Around the end of the eighteenth century France witnessed the emergence of a rose of great significance. Like in many other instances, the origin of this rose was unknown, but it became an instant favourite of rose gardeners owing to its habit of flowering almost consistently all through its growing season.
When the rose arrived in France from England it was named R. portlandica. However, later it was christened to ‘Duchess of Portland’ – named after the third Duchess of Portland, who is famous for brining the rose from Italy to England.
It is believed that this rose had its origin in a cross between a Damask x Gallica seedling with an unidentified China rose, most likely ‘Slater’s Crimson’. This mating was believed to have established, at least partially, the very useful remontancy (the ability of a plant to flower more than once in a growing season or year) habit of several roses that we see in the present times.
In fact, Portland roses are yet another class of the Old Garden Roses that repeats their blooms during its growing season. Together with the Teas, Bourbons, Chinas, Hybrid Perpetuals, Noisettes and other roses, they are responsible for dismissing the popular conception that Old Garden Roses bloom only once in a year.
It appears that, Portland roses have their origin in natural crosses between Chinas and Damasks. In fact, both Autumn Damask and Slater’s Crimson China are presumed to be the parents of the maiden Portland that was discovered near Paestum in Italy.
The original Portland rose, ‘Duchess of Portland’, is also referred to as Portland Rose. The origin of this red rose dates back to 1800. After this rose was introduced in England and France, numerous hybridizers swooped on it and they created many more hybrids.
During the middle of the 19th century and before the Hybrid Perpetuals were introduced into the market, Portland roses were very popular and they continue to remain a favourite of Old Garden Rose enthusiasts. Portland roses have played a vital role in developing the modern day roses because these roses, together with the Hybrid Chinas and Bourbons, parented the Hybrid Perpetuals – which are the parents of the modern day Hybrid Teas.
There is no doubt that Rose du Roi, an exceptional red Portland rose, is considered to be the progenitor not only of the maiden Hybrid Perpetual, but many others too. There was a time when about 150 varieties of Portland roses were in cultivation. In present times, only 16 Portland roses are listed in Modern Roses.
Nevertheless, there are roughly about another half dozen varieties that may perhaps be classified as Portlands. Interestingly, Portland roses do not have any climbing variety. This class of roses generally have vigorous growths but they do not become overly large plants. On the whole, Portland roses have a nice garden size and can be accommodated in any average garden.
Portland rose possesses a number of distinguishing characteristics and one of them is that the blooms of this rose appear “on the shoulder”. In other words, the stems between a Portland rose and the first foliage is extremely short. It appears as if the flowers are resting on the foliage. The blooms of this rose appear in a variety of colors.
The color range of Portland rose varies from white to pink to red to purple. However, roses in this class do not bear yellow or orange flowers. The class of Portland roses do not comprise very many cultivars – in fact, even during its hey days in the 19th century, this class of rose possibly never had more than 100 cultivars.
At present, Portland rose comprises less than a dozen cultivars that are in cultivation. In fact, these roses were admired greatly during the early 19th century because they are hardy as well as rebloom many times in a year. The plants produce a heavy crop of flowers in the beginning of summer and they are again in bloom, although occasionally, all through the summer months and even into the fall.
While the flowers of Portland rose are large, each measuring anything between 3 inches and 4 inches (7.6 cm and 10.2 cm) across, and also uncommonly heavily fragrant, in present times, many of the roses in this class have been replaced by free-flowing, flashy roses.
Portland roses have adapted themselves well to the conditions in Midwest, Northwest, Rocky Mountain West and even in Canada where the climatic conditions are milder. However, they suffer in places where the summer months are hot and humid.
Below are brief descriptions of some of the popular and better known cultivars of Portland rose:
‘Arthur de Sansal’
This Portland rose dates back to 1855 and its blooms are similar to Damask. The flowers of ‘Arthur de Sansal’ are very double and have a rich crimson-purple hue.
This Portland rose was introduced in 1846 and it is a sport of ‘Rose du Roi’. The flowers of this rose have a salmon-pink hue.
‘Blanc de Vibert’
This Portland rose dates back to 1847 and its white flowers are somewhat double. The foliage of this cultivar is light green. This rose does not rebloom dependably.
This Portland rose was introduced in 1849 and its flowers have a bright pink hue. The plants rebloom somewhat. In Modern Roses 9, this rose has been listed as a Damask. However, some other sources classify this rose as a Portland.
This Portland rose dates back to 1844 and it often repeats its pale pink hued blooms. In Modern Roses 8, this is classified as a Damask with a note – “Portland type”.
This Portland rose was introduced in 1860 and it bears purplish crimson hued flowers with shades of lilac. The flowers are medium-sized, full and fragrant. They rebloom occasionally.
This Portland rose was introduced in 1883 by Moreau-Robert of France. The flowers of this rose are scarlet-red – some even describe the color of the flowers as vermillion. ‘Rembrandt’ is an uncommon rose for any Old Garden Rose.
‘Rose de Roi Panache’
This Portland rose is a sport of ‘Rose de Roi’ and bears red flowers with pink stripes. This is an example of the fact that even Portland roses can be diverse.
‘Comte de Chambord’ Roses
Introduced – 1860
‘Comte de Chambord’ is a well-liked Portland rose that bears very full flowers, each composed of 200 petals. The flowers are large, quartered and fragrant and have a button-eye at their centers. The flowers of ‘Comte de Chambord’ unfurl in a number of shades – pink, violet and mauve. This Portland rose reblooms extraordinarily freely for any rose in its class. When grown in any good soil and under the full sun, the plants may continue to flower almost consistently. In addition to this, the compact size of the plant makes ‘Comte de Chambord’ rose a wonderful choice for growing in small gardens. This rose possesses an old world charm, which makes it perfect for growing in a cottage garden. Moreover, this rose also offers a special charm and elegance to any perennial border.
‘Jacques Cartier’ Roses
Portland, Introduced – 1868
This Portland rose bears pearly flowers having dark deeper pink centres that resemble a button. The flowers of ‘Jacques Cartier’ are often quartered, very full and heavily fragrant. Each flower of this rose measures about 3 inches across and appear on plants that grow up to a height of 2 ½ feet to 3 ½ feet. The plants are in bloom throughout the summer months. The leaves are light green and closely spaced. This is a rare variety of Portland rose that is still obtainable. A number of Old Garden Rose enthusiasts are of the view that this rose is an older variety of rose that is precisely known as ‘Marquise Bocella’.
‘Rose du Roi’ Roses
Introduced – 1815
‘Rose du Roi’ rose bears bright red double flowers that are mottled with purple and violet. The flowers are loosely arranged and each measures about 2 ½ inches in diameter. The flowers are very fragrant and appear profusely in midseason and repeat well afterwards. The foliage of this Portland rose is small, pointed and dark green. The plants of ‘Rose du Roi’ are small and have a spreading habit. The plants have a long flowering season, bearing heavily perfumed blooms. ‘Roi de Roi’ rose is perfect for growing in garden beds and borders. In fact, they are ideal for growing in smaller gardens. This Portland rose is winter hardy as well as resistant to diseases.