Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Portland's Duchess

I'll show you a rose today that has continually surprised me.  Surprised me because I wasn't expecting much from it and I got these great big, hot pink flowers.  Surprised me because, in general, I'm not a fan of hot pink flowers and yet I like these.  Surprised me because the repeat bloom has been better than I expected. 
That rose is 'Duchess of Portland', a Damask Perpetual that was known prior to 1775 and who gave birth to an entire rose class named after her. This reported hybrid of 'Quatre Saisons' and Rosa gallica officianalis is one of the few reblooming roses  grown in the Western Hemisphere before the China roses and their hybrids took Europe by storm.  Perhaps because of her ancient heritage, 'Duchess of Portland' can be found under many different names, including Portlandica, The Portland Rose, Rosa Paestana,  Rosa damascena portlandica bifera, and Scarlet Four Seasons' Rose.  There was some suspicion that she DID have some 'Slaters Crimson China' in her background, but Internet sources say that any China heritage was disproven through DNA analysis at Claude Bernard University in France. 

'Duchess of Portland' has semi-double blooms (10-16 petals) with a diameter of 4 inches in my 6A climate.  Four inches might not seem like a large bloom size compared to a Hybrid Tea like 'Peace', but the flat shape and the small number of petals puts this rose in a class with 'Altissimo' for standing out in the garden.  There is a strong sweet fragrance to reward any nose that dares to part the golden stamens.  It is also her lipstick-bright pink color that sets this rose apart, almost scalding your eyes if you look at it too long.  Officially, this color is labeled as "red", in the same way that many Old Garden Roses that were really fuchia or pink were labelled  "red", because that was the best red tone in roses available in former centuries.   Personally, I think it is time to stop calling these roses "red."  They're pink, okay, can we just agree to call them that?  I've had two bloom flushes already this summer, with a few sporadic blooms in-between, and I hope yet to see another flush as cooler weather returns in the fall.  The bush is round in form, extending about 3 feet in all directions, very healthy and drought-resistant, and she sets a few orange hips as the season ends.

Some roses just have more history than others, and 'Duchess of Portland' is one of the former group with history to spare.  She is the mother of the entire group of Portland roses, which once numbered in the hundreds but has dwindled to 15-20 commercial varieties.  The origin of the name was from a namesake Duchess of Portland who was a plant collector around 1780.  And yes, she may be old, but she's still very much worth adding to your garden.  Just don't expect her to hide among other roses, because she was bred to stand out.



  1. Re; Rose Duchess of portland. I found your post whilst wandering around the internet. I am currently debating which rose I simply must have and have been 'eyeing up' rosa gallica officinalis. Beautiful bright pink flowers, liked by bees, what's not to like? Trouble is, it's summer flowering only. Browsing through Peter Beale's website this d.o.p. Rose popped up and it appears to have similar colouring to r.g.o. But is repeat flowering. I'm sold! Have to have one and your beautiful photos just confirmed it! Thank you, marie. Marie.ash@ntlworld.com

  2. I discovered two of these rose bushes growing right by the beach in my small community in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. Based on the plant, leaves and single petal blooms, I suspected it was an antique or heritage rose. They have been there for the 31 years I have owned property here. Now that I live here full time, I have harvested some of the big hips they produce to see if I can grow some new plants for my yard. Thanks for the additional info on these roses! I am excited by my discovery.

    1. I have just seen Duchess of Portlandrose for sale at the plant shop at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent UK and would love to have one but I must tell you that the best way to propagate Roses is by taking a cutting
      if you use the seeds they may not come up like the original rose because of cross-pollination by bees


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