Gallicas (or French Roses) form one of the oldest groups of roses and are also one of my favourites. In earlier times there were many more Gallicas than there are now, and they were up to the end of the 18th century the most popular garden roses. The species Rosa gallica is the aboriginal source of the garden group, Gallica roses. Many scholars place the origin of Rosa gallica in the Caucasus. Agreement is reached on certain points: R. gallica is considered to be a very old species, and its variations as well as its naturally occuring hybrids are distributed throughout Europe and in Western Asia. R. gallica is generally accepted to be an ancestor of the Damasks, Centifolias, Mosses and Albas. Its genes are found in countless roses. Unquestionably Rosa gallica is in the lineage of practically all modern garden roses.
Gallicas are very fragrant, once in summer exuberantly blooming roses; they are genuinely healthy, disease-free, pest-resistant and hardy plants, well suited for organic gardening methods. Gallica roses don’t demand excellent soil, are quite content in a variety of soil types, and will even tolerate drought conditions. Gallicas will also grow and bloom in partial to fairly shady spots, however in shady sites there is less bloom, and the darker colors of the blossoms are less intense. They are prone to suckering and this can sometimes be a problem where space is limited or when the suckers crowd another plant. To remove suckers clip beneath the soil level as close to the original plant as possible. The suckers will root very easily if treated as cuttings. (In the garden Gallica suckers have few or no roots, and therefore cannot be simply cut and transplanted).
The French Roses are relatively compact in growth, rarely exceeding 1 to 1.5 meter meter. Most varieties are particularly well shaped and well clothed with foliage to the ground. The canes are mostly upright and well invested with fine reddish brown bristly prickles rather than true thorns. The foliage is quite distinctive: matte, rather than glossy and colored in predominant tones of dark olive green with paler tones on the undersides of the leaves. Most are deeply veined and have serrated margins, usually bent down somewhat from the midrib. The flowers are quite large, semi-double and bright crimson red to almost purple fading, with prominent stamens and a sweet strong fragrance. After a good summer the small oval hips are -if they mature enough- an additional attraction.
As the oldest roses to be cultivated in Western gardens, Gallicas by virtue of their antiquity are prime candidates for historical gardens. Furthermore, their long association with the herbalists and the apothecaries earns for the Gallicas a place of prominence in any herb garden. Anyone who has interest in potpourri must have Gallicas: the petals increase in fragrance when dried. Though these roses may bloom only once a season, their images remain clear in mind throughout the gardening year. Many old Gallicas are in cultivation today because of their great garden merit and, sometimes, sheer tenacity. Very certain, they are not forgotten.
Source: Suzanne Verrier ‘Rosa Gallica’. This is a truly magnificent book in which you can read all about the Gallica roses in great detail. This book is an essential source of information about the Gallicas and in it Suzanne Verrier also describes the hundreds of varieties still known.