5 Common Varieties of Old Fashioned Roses with Examples

by Flower El
old rose

Gallica Roses, Damask Roses, White Roses and Centifolia Roses, which again are subdivided into the Provence and Moss Roses, make up the classes of the old rose.

Also, check our article for more types of roses here.


Gallica Roses are the senior members of the Old Rose Family, they are the most ancient and also served as parentage for many of the other heritage roses.

Gallica Roses have a number of common characteristics such as stems with hardly any thorns. Their branches form compact garden bushes and are well covered with flowers growing upright. Their leaves have a rough appearance and are in general dark green. The colour of the blooms ranges from pink to mauve and purple to crimson and are heavenly scented. The Gallica roses spread by growing suckering shoots.

These roses don’t need a lot of care and are not too fussy about the soil they grow in. The better the soil however, the better is the Gallica rose. Gallica Roses don’t need pruning apart from cutting down the dead wood in spring or a slight trim in July after flowering. Gallica roses can be used in the garden as individual plants, together with others in a mixed border and are good to grow as hedges growing up to 3 or 4 feet to be clipped every year in late winter to keep their compact shape. Others are suitable as ground cover plants or as standard roses.

Gallica Rose Family

Within the Gallica rose family there are still a lot of differences. Some have very large flowers others very small. Its leaves are mainly dark green but can also be mid or light green, big or tiny. The gardener may also be interested in the fact the Gallica roses don’t flower all at the same time. Some flower early others late. There are tall growing Gallicas and low growing ground covering ones to cover banks or spill over low walls.

There are two Gallica roses which stand out as awesome garden plants and which are always admired. They do well as focal points in the garden. These are Rosa Gallica officinalis which covers its bush with semi double flowers of light crimson and yellow centre of stamen. The second one is Rosa Galica versicolor also called Rosa Mundi. Its flowers are multiple coloured: they are light crimson with pink irregular splashes and stripes of pale pink variations.

Examples of Gallica Roses:

AGATHE INCARNATA, (from before 1815) is an ancient variety with links to Damask roses from which it inherited prickly shoots and greyish leaves. It grows up to 4 feet high and forms a compact free flowering bush with pale pink flowers which are flat and round.

ALAIN BLANCHARD has Centifolia parentage and has therefore thorns, which is unusual for Gallica roses. The flowers almost single crimson with a yellow centre. The petals become mottled with irregular patches of dark red as the season progresses.

CARDINAL DE RICHELIEU is a great Gallica rose with round purple flowers and a forms graceful arching bush. It grows up to 4 or 5 feet. It has very little scent.

CHARLES DE MILLS forms a compact bush with crimson-purple flowers, contrasting well with pink

DAPHNE, forms low growing ground covering shrubs with crimson purple flowers and is excellent for covering banks.

More Examples

DUCHESSE D’ANGOULEME, is a delicate rose with light green leaves that grows up to 3 feet.  It has an arching and nodding habit and is therefore suitable as a standard rose. The colour of the flowers are pale pink with crimson tips.

NOUVEAU VULCAIN grows into a large bush, is free flowering, and produces round rose hips. It has distinctly Gallica leaves and its flowers are rich crimson with purple veins Nouveau Vulcain has a sweet scent and grows up to 4 to 5 feet.

OFFICINALIS is a full bush with dark green leaves on which the semi-double light crimson flowers with a distinctive yellow centre formed by stamen are strongly displayed. It flowers later in the season. Rosa Gallica officinalis is a beautiful garden shrub.

POMPON PANACHEE, has pink and white striped small double flowers on wire like stems and reaches to about 4 feet.

VERSICOLOR or Rosa Mundi must be one of the most popular of all old roses with its light crimson flowers splashed and striped with shades of pale pink. It grows up to 4 feet and is one of those garden shrubs that makes you stand still for a long while in pure admiration.


Damask Roses are originally from the Mediterranean Basin, from which we have evidence that they have been cultivated for at least since 2000 BC. These roses were grown in Egypt on a commercial scale for the Roman market, especially in winter. They had also medicinal uses and were and still are the basis ingredient for rose water and attar in countries like Bulgaria and Pakistan. Virgil describes the Autumn Damask as “biferique Rosaria Paesti”, a rose flowering twice a year.

The Damasks roses form a diverse group. The reason for the diversity is that it has different parentage. We can therefore sub-divide the Damasks roses in Summer Damasks, Autumn Damasks and Portland Damasks. The latter are roses for which the Damask Roses were the parentage and that form a link between Damasks and the modern hybrid roses. Portland Damask Roses grow into low 4 feet shrubs, with very short flower stalks. The flowers sit tightly tight on the leaves.  They are also repeat-flowering. Autumn Damask Roses have influenced the development of the Moss Roses.

Despite these differences Damask Roses have the following common characteristics: grey foliage, prickly twiggy wood, weak flower stalks, flowers born in long bunches and thin rose hips.

The Summer Damasks need good fertile and cool soil to do well. They need to be pruned with care. Their twiggy growth is best carefully removed after flowering and any strong shoots formed during the summer cut by one third in the mid winter.
Autumn Damasks, “the Quatre Saisons Rose” and the Portland Damasks flower twice and are best pruned in mid winter and cut back to 4 buds or the height we desire them to grow from.

rosa damascena

Examples of Summer Damasks

BLUSH DAMASK, is a tall growing shrub, up to 6 feet high and wide. It is twiggy habit and dark leaves are fully covered in nodding blooms in early summer. The flowers are dark lilac pink with white edges but had a relative short flowering season. Blush Damasks grow well in sandy soil.

CELSIANA is one of the most beautiful and graceful heritage roses producing its pink and white pastel flowers in attractive clusters. The bush and flowers are informal and loose growing up to 5 feet and can be grown as an individual focal plant or in a mixed border. Celsiana is a true ancient rose from at least before 1750.

CORALIE is a 4 feet Summer Damask rose with arching stems and small grey leaves. Its flowers are of shades of soft pink. Coralie is best used in a mixed border.


It is a Summer Damask Rose cultivated in France in 1883. It has several parentages such as Rosa Centifolia which has passed on to it its beauty and vigour. The perfect blooms are witness of the Gallica genes. Mme Hardy creates the most beautiful white flowers in clusters. The flowers have an unusual green centre. This rose is well worth growing in any garden on its own or together with other roses and in a mixed border.

VERSICOLOR is often confused with Rosa Mundi because of its pink and white markings on the petals. Versicolor is not as striped and splashed as Rosa Mundi. The plant itself grows differently and is a tall-growing Damask Rose, with greyish leaves and prickly stems. Its flowers are grown in clusters in shades of white and pink, sometimes distinctively separated. It grows best in rich and cool soils. Versicolor is best grown as an individual rose, with other roses or in a mixed border.

Examples of Portland Damasks

COMTE DE CHAMBORD is a pink flowering Damask rose, which flowers continuously. Its leaves are light green and pointed. A beautiful garden rose from 1860!

INDIGO, grows upright with dark purple flowers with dark crimson and the occasional white mark. A typical old unusual rose from 1830.

MARBREE is another French Portland Damask rose with unusual flower colour. The petals are crimson with pale pink spots.


White Roses (Rosa alba) are very special among the old roses. They are old roses but at the same time would enhance any modern clear design. These roses have been in cultivation form the times of the Greeks and the Romans and in the 13th century Rosa alba was already in use as a climbing rose, climbing trees with its long thin branches and a thick stem as base. These white roses were loved by painters throughout the centuries, by herbalists and even by politicians. It was one of the roses used in the War of the Roses.

Rosa alba is probably a descendant of the summer Damask, Rosa Damascene and a form of Rosa canina, the Wild Dog Brier from Europe. It still grows in the wild in the Crimea. The White Rose inherited from Rosa canina the greyish foliage, the large thorns and a refreshing scent. They are very vigorous, have an upright growing habit and live to an old age. At the same time the alba rose id not in the slightest fussy of where it grows. Rosa alba are disease resistant. Some grow well on a north wall such as maiden Blush.

Colors and Features

But they were mostly loved because of their delicate flowers, elegant growth and simple but delicious scent. Their white and pink colours are clear colours. They don’t have any purple in their colour range. The taller types can be trained growing into trees and downwards to be seen and enjoyed at more or less eye level. The smaller ones are best used as we would use small garden shrubs. Others can be grown as hedges. When grown as hedges, the colour of their greyish leaves fit with any cool design such as a white or cream garden. Rosa alba are excellent when used as garden shrubs.

White roses don’t spread that much. They grow strong shoots from the base with thorns. Those shoots will branch out eventually creating an arching rose with many small twigs. Some of these twigs should be removed to encourage a continuous supply of new shoots growing from the base. We can spur prune Rosa alba in mid winter cutting back all the previous year small wooden growth to about three inches and reducing the long single shoots by two thirds.

These timeless roses are worth growing in any garden.

Examples of White Roses

CHLORIS, a strong growing rose bush that reaches 5 to 6 feet high. It has not many thorns. The leaves of Rosa Chloris are dark green and of a leathery texture. These leaves grow more or less horizontally. The beauty of the flower starts to show with its buds. The centre of the flower bud is clear pink enfolding to a soft pink flower.

FELICITE PARMENTIER is an old rose dating back from before 1834. This rose is less upright than other Alba roses and its leaves are more yellow green the grey green. The same yellow appears initially in the buds but that colour disappears leaving the most beautiful fresh clear pink flowers forming clusters with buds.

GREAT MAIDEN’S BLUSH is one of the old roses to be recommended growing in any garden. It contributes to a cottage feel with its relaxed habit of its arching branches and beautiful and scented flowers. Great Maiden’s Blush grows to about 6 feet. The colour of the flowers is shades of soft and cream pink. It can be grown as an informal hedge for the flowers but also for the handsome greyish leaves which would fit in well with any modern architecture.

KOENIGIN VON DANEMARCK has a perfect shape and the most beautiful pink flowers one can desire. The buds show some red and soon develop in clear pink. The dark and elegant leaves also contribute to the beauty of the shrub. Koenigin von Danemarck grows up to 6 feet and can be grown as a garden shrub and a climber trained against a wall.


Most Centifolia roses have a lax and open habit which might need some stakes to support the stems especially when full with its gracious flowers. Some are bushy or can even be used as ground cover but most of them tend to flop over and in need of some support. Most people love the flowers of rosa centifolia.

Stems can grow up to 6 feet per year which will carry the big blooms the next summer. Reducing these tall growing stems by a third in winter is a sensible thing to do. But we have to remember that this arching is part of the character and hall marks of the Rosa Centifolia. We have to let it grow to achieve its (reasonable) potential. It is not just the stems that droop. The leaves and the roses have this relaxed and informal habit too. It makes the whole shrub look graceful. All the beautiful flowers with its numerous petals are clearly visible to the eye.

The scent of the Provence Centifolia is superb and completes the experience of these roses in the garden. No wonder it was the favourite flower to paint by many painters.


DUC DE FITZJAMES grows up to 6 feet producing groups of pastel lilac flowers.

THE BISHOP grows up to 5 feet and has beautiful flowers from magenta to violet and cerise.

TOUR DE MALAKOFF grows stems up to 7 feet which flowers produce an array of colours from lilac-pink to shades of violet and lilac-grey.


The Moss Roses have all the characteristics of the Provence Roses with the addition of the obvious growth of moss like appearance around the flower buds, stalks, stems and branches and the balsamic scent of it. Comparing to other old roses, the moss rose is a fairly late addition, the first examples of which were recorded middle to late 1500. Darwin concluded that the moss rose was the product of a bud-variation from the Provence Rose. Whatever its origin, we all can agree that the moss rose with its moss like appearance is a novelty widely admired and some of its varieties are very beautiful and worthwhile growing in the garden.

Examples of Moss Roses

COMMON MOSS grace full 4 feet bush with pink flowers

CAPITAINE JOHN INGRAM grows up to 5 feet tall and has a colour range of shades of purple and pink.

LOUIS GIMARD is a 5 feet bush of purple rose flowers.

MME LANDEAU is a compact shrub growing up to 4 feet with shades of pink flowers

MOUSSEAU DU JAPON grows up to 3 feet with cyclamen pink flowers. This moss rose is best planted in a group of uneven numbers (3 or 5) or for mass planting.

RENE D’ANJOU grows up to 5 feet and produces beautiful shades of pink flower.

WILLIAM LOBB is an 8 feet tall growing moss rose and is suitable to climb against a pergola pole or on a wall. The flowers are a mixture of crimson, purple and lilac pink.

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