which shows roses and harps joined by knots; and it is one of the adornments of the Order of the Bath. We may discover this flower, too, figured on the crests of several noble families. The oldest rose-tree in the world is said to be one growing on the walls of Hildesheim Cathedral, which is believed to date from the reign of the great Charlemagne.