Journal of the International Garden Club, 2(1): 112-118 (Mar 1918)

Rose Perfumes
Rev. Joseph H. Pemberton

WHAT was it that made the Rose so popular in days gone by? Until one hundred years ago it was just a bush in the garden border, sharing it together with pinks and columbines, marigolds and lilies, London pride, love-in-a-mist, hollyhocks, sunflowers and Michaelmas daisies. In the days of Queen Anne tulips were all the fashion with specialists, but fashion is always fleeting, and that which is the rage to-day will pass away to-morrow. Other flowers have had their day, but the Rose has held its own in the face of all vagaries. And then just think of the sort of flower it was, only a century ago; a flower of June, not beyond; a flower, as compared with others, small in size, and for the most part poor in colour. What, then, was it, we ask, that made and kept the Rose a universal favourite in days gone by? Let Shakespeare reply. Whether he had a garden or not is immaterial; but this we know, that as he wandered along the country lanes it was the perfume of the flower, of the Rose, that caused him in his heart to sing:

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violets grows;
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses and with eglantine.

Yes; the delicious fragrance of the R. arvensis—the good old English musk—and the Sweet Briar won his heart, and he loved them because of their fragrance. And so it has ever been. Lest, however, we should attach more influence to fragrance than it deserves, we must not disguise the fact that the increased popularity of the modern Rose lies to a great extent in its extended flowering season, brilliancy in colouring and diversity of habit. Nevertheless, it was perfume that made it the favourite flower in its early days.

And some folks have inherited the desire for fragrance from their forefathers; it has been bred in the bone. A few years ago, when the Rose was more or less regarded as an exhibition flower, fragrance was quite a secondary qualification of a good Rose; everything gave precedence to size and form. The exhibitor was content with his high-pointed beauties, wired up and stuck in serried rows in a regulation size box, and was in an agony when some friend, not being an expert exhibitor, but one impelled by heredity, popped his nose on to the point of the flower and sniffed. As his forbears had done so did he. Times, however, are changing; size and form are no longer dominant. We now seek for beauty in the colour and freshness of the Rose; we like to see a full-blown flower disclosing its golden stamens and anthers, and, together with all this, we seek for fragrance.

But the quest for fragrance is to some a novelty, and for this reason it may be narrow. The quest may be confined to that perfume which has been described as "the true old genuine Rose scent, such as may be found in the old cabbage, or Provence Rose, in General Jacqueminot, Marie Baumann, Duke of Wellington, General McArthur, etc.;" if so, is not our idea of Rose perfume restricted and, from the terms used above, is it not implied that the Musk Rose perfume, for instance, is not old, is not genuine? No, let us guard against narrowness. We know there is more diversity in the Rose family than in any other flower, and no one is more alive to this diversity than the amateur who cultivates his own Roses, especially when he wants to prune them. Diversity in habit, diversity in the mode of producing flowering shoots, diversity in flower development, and —let us emphasise this—diversity in perfume; and it is here wherein our discernment may perhaps be defective.

All wild Roses have perfume; distinct yet refined in some, powerful and decided in others, and almost as variable as the Rose is in colour and form. R. canina has its own perfume, so has R. arvensis; and both grow side by side in the same hedgerows. Now, how many amateurs, blindfolded, can detect the difference between these two Roses from their respective perfumes? The eye of the Rosarian has been educated; it is alert. The Rosarian appreciates form and colour, he values the arrangement and length of stamens, the quality and brilliancy of the pollen; few, perhaps, of the general public can see what he sees. But has the training of his sense of smell, where Roses are concerned, been equally developed? That is a question. A chairman of a floral committee once observed to the writer that a certain Rose which had just received an award had no smell, whereas the musk perfume was strong, and the bees, where it grew, forsaking all other Roses in its proximity, thronged the blossoms of this Rose. But he did not profess to be a Rosarian.

We have said that all wild Roses possess fragrance—some, of course, more than others; but for the purpose which lies before us, let us confine our attention to those wild Roses from which are derived the majority of our present day perpetual-flowering varieties, namely, R. moschata, or the Musk, R. centifolia, or the Damask, R. indica odorata, or the Tea-scented and R. lutea, or the Persian Rose. In these wild Roses the perfume is pure, and for that reason we can easily detect the difference between the Musk, Damask, Tea, and Persian; but when we come to deal with the perfume of our garden Roses it is not so easy. Our garden Roses, it will be remembered, are the result of crossing one variety with another. It may be that the original parents had each a different perfume, and inasmuch as we expect and generally discern the characteristics of the parents produced in their progeny, so we find a blend of perfumes. The blended characteristics which appear to the eye are soon perceived, but the blended perfumes are frequently undetected. But before going further into the subject of blends, let us first consider in detail the four chief perfumes.

1. The Musk. Here we have a delicate and refined perfume, suggestive of heather and lime blossom. It is, moreover, diffusive. Go into the garden on a quiet day in summer; the perfume of the Musk-scented Rose pervades the atmosphere as does the lime. It is beloved of bees, and attracts them more than any other Rose perfume. Roses with musk fragrance are generally produced in clusters, and the prevailing tone is white, or light-coloured. Seeing that some of our English wild Roses, R. arvenis for instance, are impregnated with musk, we may rightly term the musk perfume "the true old genuine" British Rose scent.

2. The Damask. R. centifolia, the Rose of Damascus, brought to France in the time of the crusaders, gives us the damask perfume. This fragrance is heavy, strong and positive, but not, in the writer's experience, diffusive. That is to say, this perfume does not seem to impregnate the air as does the musk; you have to take the Rose and smell it. But being so strong and positive in the individual flower, it has come to be regarded by many as the real Rose scent, and a Rose which has it not, although it may have another perfume, is apt to be deemed scentless or deficient in scent. It is from this perfume that attar of rose is manufactured—prior to the war this was a great Bulgarian industry. The usual colour of a Rose with damask perfume is red, and the flowers are generally borne one or two only on each stem. We seldom if ever find a cluster Rose having pure damask perfume.

3. The Tea-scented. For this perfume we are indebted to R. indica odorata. Here, again, the perfume is not diffusive— it has to be sought for in the flower itself; nor is it as definite or dominant as the damask. The pure Tea perfume is found in the older varieties of the Tea-scented Rose, especially where the colour is buff or pale flesh.

4. The Persian, or Fruit-scented. Roses for the garden with perpetual-flowering habit, derived from R. lutea, a Persian Rose, are of comparatively recent introduction, and therefore their special perfume has not as yet received a popular name. May we venture to call it "Fruit-scented?" Roses of this class have all, more or less, a subtle fruity smell, one suggestive of apricot, another of pineapple, It is not at any time, however, a strong perfume, and if our sense of smell is not alert, we might conclude that Roses possessing this perfume were scentless. This fragrance is never so positive nor dominant as that of the Musk or Damask, but in most Roses of this class it is there all the same.

Now let us attempt to classify these four perfumes described above—it is only an attempt—and at the same time indicate a few of the best examples in each class.

Perfume. Species or Variety, and Habit.

I. Musk. R. moschata nivea (M); not perpetual.
R. brunonis (M); not perpetual.
The Garland (M); not perpetual.
Seagull (M); not perpetual.
II. Damask. York and Lancaster (the true) (D); not perpetual.
Tuscany (D); not perpetual.
Marie Baumann (H.P.); perpetual.
General Jacqueminot (H.P.); perpetual.
Senateur Vaisse (H.P.); perpetual.
Souvenir de Pierre Dupuy (H.D.); not perpetual.
Zéphirine Drouhin (B); perpetual.
III. Tea-scented. Gloire de Dijon (T); perpetual.
Madame Bravy (T); perpetual.
IV. Fruit-scented. R. lutea; not perpetual.
R. lutea bicolor; not perpetual.
Rayon d'Or (P); perpetual.
Louise Catherine Breslau (P); perpetual.

And there are blended perfumes which, like blends of tea or tobacco are superior to the pure perfume. The blend of musk and tea is one—to the writer the most enchanting of all the Rose perfumes—the blend of musk and damask is another. It seems, however, that the two distinct perfumes of damask and tea will not blend. We know how strong these perfumes are apart from each other, and it may be by reason of this dominancy that when they meet the perfume of one holds up the other. At any rate, when raisers, in their efforts to obtain more free-flowering Roses, crossed the hybrid perpetual with the tea, their progeny had no perfume. Free-flowering and good autumnal Roses certainly were obtained, but, for the most part, at a loss of fragrance.

Perfume. Variety and Habit.

I. Blend of Musk and Tea. Lamarque (N); not perpetual.
Marechal Niel (N); perpetual.
II. Blend of Musk and Damask La France (HT); perpetual.
Mrs. A. E. Coxhead (HT); perpetual.
Edward Mawley (HT); perpetual.
General McArthur (HT); perpetual.
III. Blend of Damask and Fruit-scented. Juliet (P); perpetual.

And here is another point bearing upon fragrance, which an examination of the above tables of Rose perfumes will go far to prove, and that is that perfume is more or less an indication of the flowering habit of those varieties which are perpetual. In those Roses set forth in the list as good examples of pure damask perfume, are any of them free flowering and good in autumn? On the other hand, do you want Roses with a long season of flowering, the first to come and the last to go—one refers to perpetuals—is it not just those with a musk or fruit-scented perfume, either pure or blended, that we should select? Rayon d'Or, fruit-scented, flowers from early June to late September, whilst General McArthur and Mrs. A. E. Coxhead, whose perfume is a blend of Musk and damask, are some of the very best of October Roses. Now with this fact before us, when we are appraising the value of a new Rose, we take particular notice of perfume, however faint it may be. If we discover from its perfume that the Rose has a strain of musk or fruit scent, we have ground for believing that it will be free flowering, and good in autumn. And on the other hand, if the new Rose has pure damask fragrance only—delicious though it may be—we may rightly conclude that it will not have a long season of flowering. Of course, there are other signs besides fragrance that indicate the musk or any other strain in a Rose, but these are not now before us; we are dealing with fragrance.

In offering these brief notes for consideration the writer begs the reader to accept them simply as the writer's own private opinion based upon personal observation; he would be the last to be positive on any matter connected with the Rose. They may, however, be helpful to others to discern—if they have not already done so—in this, the most lovable of all the flowers in the world, that beyond diversity in habit of which we are all aware, there is perhaps even more diversity in Rose Perfume.