The importance of this new book cannot be emphasized enough, as it fills a gap in rose history and cultivation that has existed since the tea rose was first introduced into Europe from China in the nineteenth century. Only one previous book, in German by Rudolf Geschwind, has been devoted to this classic group of roses.
Perhaps the lack of literature on the tea rose is because these are roses for warm climates; they simply do not thrive in areas of the US with hard frosts or harsh winters. Most of California and some protected places farther north along the West Coast, however, offer ideal homes for them.
These are not the modern, popular hybrid tea roses, but rather re-blooming, colorful, scented shrubs (and a few fascinating climbing roses). Many people cannot smell the “tea” fragrance; for the rest of us, the aroma is delightful and reason enough for using tea roses in our gardens. Delicate beauty is one of the outstanding features of these flowers. Their wide range of colors, providing inspiration for many famous painters over the years, also distinguishes them.
Most of the tea roses in my garden do not go completely dormant in winter as other roses do. Seldom plagued with the usual diseases and pests, they are low-maintenance plants rarely offered by nurseries. Why haven’t they been more popular? Only two hybridizers in the world today are producing new tea roses. Perhaps this book will change that situation.
Tea Roses is largely devoted to a discussion of individual rose cultivars, from ‘Adam’ (1838) to ‘William R Smith’ (1908), many of them still available. The photos are excellent, and the details of each rose are exhaustive. An excellent bibliography and one of the best indexes for a rose book fill out this beautifully printed volume.
Affectionately called the “Tea Bags,” the six women authoring this book live in Western Australia. Lovers of old roses but frustrated by the lack of information (in English) about tea roses, they began a quest to document the tea roses in their country ten years ago. They searched cemeteries, old gardens, and nurseries, and collected cuttings so they could grow every rose they were to write about.
Identification of tea roses has proven especially difficult because of problems with their blood lines, the many look-alikes, and poor labeling by careless nurseries. Old cemeteries have large collections, planted by families over the years; cuttings taken in such places have helped to save the tea roses from extinction. The Sacramento Historic City Cemetery hosts a celebration each spring to showcase the flowering heirloom roses, including many tea roses.
Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens is distributed in the US by Ashdown Roses, PO Box 129, Campobello, SC 29322.
William Grant, rosarian