The Old-Fashioned Cabbage Rose
I chose, neglecting all the rest,
The Provence rose too fully blown.
I lodged it in my virgin breast;
It drooped, alas, and died too soon!
Elizabeth Tollet, The Rose
Centifolias, commonly named Cabbage Roses or Provence Roses, are probably the most well known of the Old Roses. Centifolia means ‘hundred-petalled’ in Latin and these are typically deeply rounded chalice-shaped roses, stuffed to the brim with tissue-thin petals, while the name ‘Cabbage Rose’ comes from their perceived likeness in shape to a cabbage. Some rose books seem a little offended at this comparison between a humble cabbage and a fair rose, so I’m including here a portrait of a 19th century cabbage alongside one of Redouté’s illustrations of this rose so you can compare.
Cabbage from Album Benary, 1876
Cabbage Rose 'Bullata' (detail)
Cabbage Roses have a strong association with old-fashioned charm and all things floral from the Victorian era. Who doesn’t think of swags of roses decorating wallpaper, curtains, overstuffed sofas and fine china when they think of Victorian homes? In truth, some of the roses we think of as Cabbage Roses today are actually a later bred of rose; the Hybrid Perpetual. It has a similar shape to the Centifolia but generally larger blooms.
Popular decorating inspiration
The popularity of Cabbage Rose-style roses in interior decorating has made a comeback in recent years with the decorating styles known as ‘Country Cottage’ or ‘Shabby Chic’. These relaxed styles are typified by soft garden-inspired hues and the Cabbage Rose, as a decorating element, is right at home here.
Flower-wise, Centifolia blooms are very sweetly perfumed, typically a soft pastel pink colour but they may also be a deeper rose pink, white or tinged with mauve and they flower in the spring or summer. This rose definitely prefers a cooler summer climate, like Britain, where it can flower for up to two months. If the climate is very hot, that time may be reduced to just two weeks. Its flowers can also be compromised by wet weather, when the outer tissue-thin petals turn to mush around the rosebud before it has a chance to open – a phenomenon known as ‘balling’. Otherwise, Centifolia Roses are generally considered easy to grow.
Habit-wise, when given plenty of room to expand, they are typically large, graceful shrubs with long arching canes spreading outwards and decked with large, soft droopy leaves. If they get to the point of being sprawling, they can be staked or trained within a garden structure. The dwarf Centifolias, a sub-class, are miniaturised versions of the larger ones, although some authorities think they would be better classed with the Gallicas. They are naturally more compact, making them a better choice when space is at a premium.
At the time Redouté was painting his Centifolia roses, botanists of the day were puzzled about their origins. One, Professor Rau, claimed the original to be a species native to northern Persia. Another, Dr. Roessig, put forward the argument that it was simply a Dog Rose (R. canina) that had been “brought to perfection through cultivation over the centuries”.
What we know now is that the rose of one hundred petals is a complex hybrid, confirmed through scientific study of its chromosomes. The roses thought to be involved in its make-up are the Dog Rose (R.canina), the Gallica Rose (R.gallica), the Musk Rose (R.moschata), a relative of the Musk Rose (R.phoenicia), and the Damask Rose (R.damascena)
The author Clusius recorded in his Rariorum Plantarum Historia (1601), a plant named ‘Rosa centifolia Batavica’ which he mentions as having received from Holland. Current research suggests that Centifolias were first raised by Dutch breeders between the 16th and 19th centuries, possibly from hybridisations in a garden setting between Alba Roses, contributing the R.gallica and R.canina genes and Damask Roses, contributing the R.gallica, R.phoenicia, R.moschata genes. However, no one is quite sure of the true ancestry of this class.
However they arose, the Cabbage Rose became a great favourite with the Dutch and Flemish flower painters of the 18th and 19th centuries, earning it the title; Rose des Peinters (Rose of the Painters). Two of these painters who preceded Redouté, Rachel Ruysch and Jan van Huysum were formative in inspiring Redouté’s love of painting flowers.
Centifolias are renowned for producing many spontaneous mutations, called sports, usually resulting in new flower or leaf shapes. However, these sports can be unstable, reverting back to the original plant over time. About 100 varieties of Centifolia were recorded by the Dutch in the early 19th century, although only twenty or so varieties survive today. Redouté pictured many in both Les Roses and Choix des plus Belles Fleurs. Among them are some now believed to be extinct but the original form, R.centifolia is alive and well.
Cabbage Rose ‘Bullata’
'Rose de Meaux' Rose
Single-Flowered Cabbage Rose
'Unique Blanche' Rose
Single Pompon Rose
Crenate-Leaved Cabbage Rose
Hundred-Petalled Anemone Rose
'Prolifera de Redouté' Rose
Cabbage Rose ‘Bullata’
'Rose de Meaux' Rose