The Rose Annual (Royal National Rose Society) 38-53 (1975)
Tea-Scented Roses A Survey
(Amateur grower specializing in "Old" roses)


For the introduction of the original roses which were to have a major influence in the modern development of the genus, western horticulture stands indebted to an English country gentleman, a small and impecunious horticultural society and, linking them both, an employee of the Honourable East India Company based in Canton, China.

JRHS 33: 395 (1908)
E. H. Wilson
John Reeves, the gentleman mentioned by Dr. Lindley, was born in 1774, and entered the service of the Honourable East India Company in 1808. In 1812 he proceeded to Canton, finally leaving China in 1831.
CybeRose: Obviously, Reeves was not involved in procuring the Tea-scented rose.

Sir Abraham Hume of Wormley Bury, Hertfordshire, was a keen gardener whose wife, Lady Amelia Hume, not only shared his enthusiasm but was an able botanist in her own right. By a happy chance, Sir Abraham's cousin, Alexander Hume, was in charge of the English "factory", or trading post as we should now term it, at Canton. Through Alexander, and more directly, the East India Company's inspector of tea, John Reeves (1778-1856), the Humes had received several consignments of plants during the first decade of the nineteenth century. The consignment of rose plants which Reeves had procured for them from the Fa Tee Nurseries near Canton in 1808 was probably the most important of all.

In those days, when it took almost as many weeks as it now takes in flying hours to reach England from the Far East, it was often the practice to off-load plants in transit from China to England at the Calcutta Botanic Garden as a half-way house for recovery during the long voyage. This practice led the French horticulturists to assume that the plants had actually originated in India and not China. It also confused some English botanists, too, so that to this day, the class of roses which we term the Chinas are referred to in France and Germany as 'Bengales', while the whole botanical Section which includes the Chinas, Tea-scented and Hybrid Teas was given the name INDICAE. It is not known whether the rose plants sent off in 1808 were rested in India, but it is more than a possibility since they did not reach the Humes until 1809, the year in which Lady Amelia died.

Sir Abraham passed plant material to James Colvill, an eminent nurseryman in King's Road, Chelsea, where its first European flowering was recorded in 1810. From its colour and fragrance it was given the name, 'Hume's Blush Tea-scented China'.

The statement by Shepherd, History of the Rose, that "it was not received with great enthusiasm" is not supported by contemporary evidence. It was certainly regarded as sufficiently important for Henry C. Andrews, the foremost English floral artist of his day, to make a plant portrait of it in Colvill's nursery in the same year of its first blooming under the botanical name R. indica odorata. This specific name was probably suggested by Robert Sweet, a gardener-cum-botanist who was employed by Colvill at that time. In any event, when Sweet came to write his own description a few years later, he must have realized the mistaken place ascription as he called the rose R. odorata which has stuck.

*Gentleman's Magazine, Nov. 1811 p. 479
"Thursday, Nov. 14.
Curious plants, to the amount of 700l. value, have been lately shipped at Portsmouth for the ci-devant Empress Josephine. They are the produce of a nursery garden at Hammersmith; from which she also got a supply in 1803, to the amount of 2000l."
CybeRose: It is very doubtful that Kennedy returned home empty-handed.

Of even greater significance, the following year, at the height of the Napoleonic War, arrangements were made to provide John Kennedy, another famous nurseryman, with a safe-conduct to take 'Hume's Blush' to the Empress Josephine, a fact remarked upon by The Gentleman's Magazine for 14 November 1811*. At Malmaison, the greatest botanical artist of all time, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, painted it under the name R. indica fragrans. The plate, first published in 1817 with an accompanying text by the botanist, Claude-Antoine Thory, is by common consent, one of the most beautiful of all the 117 rose portraits published during Redouté's lifetime. It is so well known, having been reproduced on greetings cards, place mats and as a framed engraving, that any further description is superfluous.

Dr C. C. Hurst, writing in 1941, believed 'Hume's Blush' to be extinct. It had, in fact, been collected along with hundreds of other rose species and subspecies by the botanist, Dr Dieck of Zöschen, South Germany, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It formed part of the complete collection exhibited at the World Botanical Congress in Paris in 1908 and was then planted in the Rosarium at Sangerhausen where it has remained ever since. Through the generosity of Herr Hans Vonholdt, the Curator, plant material has been made available to me. The plants display when in young growth the lovely purple-red wood and foliage so characteristic of their descendants while the somewhat sprawling habit is found among several of the early hybrids still in cultivation.

In the hands of French nurserymen, some twenty-two hybrids were raised between 1821 and 1825 but only their names and descriptions have survived.

At this same time, Joseph Sabine, Secretary of the Horticultural Society of London, now the Royal Horticultural Society, was busy arousing the interest of the Society's Council in the garden value of chrysanthemums, which had been first introduced to this country in 1790 from France, although they had originated in China and Korea. Sabine's appetite had been whetted by forty or so Chinese paintings sent to the Society by John Reeves. Evidently Sabine's enthusiasm was infectious, for despite a deficit £1200 (an enormous sum in those days), the Society decided to send out to China a young gardener in their employ, John Damper Parks, with instructions "to collect among other specimens, as many good varieties of Chrysanthemum as possible."

*CybeRose note: In fact, Lindley assigned the name R. indica ochroleuca, and commented that it was "so entirely different from any other, that it may be considered an important addition to our collections." The true yellow Tea-scented rose, R. indica flavescens, was a self-seedling of the Blush Tea-scented. These two roses became confused. Flavescens survived into the 20th century, though Ochroleuca seems not to have made it into the second half of the 19th.

Parks set out in 1823, met Reeves and was full of praise for the kindness and advice the experienced plantsman offered. In 1824 he returned with sixteen new varieties of chrysanthemum, which must have pleased Sabine mightily, the first aspidistra to be seen in Europe, the yellow form of the Banksian Rose, R. banksiae lutea and most importantly for the future development of roses, a yellow form of the Tea Rose which was given the name 'Parks' Yellow Tea-scented China'. John Lindley, then the Assistant Secretary of the Society's garden, with a delightful disregard of mixing the two Classical languages, assigned it the botanical name R. odorata ochroleuca.* There is not much doubt that Lindley was prompted to discard the Latin flavescens, meaning "yellow" in favour of the Greek word meaning "yellowish-white" as being closer to the colour of the blooms.

'Parks' Yellow' was sent by Lindley to Eugene Hardy, Keeper of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris in 1825 and it quickly became a very popular pot plant. Thomas Rivers records seeing hundreds of plants in the Paris markets "gaily wrapped in coloured paper so that the spending of a franc on such a pretty object is hard to resist". According to Hurst, no living material has been available since 1882. Recent searches, alas, confirm his statement. (It may, of course, still exist in China but that possibility has not been explored.)


The earliest surviving Tea traced so far is 'Mme Roussel', sent out by Desprez about 1830, but the one which firmly established the reputation of the new class was 'Adam', sent out three years later by a nurseryman of the same name of Rheims. As far as is known, it was his sole contribution and it remained a firm favourite throughout the nineteenth century, being relatively hardy. Growth is rather short but it is quite vigorous and produces large, cupped blooms opening flat with a multitude of petals in fawn with coppery salmon in the centre. The description in Shepherd (op. cit.) and evidently copied by the compilers of Modern Roses 7, the international checklist of roses, does not accord with the cultivar we have under this name. In the American works it is stated to be semi-double. Our plants came from two widely separate sources and fit most of the contemporary descriptions we have been able to find by English, French and German writers. There is also a further clue to their authenticity which will be mentioned later in another context.

If 'Adam' laid the foundations, the next in chronological order took the rose world by storm. 'Safrano' (1839) as its name suggests brought an entirely new colour to roses, for the extra-long buds are a deep saffron shot with red on the guard petals. It is at this stage they are at their most attractive. On opening, they fade to buff and the deep outer cup displays at the centre an irregular arrangement of shorter petals. Some writers claim that 'Safrano' was the result of the first effort at controlled hybridization but there is no supporting evidence. It would seem, however, that it is closely related to both 'Hume's Blush' and 'Parks' Yellow'. With its long, red-brown stems, sparse foliage and thorns and high bloom yield plus a sweet scent, 'Safrano' had all the components of an ideal florists' rose—the nodding bloom head could be forgiven. On the French Riviera it was grown in large plantations expressly for the winter trade, thousands of blooms being sent to Paris and even London prior to the First World War. Here again, we have one of the mysteries of the rose. English rosarians resident on the French Riviera at the turn of the century stated that 'Safrano' grew almost wild. Today, it has proved extremely difficult to find. From the breeder's viewpoint, it is one of the most important roses ever raised, for it was not only responsible for many later Teas but it linked that class to the Hybrid Perpetuals to form the Hybrid Teas. If this was not enough, it was a contributor to the group we now know as repeat-flowering climbers. There has also been the suggestion put forward by more than one authority that it was one of the parents of the famous 'Gloire de Dijon' which in turn was the basis of another group of climbers known as Dijon Teas. Few other roses can lay claim to such versatility. It seems incredible that the world had to be scoured to find it.

In 1841, an Exeter firm of nurserymen introduced a Tea which is distinguished on several counts. It was raised by Mr Foster, an amateur rosarian of Devonport who named it appropriately 'Devoniensis'. It thus became the first recorded Tea of English origin and later, the first Tea to produce a climbing mutation which occurred in 1858. It is best known in this form, the original dwarf having completely disappeared. The fat red buds open to flat, quartered blooms in creamy white with a hint of pink in the centre carrying an extra-sweet, penetrating fragrance akin to that of many Teas, although the foliage is not typical of the class. It requires a warm wall and time to establish; then it will give an excellent account of itself.

By strange coincidence, the next two important Teas are also white. 'Niphetos' (the name means "snow-like") of 1843 is best known in its later climbing form although Mr Derek Herincx has recently found the dwarf cultivar in East Germany. With its long, pointed buds and freedom of flower, 'Niphetos' was widely grown as a florists' cut-flower at a time when only white flowers were carried in bridal bouquets, a tradition which continues on the continent.

Although 'Niphetos' was also used for breeding, of even greater importance was 'Mme Bravy', sent out in 1846. This is an excellent grower, very free with its cupped cream blooms with pink overtones and a fragrance which has been likened to "expensive face-cream". In the days when honesty in the horticultural trade left much to be desired, unscrupulous nurserymen across the Channel found it financially expedient to cash-in on the high reputation of 'Mme Bravy' by re-introducing it at various intervals under no fewer than six names. English growers, caught by this deception, expressed their annoyance in the gardening press in no uncertain terms … and the annoying practice persists. To a lesser degree, the same happened to 'Duchesse de Brabant' (1857) which has three synonyms. The medium sized, self pink blooms of this variety form a perfect globe and have earned the soubriquet in Bermuda of "The Shell Rose". There is a strong, penetrating fragrance. Its tendency to sprawl leads to the supposition that it is directly descended from 'Hume's Blush'.

All the cultivars so far under notice fall into three types of flower form, the deep cupped shape with shorter, irregularly disposed centre petals, the flat quartered shape and the more regular imbricated rosette. Indeed, William Paul complained in The Florist and Horticulturist that the Teas had shown no improvement in this direction since the originals had arrived twenty-five years previously.

The hopes of Paul and all other rosarians were finally realized in a rose sent out in 1855 by a Parisian nurseryman, Marest, who named it 'Souvenir d'Elise Vardon'. It took the rose world by storm and rosarians, professional and amateur alike, heaped upon it all the superlatives in their vocabularies. Shirley Hibberd, horticultural journalist and first editor of Amateur Gardening called it "the finest of all the Teas"; "a most splendid rose" wrote William Paul; "perfect. A most superb variety" was the verdict of fellow-nurseryman John Cranston, while yet another great nurseryman, Thomas Rivers, added his praise: "Incomparable. Worthy of every care."

Forty years after its introduction, the Reverend A. Foster-Melliar, one of the leading amateur exhibitors of the late Victorian era, could still write: "It is getting quite an old rose now, but though new roses are issued every year by the scores, nothing has been raised to surpass or even equal it."

Looking at 'Souvenir d'Elise Vardon' to-day it is easy to understand the enthusiasm it engendered, for it displayed an entirely new basic form which revolutionized all ideas of floral perfection in roses. In it, the broad outer petals in deep cream gently reflex at the edges while the inner petals are held in a high scroll of light salmon and fawn. Coupled with the deep purple foliage and brown wood, it represents the epitome of all the grace and elegance for which the class is famous. It is not so free-flowering as many other Teas and there are longer gaps in its inflorescence. Growth can only be described as moderate and it is clearly at its finest under glass—hence Rivers' remark.

The helix form of bloom which came to us from "Souvenir d'Elise" (as it was often affectionately known) is frequently referred to as the "typical Tea shape", although in point of fact it occurs only in a minority of Teas raised after its introduction. Evidently the responsible gene or genes are highly recessive.

The fallacy of the "typical Tea shape" arose in all probability following the introduction in 1869 of 'Catherine Mermet', a beautiful bland pink with a sweet scent and the same desirable shape but of better habit and higher bloom yield than 'Souvenir d'Elise Vardon'. These combined qualities made 'Catherine Mermet' a favourite commercial forcing variety, especially in the United States where numerous sports occurred, notably 'Bridesmaid' (1893) and 'The Bride' (1883) a pure white. Their names indicate the uses to which they were frequently put. 'Bridesmaid' remains untraced, but the other two are a delightful pair of "no problems" roses which are among the most popular of the Teas so far re-introduced.

Whether the deserved success of 'Catherine Mermet' prompted more nurserymen to try their hand at raising Teas is difficult to say, but the number of new seedlings jumped from 64 in the period 1861-1870 to 88 in the next decade and then to 262 in 1881-1890, reaching a peak of 402 from 1891 to the close of the nineteenth century. This could be said to have been the high water mark of the Teas when practically every hybridist in Europe and America joined in. Especially notable were the efforts of the Nabonnand family of Golfe Juan, on the French Riviera. During their fifty years of activity from 1873 until 1923, they were alone responsible for raising no fewer than 188 Tea Roses, many of them named by purchase for the royalty and nobility of Europe who wintered in the resorts along that coast.

One such habitué, Lord Brougham and Vaux, left an interesting and valuable account of the roses growing in the gardens of his château at Cannes just before the turn of this century. The interest arises not so much from the varieties as for their performance in that delectable climate which has exactly double the annual hours of sunshine as London. He was, for example, particularly proud of 'Marie Van Houtte' (1871) a beautiful lemon yellow with pale carmine edges which grew in seven years to a circumference of seventy feet. An accompanying photograph confirms that its stated size had not been exaggerated. The silky brick red 'Papa Gontier' (1878) grew to similar proportions with its laden branches supported by posts and chains, while the coppery-pink 'Général Schablikine' (1879) received his Lordship's accolade as his "desert island rose". A decade later, at Eversley in Hampshire, Rose Kingsley counted the latter cultivar among her "indispensables". It still ranks as one of the best Teas for all-round reliability.

To those unacquainted with the Teas, it often comes as a surprise to learn that there were any in shades of red. It is true that the number was not large—possibly eighty out of the 1400 recorded—and nearly all of them raised after 1874 when controlled hybridization began to be practised. It will be recalled that the two foundation Teas were pink and yellow. All their true descendants were consequently in these colours, or combinations of them, and in white. In order to obtain red Teas, hybridists had to look to the closely related Chinas. An old cultivar, not at all well known in England named 'Sanguine' (1835) was apparently the main source for most of the coppery tinted and bright reds. Subsequent crossing back of these seedlings to the crimson Chinas produced deep carmine, crimsons and a few maroons. It is of interest to note that the breeding of red was mainly confined to continental hybridists. Few Teas in this colour range were raised in this country or the United States.

Having arrived at a late stage in development of the Teas, there is a fair sprinkling of survivors and judging by the valuable compilation by the Rose Section of the French National Society of Horticulture (1912), we still have the best of them. 'Papa Gontier' and 'Général Schablikine' have already been mentioned. Others of high merit include 'Archiduc Joseph' (1892), a particularly beautiful coloration and perfect rosette form, the richly scented carmine 'Monsieur Tillier' which so entranced Rose Kingsley at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and 'Freiherr von Marschall' (1903) which comes close to scarlet. Deep crimson is represented by 'Souvenir de Thérèse Levet' (1886) and 'Princesse de Sagan' (1887) which for many years did good service as a bedder at Kew. For depth of colour, pride of place is held by 'Francis Dubreuil' (1894), a deep velvety maroon with good fragrance, the darkest Tea ever raised.

Further crossings of the Teas and Chinas at the latter end of last century and the early years of this produced two final lines of development. Those seedlings showing closer affinity to the Chinas were termed "China-Teas", although the classification was never officially recognized, while the second group were called "decorative Teas", meaning that they were not suitable for exhibition purposes. Less full petalled than the earlier Teas, and with longer, more elegant buds than the Chinas, they were the perfect buttonhole roses at a time when this delightful custom was widespread. Although many of them such as 'Dr Grill' were of French origin, several of the best known came from Alex. Dickson of Newtownards. They include 'Miss Alice de Rothschild' (1911), a pale lemon, and 'Lady Plymouth' (1914) in buff with a yolk-yellow centre, and one of the most popular white Teas of its time, 'Molly Sharman-Crawford' (1908) with a hint of green in its make-up.

Exhibition-type Teas continued to be raised, and for this reason, they tended to remain in commerce after the decorative types had been discarded. Notable among the survivors are the famous 'Maman Cochet' in a colour combination not repeated until the arrival of 'Kordes' Perfekta' more than sixty years later, 'Mme. Jules Gravereaux' sent out as a Climbing Tea but more likely to remain a large bush in our climate, and 'Alexander Hill Gray', sometimes called 'Yellow Cochet', and honouring the Scottish laird who sold up his estates north of the border and moved to Bath for the sole purpose of growing Teas in the milder climate, although Hill Gray himself admitted his favourite was 'Mrs Foley Hobbs', raised in 1910 by a famous amateur hybridist, Dr J. Campbell Hall. 'Mrs Foley Hobbs' has endured in at least one nurseryman's list right down to the present and is an excellent representative of the class.

The days of the Teas were, however, numbered. Whereas in 1900, Teas still ran second to the Hybrid Perpetuals with the Hybrid Teas trailing a long way behind, by the outbreak of the First World War the situation had changed dramatically. By that time, the Hybrid Teas outnumbered the combined total of the two older classes from which they had been derived by more than two-to-one. The last Tea to be awarded a RNRS Gold Medal was Dr Campbell Hall's 'Muriel Wilson' in 1921. When Dr Hall died ten years later, it would have been difficult to buy more than three dozen varieties of Teas in this country. A few continental firms, such as Ketten Brothers of Luxembourg, offered rather more to anyone willing to go to the expense of importing them. Evidently few did so. Support for the Tea and Noisette classes at the RNRS Shows dwindled and it is now exactly forty years since the Tea trophies were last offered for competition.


A number of adverse factors contributed to the eclipse and eventual disappearance of the Teas from British gardens. Being derived from roses of semi-tropical origin, they possess no natural dormancy factor to assist their survival in colder climates and are easily excited into growth when temperature rises above 50° F. While this characteristic made them so attractive for winter forcing, in the open a mild winter spell followed by severe frost could have fatal results unless precautions were taken. This usually meant earthing up the crowns or drawing bracken fronds or long straw round the heads of half-standards, a form of cultivation particularly favoured for the Teas. It must also be recalled that winters in Britain tended on average to be much colder in the period 1840-1940 while summers were hotter than we now enjoy.

The Teas also suffered the disadvantage of a weak pedicel causing the blooms to become pendent on opening. This character inherited from the two ancestral species proved so dominant that it occurs in a majority of Teas and was only eliminated by out-crossing to the Hybrid Perpetuals. To-day, the nodding blooms have a certain period charm, enhanced by the delicate pastel shades devoid of any gaudiness. In this context, like so many of the lighter coloured cultivars in other classes, many Teas are susceptible to rain damage. It has, however, been found that there are equally as many which are rain resistant to an unexpectedly high degree.

The rest of the causes for the fall from favour were man-made. Like the Chinas, Tea-scented roses form relatively small, twiggy maiden plants compared with the Hybrid Perpetuals and Hybrid Teas and the uninitiated recipient would assume that the nurseryman had sent second quality plants and complain accordingly. To overcome this situation, Victorian rose nurserymen resorted to the Manetti under-stock, a hybrid of indeterminate parentage but usually classed with the Noisettes, which had occurred in 1824 at the Botanic Garden in Monza, Italy where Signor Manetti was the curator. While this does produce larger first-year plants than those on Canina rootstocks, and these are satisfactory if they remain in situ, the scions do not grow steadily when transplanted and there is a strong tendency to die-back. Mr Derek Herincx has recently proved this to be the case experimentally. As a result, the Teas gained an undeserved reputation for being "difficult".

Many of the rose books written in Victorian times were by amateur rosarians who were keen, and in one case, fanatical exhibitors. They taught that the best roses could only be obtained by high feeding and low pruning. Only a few voices were raised in dissent. Notable among them was William Robinson (1837-1935) who preached "natural gardening". He proved in his garden at Gravetye, Sussex, as Lord Brougham had done at Cannes, that the Teas and Chinas are better when left alone. By the time ideas had been revised, the Teas had already been consigned to the limbus patrum of roses.


A few Teas, such as 'Lady Hillingdon' (1910) and 'Mrs Foley Hobbs' hung on in one or two nurserymen's lists in the post-1945 period. During the 1950s, Sunningdale Nurseries briefly re-introduced a few more. In the mid-1960s, however, a series of events brought about a change.

In his book, Climbing Roses Old and New (1965) Graham Thomas took the opportunity to describe the virtues of the Tea cultivars which had passed through his hands at Sunningdale and urged, as others had previously done, that someone with adequate facilities should collect together all the worthwhile Teas that could be found before indifference and neglect rendered the class totally extinct.

About the same time, a number of articles, some in reminiscent vein and others by rosarians overseas who still grew Tea Roses, appeared in The Rose. These literary excursions prompted readers to enquire through the magazine's tracing service into the possibility of obtaining some of the oncefamous varieties that had been mentioned. A few, such as 'Marie Van Houtte' came to light, but before the search could be completed the magazine had to cease publication. As its last editor, I was approached to continue the quest in a private capacity. This was to have much wider repercussions than were foreseen.

The search embraced many other commercially obsolete cultivars in addition to Tea Roses, but it was the trail of the Teas that produced the most pleasant surprises. The first to be successfully traced, 'Catherine Mermet', 'Grace Darling' (requested by a descendant of the Northumberland heroine) and 'Général Schablikine' by happy coincidence proved to be three of the best—just as the Victorian writers had said—and appetites were whetted for more. Fortunately, the supply kept up with the demand, and the generosity of rosarians who still grew Teas, or knew where they could be obtained, was unbounded. It is perhaps invidious to single out any who contributed, but a special acknowledgment is due to Mrs Elizabeth Ball, of Bermuda, who not only supplied budwood from the roses she had described so delightfully in her articles but obtained others from fellow members of the Bermuda Rose Society. Herr Vonholdt, curator of the great collection at Sangerhausen in East Germany, showed equal generosity which I was able to reciprocate. Mr Derek Herincx of Teddington added his enthusiasm to the search and collected many more rarities, some so little known that they are not recorded as ever having been previously introduced in this country.

Almost a revelation was the number of rosarians in this country who had been quietly nurturing Tea Roses over the years. Most of the Sunningdale collection was reassembled through the kindness of two dedicated rosarians, Mrs Judith Ross of Chorleywood and Mrs Helen Josling of Bexleyheath, and the foresight of another enthusiast, the late Mr A. F. Callick of Bexley, in preserving what were probably the last plants of at least three cultivars, deserves to be remembered.

Identification has often posed problems since some cultivars have arrived either un-named or clearly mis-named. One of the characteristics of the Teas is the strong influence of climatic conditions upon bloom colour. Those from under glass invariably come lighter than open ground plants of the same sort, while autumn blooms frequently show tints not observable earlier in the season. Descriptions in old books and catalogues consequently often lack agreement in this respect. Coloured engravings where they exist help in some cases but confuse in others. Even the best of modern colour photographic processes are presented with a very severe test to reproduce the subtleties of colour variation in some cultivars. Occasionally, however, a chance remark by a writer about a peculiarity of habit or bloom formation provides the vital clue to put the identity beyond all reasonable doubt. It is, after all, important in attempting to re-establish a class of roses which has fallen into obscurity to ensure as far as possible that the nomenclature is accurate. Although the number of unknowns is diminishing, there are still a few which cannot be released because of uncertainty of identity. The plodding, patient work of detection will continue until the question marks are removed.


It is too early to draw any positive conclusions about the Teas, but a number of cultivars have been grown in sufficient quantity over several seasons in various parts of the country to enable a few general observations to be made.

Constitutionally, the Teas and many of their relatives, the Noisettes, had a reputation for being tender. While there is not much doubt that this was true in many cases, it seems probable on present evidence that the eighty or so cultivars assembled have survived because they were hardier than the rest. The last four winters have been relatively mild, so the Teas have not been put to a severe test. There is, nevertheless, a documentary and circumstantial evidence on which to rest a case.

In the Rose Annual for 1918, there appears a symposium by five amateurs and five professionals on the effects of the winter of 1916-1917, described by several of the contributors as one of the most severe in living memory. All reported that their Teas suffered no worse than any of the Hybrid Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals, and were agreeably surprised that this should be so, especially as war-time labour shortages had prevented the normal practice of mounding-up from being carried out. Also significant is the fact that several of the Teas which were located in this country were reportedly very old open-ground plants, mostly on their own roots, which had been established 40 years and more. It follows that they, too, must have survived the severe winters of 1939-1940, 1946-47 and the "deep freeze" of 1962-1963.

One very good reason which may be advanced for their survival is their ability as a class to withstand the debilitating fungal infections, mildew, black spot and rust. While it cannot be said that they are entirely immune, their resistance to these infections as a class is considerably higher than the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. Only one variety, 'Adam', has shown any real susceptibility to mildew—a factor which helped to confirm its identity! These observations are supported by reports from rosarians now growing Teas in various parts of the country who have been kind enough to keep me posted.

As to their cultivation, it is an axiom of rose-growing that good drainage is essential for success; for the Teas it is vital. Naturally well drained gravelly soils or light loam resting on a gravel sub-soil suits them best. Heavy clay is an unsuitable medium and the texture must be improved as advised in most manuals on rose-growing before venturing into their culture. Since they are such early risers, the most sheltered situation, preferably with a southerly aspect, should be chosen.

They have also shown themselves to be ideal pot subjects for growing under glass, a mode of culture which can be recommended where it is not possible to plant them out in a greenhouse border. Experience had proved that 8-inch or 9-inch clay pots are preferable to plastic ones and alkathene shrub tubs are best avoided, even when the inadequate drainage holes are supplemented. A good 2-inch layer of crocks covered with coarse sedge peat will provide the necessary drainage. John Innes No. 3 or other similar ready-mixed compost is the most convenient medium, but if these are used, it is advisable to add 14 lbs of John Innes Coarse Grit (not sand) and about 4 lbs of granulated peat to each 6 lb bag of compost. It is also a good idea to add two handfuls of granulated charcoal to each pot of compost. Provided the top inch of soil (which tends to become sour) is removed and replaced with fresh compost each spring, the roses will grow quite happily for up to five years before repotting. Artificial heat is not necessary unless really early blooms are required. Liquid feeding with a compound with high potash content is recommended; preparations designed for tomatoes have been found to be better than those for roses.


The range of rootstocks available to the rose-grower has widened considerably since Victorian times, when only R. canina, commonly known as "briar", and Manetti were employed. The opportunity has, therefore, been taken to compare the performance of the Teas on a number of rootstocks, including Pfander's, Inermis and Pollmeriana, all of which are selected strains of R. canina, Laxa (R. coriifolia froebelii) and R. multiflora,  as well as the two original types. Good results have been obtained with Pfander's; R. multiflora is very promising. The other understocks have given variable quality plants, with some cultivars doing better than others worked on the same type of stock. Mr Herincx's test with Manetti had already been mentioned.

In nearly all the Tea-scented roses, the axillary leaf buds have a strong tendency to break and form subsidiary shoots even before the first terminal flower bud has opened. While this precocity is to be welcomed by the gardener, it is a nuisance to the propagator seeking good dormant eyes for budding. Indeed, Foster-Melliar remarked that it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice a whole plant in order to procure sufficient budding material. It also means that the reinvigoration of a debilitated cultivar by careful bud-selection is a slow process. Similarly, the building up of sufficient stock of some cultivars in high demand often means a waiting list.

As if to compensate for this precociousness, it has been found that many of the Teas root quite easily from cuttings and one or two of the "finds" were received in this form and have grown on quite satisfactorily. Some Victorian writers recommended that Teas should be grown in this form rather than as budded plants. Whether this was because Tea Roses worked on Manetti proved so disappointing is hard to say, but many of the larger nursery firms used to offer a selection of Teas on their own roots at commensurately higher prices, presumably to meet this demand. It would be quite uneconomic to do so now.


The name of the class derives from the resemblance of the fragrance of the two foundation members to the aromatic blends of China teas which were drunk by the higher social orders in Regency times and were so expensive that they were kept away from the "lower orders" in locked caddies. While this fragrance is present in many of their derivatives, it is by no means as widely found as might be supposed. Reference has already been made to the scent of 'Mme. Bravy', an early hybrid. 'Duchesse de Brabant', another early origination, carries a strong, spicy fragrance with "peppery" overtones. This may have been the reason why it was the favourite rose of President "Teddy" Roosevelt, for there are others with better claims to form and lasting qualities. Among later introductions, 'Monsieur Tillier' has a deep damask-like fragrance which is also found in some of the other deep reds and 'Mrs Herbert Hawksworth' (1912) is perfumed like verbena. It must also be said that there are Teas with little or no scent, even to those with a highly developed sense of smell. It is more than probable that it was these, rather than the Hybrid Perpetuals as has been so often claimed, which transmitted scentlessness to many of their Hybrid Tea descendants.

The Future

From the innocent beginnings, some eighty or so Tea cultivars have been so far jointly assembled by Mr Herincx and myself. It is possible that some two dozen more may still be in existence, including two which were found, then tragically lost through an error of cultivation.

An old gardener once said that "there is no such thing as a bad rose but some are better than others." Teas are slow to show their true merits and it would be wrong to pass early judgment upon some of the newcomers. Objective assessment indicates that some of the more famous varieties have lived up to their reputations but others have not. At the same time, some which were little known in this country even during the high tide of popularity of the class have shown themselves to be very good indeed in every respect. It remains to be seen whether the Tea Rose enthusiasts can be persuaded to accept the growers' judgment! Whether it will be possible to keep the collection together depends upon time and space, both of which are limited. A wide distribution in good and capable hands should, however, ensure that they will not be lost again.

Acknowledgments. In addition to those mentioned in the text, special thanks are due to Mr G. W. Dendy of Merrist Wood College, Worplesdon, without whose help the project would not have been possible and to Mr John Anton who has provided a complete photographic record of the collection.

References. Some 150 books, periodicals and catalogues have been consulted. The main sources are as follows:

On origins:

On development:

Contributions to Horticultural Literature 1843-1892

On downfall:

On revival: