With Reunion in the news, I thought readers might be interested to learn that Reunion is home to some of the most highly scented roses in the world, the Bourbon roses. Bourbon roses grow very well in Cape Ann gardens and have the wonderful combined qualities of fabulous fragrance and repeat blooming. I wrote a bit about them in my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities (see chapter 14). Bourbon roses are so named because Reunion was formerly called Isle de Bourbon.
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
A sepal, a petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn—
A ﬂash of Dew—A Bee or two—
A caper in the trees—
And I’m a Rose!
The Bourbon roses (Rosa bourboniana) comprise one of the most extravagantly scented class of roses, along with having a wide range of growth habit in form and height. From the shrubby and compact ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison,’ growing to about two feet, to the thornless climbing ‘Zephirine Drouhin,’ there is a suitable Bourbon rose available to ﬁll nearly every conceivable desired effect in the landscape.
Named for the island of Reunion, formerly called Isle de Bourbon, Rosa bourboniana is a natural crossing of the China rose (repeat blooming) with the Autumn Damask rose. Reunion belongs to the archipelago of Mascareignes in the Indian Ocean and lies east of Madagascar. Originally discovered by the Portuguese, then colonized by the French in the seventeenth-century, Reunion had a diverse population of settlers from around Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. The Bourbon rose was discovered growing wild in Reunion in approximately 1817.
Hybridized Bourbon roses ﬂower in hues of white to china pink to cerise and purple. The ﬂowers are quartered at the center and ﬁlled with overlapping petals. With their sublime fragrance, tolerance for cold temperatures, and freedom of ﬂowering (‘Louise Odier’ remains in bloom from June until the ﬁrst frost), Bourbons are amongst the most distinctive of all roses.
The following is a list of Bourbon roses successfully growing in our garden, along with one failure noted.
‘Louise Odier’ ~ 1851 ~ Bourbon ~ Delicate china pink, camellia-style ﬂowers, enchanting and intensely fragrant. Blooms lavishly throughout the season, from early June to November, with a brief rest after the ﬁrst ﬂush of June ﬂowers. Grows four to ﬁve feet.
‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ ~ 1868 ~ Bourbon ~ Clear hot pink. Thornless. The sensuous Bourbon fragrance is there, only not as intense relative to some others noted here. Repeat blooms. Twelve feet.
‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ ~ 1881 ~ Bourbon ~ Deep raspberry-magenta. Considered to be one of the most fragrant roses. Six to seven feet. Note: We no longer grow Madame Isaac Pereire as its buds usually turned into brown, blobby globs that rarely fully opened due to damp sea air.
‘Souvenir de Victor Landeau’ ~ 1890 ~ Bourbon ~ Deep rose pink, richly fragrant and consistently in bloom through October and into November. Pairs beautifully with Louise Odier. Four to ﬁve feet.
‘Variegata di Bologna’ ~ 1909 ~ Bourbon ~ Creamy pale pink with rose-red striations. Suffused with the heady Bourbon fragrance. The foliage becomes tattered-looking later in the season. Slight repeat bloom, although it initially ﬂowers for an extended period of time, four to six weeks in all. Tall growing, best supported against a pillar.
‘Souvenir de Saint Anne’s’ ~ 1916 ~ Bourbon ~ Ivory ﬂushed with warm pink and cream single to semi-double blossoms. Sensuous Bourbon fragrance. Compact growing, ideal for the garden room. Continually blooming. Two feet. Note: ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’ is a sport of ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (1843), with the similar lovely colorway. The unopened buds and blooms of ‘Malmaison’ have the tendency to be ruined in damp air, whereas ‘St. Anne’s’ do not.
Tips for improved rose culture: