French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

Originally found growing wild throughout central Asia, Rosa gallica was first cultivated by the Greeks and Romans and was especially popular in medieval gardens. Most modern hybrid roses can trace their ancestry to the old roses bred at Malmaison by Empress Josephine in the late 1700s. French roses are also referred to as apothecary’s rose, crimson damask rose, or Rosa mundi.

Often called the “Queen of Flowers,” roses are a timeless symbol of love and beauty, and are prized for their fragrance. Historically, roses have been associated with nobility and appear as emblems of distinction — such as the Tudor Rose, the emblem of England.

Remarkable Rose Gardens of the World

As one might expect from a flower as adored as the rose, there are countless gardens across the globe dedicated to roses alone. Several stand out and are well worth making a journey if only to bask in the intoxicating perfume of hundreds or even thousands of rose species at once.

French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity
  • Montreal Botanical Garden, Canada — For those interested in the history of rose cultivation, there is no better place to explore than this Montreal treasure. The garden contains over 10,000 rose bushes, illustrating the cultivation of rose varieties from ancient times to the present — including, of course, numerous descendents of Rosa gallica.
  • Zakir Hussain Rose Garden, Chandigarh, India —  This 30-acre rose garden features more than 50,000 rose bushes, showcasing them alongside medicinal plants. The annual rose festival hosted in the garden takes place in late February or early March and is not to be missed. 
  • Elizabeth Park Rose Garden, Hartford, Connecticut — The oldest public rose garden in the United States, this garden has historically served as a test space for hybrids before their commercial release. A collection of mostly modern rose varieties as well as a handful of heritage roses grace 475 flower beds. 
Speaking in Flowers: Rose Codes
French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

In a time when open communication about love and desire was forbidden, an encrypted system of communication evolved through flowers, specifically roses. The language of flowers, floriography, is believed to have started in 15th century Persia. It was popularized after 1718, when Lady Mary Wortley wrote a letter describing the “secret language of flowers” she had discovered in Turkey.

A red rose, then as now, symbolized passionate love and desire. Pink roses conveyed a feeling of sweetness, while white roses represented reverence, humility, and purity. A single rose simply states, “I love you,” while two roses were a sign of thanks, unless they were joined, in which case they announced either an engagement or marriage to come. A dozen roses are the ultimate declaration of love.

Roses in Popular Culture & Film
French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

Roses have been used to communicate unspoken moments in written stories and film. In The Little Prince, one of the most popular books ever written, the prince discovers that the rose he has cared for is not the unique creature he imagined. After encountering a rose garden, he realizes that the rose was special because she was his.

In the film American Beauty, a rose variety by the same name initially represents lust and desire, eventually shifting to symbolize superficiality and the hidden threat of thorns lurking behind each bloom.

Uses for French Roses

Today, French roses are most commonly used for culinary purposes in the form of rosewater. Rose hips are incredibly high in vitamin C, and antioxidants and can be used to make tea or jam.

Roses in Everyday Expressions

You may not realize it, but roses are so integrated into our culture that we use them in a multitude of common expressions, with the rose always symbolizing that which is positive or ideal. When things are going well in life, we say that “everything’s coming up roses.” An optimistic person sees the world through “rose-tinted glasses.” And of course, “stop to smell the roses” is a reminder to slow down and appreciate the things that give life meaning. When something goes sour, we might say that “the bloom is off the rose.”

French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity
Can I Grow a Beautiful French Rose?
French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

The good news is that this trusty old rose variety is easy to grow and maintain. Tolerant of poor soils and even a little shade, Rosa gallica gives more than she takes, requiring little maintenance.

Purchase a potted specimen and plant it in the fall or spring. To encourage excellent bloom development, apply fertilizer in the late winter or early spring and mulch the base to retain moisture in the soil. Water only moderately during periods with no rain, avoiding overhead watering so that the leaves stay dry.

Remove spent blooms if you want a longer bloom cycle, but leave them on the plant to enjoy ornamental rose hips over the winter months. Prune in early spring to encourage growth. To propagate French roses, take hardwood cuttings in the fall.

French Rose: Passionate Love, Desire, Humility, and Purity

Size: 3-5 feet (90cm–150 cm) tall and 3-4 feet (90cm –120cm) wide

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9

Sunlight: Full sun to partial sun

Soil: Very wide range including chalk, clay, loam, and sand

Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer