The original wild or species rose, from which our current cultivars hail, evolved around 70 million years ago. Romantically, connections are thought to originate from the African continent – in Egypt, where Cleopatra famously carpeted her boudoir with rose petals to seduce Mark Antony. In Persia, the original wild roses were used to produce rosewater, secret elixirs, scented oils and perfume one and a half thousand years before they were cultivated for the garden. By 500 BC, the romans and early European civilisations began growing roses for commercial use.
Roman emperors filled swimming baths and fountains with rosewater and used their petals as confetti for celebrations and medicinal purposes. By the seventeenth century, roses were in such high demand that they were considered legal tender. In the eighteen hundred, Napoléon’s wife, Joséphine Bonaparte, established an extensive collection of roses at the château de Malmaison, her lavish estate just West of Paris.
The gardens became a canvas for botanical illustrator Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s work, where he completed his renowned watercolour collection ‘Les roses’, still considered one of the finest records of botanical illustration. It was not until the late eighteenth century that cultivated roses were introduced into Europe from China. For the first time, these were repeat bloomers, making them unusual and of great interest to hybridizers and the garden community of the time, setting the stage for future rose breeding prioritised for climate-specific hardiness and long-blooming season.
Born into a horticultural family in Germany with feet firmly planted in Africa, Ludwig Taschner from the family-run nursery Ludwig’s roses was perfectly poised to access new European roses suited to the harsh South African climate. ‘I concentrate on potted roses that I regard as “made for South Africa” as well as vigorous, low maintenance, informal roses that thrive in relatively tricky growing conditions,’ says Ludwig. As early as the 1990s, Ludwig, passionate about challenging the perception that growing roses is difficult, turned the practice of rose pruning in South Africa on its head.
Instead of pruning with a slanted cut above each eye, sealing the cut and then spraying with lime sulphur to combat pests and diseases, he introduced a ‘light’ pruning method and advocated an environmentally conscious, ‘no-spray’ approach. This new sustainable direction led to Ludwig’s collection of the first disease-resistant rose varieties in South Africa, aptly named ‘eco chic’. Continuing to push boundaries, Ludwig introduced rose cultivars with unique growth habits: groundcover roses, miniature climbers, spire roses, shrub and cushion roses. For the first time, South African gardeners and rose-lovers had the option of using roses for everything from borders to shrubberies and fragrant hedges.
Today, Ludwig’s rose Farm in Pretoria is a landmark. With one and a half thousand cultivars, trial grounds for new roses, an exclusive breeding programme and a living museum of old roses, we cannot wait for what is next from this horticultural powerhouse of fragrance and beauty.