What is an Old Rose? Paul Zimmerman (the owner of Paul Zimmerman Roses, a company dedicated to teaching that “Roses Are Plants, Too”) has written a great article to answer this question, and says: “To history it is a rose being of a class in existence before the year 1867. Why 1867? Simple. This is the year a rose named “La France” was introduced. La France is considered to the be the first Hybrid Tea. It is the offspring of the Hybrid Perpetual “Madame Victor Verdier” with the Tea rose “Madame Bravy”. The hybridizer was Guillot and what marked La France as being different from other roses was the high centered blossom we associate with Hybrid Teas of today. Notice the words “class of roses” in existence before 1867. This means that even though say a particular Bourbon (a class of Old Garden Rose) was introduced after 1867 it’s still an Old Garden Rose. In fact it’s possible that an Old Garden Rose could be hybridized and introduced to the growing public today.
Class of roses also brings us to the other part of the definition of Old Garden Roses. Modern Roses refer to Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Miniatures etc. Sub classes within the label “Modern Roses”. It’s the same with Old Garden Roses. To put it plainly, Old Garden Roses are not a class of roses but rather a group of classes that fit one definition. That definition is the class was in existence before 1867. So if you hear folks speak of Old Garden Roses then launch into Bourbons, Albas, Damasks, Teas and so on relax. They are only talking of the classes of roses that make up the group Old Garden Roses.” Paul F. Zimmerman, Originally published in The Rose Reporter. Article
For me, the attractiveness of old roses lies in the fact, that they are in no way to be compared with most of the modern (often stiff) roses with hard colors and lack of fragrance. The graceful growth habit of the old roses, their flower forms, softer colors and exquisite fragrance are unsurpassed and most are very disease resistant. Each class has its own distinctive traits. In general, roses introduced before the Chinas (Species to Centifolia) are native to Europe, cold hardy, and may only bloom once or twice during the season. China and Tea roses brought remontant capability to roses, but also reduced their cold tolerance. On each page of every group (Alba, Gallica, Moss etc.) I will write some more about their own distinctive traits, with pictures and descriptions of some of the roses in my garden.