Famous Roses, the Queen of Flowers
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
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.