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The Tea Rose Book

Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens, written by Perth Region members Lynne Chapman, Noelene Drage, Di Durston, Jenny Jones, Hillary Merrifield and Billy West, was published in 2008. Having six authors could seem unwieldy but in fact it worked very well as we shared the work and brought complementary skills. We did not want our book to be written in many different styles, so we appointed Hillary as our scribe. It was often a slow process but our methods worked as in 2009 we received a literary award from the World Federation of Rose Societies, and several of our reviewers mentioned that the book sounded like it came from one voice. The book has been very well received all over the world and it is enormously satisfying to hear from readers who tell us how useful the book has been for them and that it has become a trused reference.

In 2010 the authors received an invitation to speak at several venues in the United States. Three of us - Lynne, Hillary and Billy - were able to accept the invitation.  The following description of the research that went into writing the book is taken from our presentation, entitled A Close Look at Tea Roses, presented at the Great Rosarians of the World East Conference in New York on June 13, 2010 and which was published in The Sustainable Rose Garden2.

Please note that if you would like to copy any of the information given below, particularly with reference to research material,  please contact us for permission. 

Background image: Tea Rose Anna Olivier

Writing the Tea Rose Book

Tea roses are derived from several repeat flowering garden hybrid roses imported to Europe from China in the early 1800s at a time when there was a fascination for all things oriental. Originally called Tea-scented China Roses, these hybrids not only brought with them an exotic, multi-layered scent and novel colours but together with other China roses, were reliably repeat flowering.


Teas were called the loveliest of roses for their elegance and subtle colours and breeders produced over 2000 varieties from 1820 to 1920.



But fashions changed, and after the first World War there was a gradual decline in popularity of the Teas worldwide, until by the 1950s they had almost disappeared.


The revival of interest in old garden roses in the second half of the 20th century saw a number of Teas being re-discovered. By then, Tea roses were rare in catalogues and most of those we know today were found in old nursery gardens, public and private gardens, cemeteries and the sites of old homes. Of the 2000 or so Teas that were bred, less than 200 are now listed in nurseries and collections worldwide. Unfortunately, over time, confusion in naming has occurred and among these Teas are many wrongly named roses and many duplicates, so the actual number of extant Teas is even lower. 

When starting Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens in 2000 we envisaged a small handbook describing all the Teas available in Australia at the time but, as we collected these, we realised there were problems with many of the names; one rose being sold under several names and several varieties being sold under one name, and roses that, when compared with the original descriptions, were clearly misidentified. We then had a major research project on our hands as, although we agree a rose is beautiful no matter what it is called, we do believe that finding the correct name is important. It establishes a living connection with history and, from a practical point of view, provides information about what to expect of the rose - colour, growth habit and where it would do best in a garden.

Investigating the identity of our old Teas, it quickly became apparent that very often we were not dealing with roses that had come down through time with an unbroken link to their original names. Many were re-identified foundlings, so right from the beginning we were rigorous in our approach to rose identification - putting up hypotheses on the identity of each of the Teas and then looking at all the evidence we had accumulated for or against.

As our research progressed, we became increasingly aware of just how much rose literature and catalogue description is derived from earlier writings rather than from firsthand observation and experience and it was for this reason we were determined to limit ourselves to the varieties we could personally grow and observe.

If we were asked to designate one characteristic shared by all Teas, it would be variability, variability and more variability. Teas, with their ever-changing colours and flower shapes, are never the same from one season to another, or even from day to day. Colours can vary over an extraordinarily wide range. Petal numbers can double up when the flowers develop more slowly in cold weather, prickles can be shed as the wood ages and even the fragrance can change over the course of a day and as the flower matures.



This variability is part of their charm for Tea rose aficionados. But it also presents enormous challenges when trying to recognise or identify them. So how did we make decisions? We had to get to know our roses extremely well. There are no shortcuts in this sort of work and having six authors/growers enabled us to closely observe the roses in different locations and compare our findings.


Our Teas were grown in gardens of different soil types and they needed to be observed, photographed and recorded over the seasons and over the years, as flowers on young bushes can look quite different from those on mature plants. We designed special Tea rose data sheets on which we entered not only descriptions of all parts of the rose but also preserved specimens, photographs and scans of living material. The completed data sheets were eventually correlated to produce the Distinguishing Features tables which accompany the descriptions of roses in the book.

Accurate and detailed descriptions are an important part of our book but unfortunately something that is not so common in much of the literature we consulted. Some early descriptions in rose journals and books are very detailed, for example those in earlier editions of the Journal des Roses but others consist of just a few words or sentences, often sparse and unhelpful, for example ‘full’, ‘pink’, or ‘large, fine and very full’. While many catalogues simply repeated the introducers’ descriptions, there were a number that provided invaluable firsthand observations.


We therefore needed to compare our Teas with descriptions and portraits in the rose literature of the past, translating this where necessary. The results of our wide-ranging literature searches were compiled into chronological tables which were of great assistance in seeing if descriptions of Teas had remained the same or changed over time, as in the case of Triomphe du Luxembourg. The rose described at the time of its introduction in the 1830s is completely different from the one reintroduced under this name in the 1980s.

Old nursery catalogues were an important source of information about which Teas had come to Australia (about 1000 in all). Information from the catalogues was compiled to show the dates Tea varieties were sold by nurseries, known to be in private collections, or referred to as living specimens in journals and books. This showed us the distribution of Teas and gaps caused by loss of popularity and if and when they were re-introduced. The source of the re-introductions was also noted.

Comparing Tea roses in interstate and overseas gardens with those we grew in Western Australia was also important, especially if we could see reliably named specimens.


We travelled widely and sometimes overseas experts came to us in Australia. We would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance given to us by rose experts, nurserymen and gardeners in Australia and around the world, who generously shared their opinions, knowledge, research material and photographs with us.


When researching the identity of old roses, much of the time we dealt, and are still dealing today, with incomplete information, with ambiguities and contradictions and the work is often a slow and painstaking puzzle, piecing together the small amounts of material accumulated over time. But if the research is approached with rigour - applying basic scientific processes of inquiry, the testing of hypotheses, sorting fact from opinion, we can arrive at a point of certainty - even if sometimes this means we are certain that we do not have enough information to decide the correct name of a particular rose!

Most of the Tea roses in our book came into one of five categories:
1. Tea roses that were correctly identified.

Fortunately this is the largest group, although at times we questioned the identity of all the Teas we grew. How did we verify that the names were correct? We started with the only three Tea roses to remain in commerce in Australia from the time of their introduction up to the present day: Lady Hillingdon, 1910, Mrs Herbert Stevens, 1910 and Lorraine Lee, 1924. Now mistakes can happen, roses in commerce can get muddled over time, so we
checked these against descriptions and portraits from the time they were first introduced and found they matched and, if we needed more proof, each has a climbing sport with which it tallies in all but habit.

The above are later Tea roses while an early Tea, the superbly fragrant Devoniensis, 1838, also has a climbing sport. It was well documented, especially in English language publications, including in Henry Curtis’s The Beauties of the Rose3. Devoniensis was absent from nursery catalogues for a time but continued to be known and grown in Australian gardens. So, (1) it has survived as a named rose,
(2) it matches early detailed descriptions and paintings and

(3) it has a sport that is identical in all but habit.


If a rose can tick all these boxes we are satisfied it is correctly identified.

Another early Tea that ticks all the boxes is Safrano, 1839. Although it opens to a fairly loose flower, the half open bud is beautiful and this rose was very popular as a cut flower over a century ago. This is another rose with a continuous history in Australian gardens and it is also a well documented rose. Not only do we have portraits but also quite detailed descriptions. And also a sport; not climbing this time but a colour sport, the lemon yellow Isabella Sprunt which was noted by the Reverend James Sprunt of Kenansville, North Carolina in 1855.

The ultimate Tea rose verified by its sports is Maman Cochet. Not only does it have a climbing sport but also a colour sport, White Maman Cochet, which itself has a climbing sport. There are also several red sports, and interestingly Maman Cochet produced sports in both the USA and Australia at around the same time.

By contrast, Alexander Hill Gray 1911, has neither a sport, nor an early plate that we have been able to find. And there are none of the detailed botanical descriptions in journals that accompanied the early Teas. Descriptions are usually brief - ‘deep lemon yellow’ or ‘soft yellow, fragrant, double’ - which could apply to many, many roses but we are confident that Alexander Hill Gray is correctly named. It was a popular exhibition rose and grown under glass in cooler climates. Awarded the British National Rose Society’s gold medal soon after its release, it was still being recommended for exhibition purposes in Australia in the 1950s.


When an unnamed, thornless yellow rose was found in an Australian cemetery 30 years later, nurseryman Roy Rumsey was able to identify it as Alexander Hill Gray. Roy had a lot of experience with roses, firstly at the leading Australian rose nursery Hazelwoods when he was very young, then at Hilliers in England and later while training at Kew. Back in Australia he worked for his father for a while and then started a rose nursery with wife Heather. He had handled thousands of plants of the very popular Alexander Hill Gray throughout his career so was delighted to see it again and was able to introduce it back into commerce in Australia in the 1980s.

2. Impostors incorrectly called Tea roses.

A vigorous climber masquerading as a Tea rose is Sombreuil. That this is not a Tea has been known for many years but how long does it take to get a message across? When the Australian rosarian David Ruston conducted a pleblecite in 2009 to find the world’s top ten Tea roses, what came in at No. 6? This rose; superb but not a Tea! The original Tea, Sombreuil, or Mlle de Sombreuil is a shrub that can make a fine pillar rose but it is not a climber.

Another climber that is not a Tea has been sold for many years as the Tea, Monsieur Tillier 1891. It was sourced by Graham Stuart Thomas from a Paris garden, probably the Roseraie de l’Haÿ, as Monsieur Tillier. It was marketed by L. Arthur Wyatt in the early 70s through his English nursery and later sold by the Peter Beales Nursery, again as Monsieur Tillier. Now the Tea rose Monsieur Tillier is a shrub and unlike some Teas it does not have a climbing sport; but a thornless rose widely sold under this name is most definitely a climber and it is in our book under the study name Monsieur Tillier ex Beales. 


Ongoing research has shown that this rose is in fact the Climbing Hybrid Tea Marie Nabonnand. We know this name is correct, even to the extent of having confirmation from members of the Nabonnand family who still grow the original rose.


But what of the Tea rose Monsieur Tillier? Is it correctly named or should it be called Archiduc Joseph, a Tea released a year later? A rose was distributed from the UK in the 1970s under the name Archiduc Joseph but at the same time it was known and grown in the USA, in Australia and in New Zealand under the name Monsieur Tillier. We lean towards Monsieur Tillier as the correct name mainly because of the existence of these old, named plants.


But both roses were released within a year of each other and had very similar descriptions, even looked very similar - so we are open to discussion on this one … To add to the mix, Monsieur Tillier aka Archiduc Joseph is also often confused with another two roses, General Schablikine and Madame Lambard. Monsieur Tillier, Australia’s favourite Tea rose, is in a class of its own, beautiful, vigorous and free-flowering, with a strong fragrance of both tea and fruit.

3. Incorrectly identified Tea roses, where we have been able to establish the correct name.

A Tea rose is in commerce around the world today as Souvenir d’Élise Vardon, a rose which early colour descriptions tell us was light straw yellow or yellowish white to delicate light pink. The rose often sold under this name seems too brightly coloured to match these descriptions but we know that the colours of Tea roses can vary. So we needed more to go on and Paquet and Rouillard provided more in the year it was introduced, describing the pedicel of Souvenir d’Élise Vardon, as
‘showing little brownish hairs along their whole length’ and the receptacle also as ‘sprinkled with little brownish hairs’.

Glands or hairs or both, they are not present on the shiny, smooth pedicels of the rose sold as Souvenir d’Élise Vardon today, so careful observations from the 1850s gave us proof that this rose was misidentified - but what was it? Fortunately, the same rose is also in commerce under another name, its correct name, Mlle Franziska Kruger, 1879 and, as well as early descriptions matching, we have the proof of identity from a colour sport, Blumenschmidt which occurred in Germany and was released in 1905. Like its parent, it can show a hard green centre which occasionally contains many tiny buds.

4. Tea roses incorrectly identified, where we have suggested a probable identity.

The plate of Mme Hoste from The Garden, 1894(5) shows a yellowish-white Tea rose but in Australia a very different, bright pink Tea rose is being sold under that name. How it came to be given such an obviously wrong name is not certain as even on its palest day it does not resemble the plate or early descriptions but it has been growing in the garden of a cottage in South Australia as Mme Hoste for many years. It bears likenesses to Maman Cochet, although the blooms are usually smaller and there are other differences. The parentage of Maman Cochet is Marie Van Houtte (seed) x Mme Lambard (pollen) and we have suggested this rose is another with the same parentage, Auguste Comte, 1895. Many of you use the resources of the HelpMeFind website and here we encountered this rose as a foundling in Sardinia and also, to our surprise, discovered that it could be purchased under four different names in Europe: in Italy as Mme Scipion Cochet, and as Castello della Scala (a
reintroduced rose); as Maman Cochet in the UK, and in France under the name Auguste Comte. It is also in the USA as we have seen it as one of the roses under the name Niles Cochet.

We have noticed that the same foundling will be discovered in several places, sometimes several countries, probably indicating that it was once a popular variety and also that it is a an exceptionally good survivor. The rose sold today as Princesse de Sagan is another that we have a suggested identification for. The original Tea rose was dark red with semi-double blooms. The lighter, double Not Princesse de Sagan came to Australia from the Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen in Germany,undoubtedly wrongly named. The same rose is often found unlabeled in old Australian gardens. We came to the conclusion this rose is Professeur Ganiviat, a rose our compilation of nursery catalogues tells us was sold widely in Australia in the early 1900s.

5. Tea roses that we have been unable to identify as yet.

One of our favourite Tea roses is known to us as Octavus Weld as it was found on the grave of Dr Octavus Weld in a cemetery in South Australia. This is a rose we have wanted to identify for many years so imagine our delight when we saw it in Gregg Lowery’s garden in California. Gregg calls it ‘enchanting’ in the Vintage Gardens Book of Roses6 but it is another unidentified rose with a study name, Angels Camp Tea. Coincidentally this plant was also found in a cemetery, at Angels Camp, an old gold mining centre east of San Francisco.

Because the bloom colour is so variable, the rose is known in the USA under several names: Angels Camp Tea, ” and Angels Camp Pink Tea. And in Australia we know and love it as Octavus Weld (ROR) which brings us full circle - while we would like to find the original name, the most important thing is that the rose survives and is again being grown in our gardens.



1 Chapman, L. et al 2008, Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens, Dural, NSW: Rosenberg Publishing

2 Shanley, P., Kukielski, P. & Waering, G. (Eds.) 2010, The Sustainable Rose Garden, Philadelphia, PA: Casemate Publishers

3 Curtis, H.1850, The Beauties of the Rose, London, p2

4 Paquet, M.V. & Rouillard, P.C. 1855, Choix des plus belles Roses, Paris, Plate 59

5 The Garden: An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture In All Its Branches, 1894, London, Plate 952

6 Lowery, G. & Robinson, P. 2006, Vintage Gardens Book of Roses, Sebastopol, CA: Vintage Gardens, p82

When the Tea Rose book was released Viru Viraraghavan, the famous Indian rosarian who breeds beautiful roses in India, bred and released 'Aussie Sixer', in honour of the Tea Ladies who wrote the book. When 'Aussie Sixer' arrived in Australia it was Quarantined at Treloar Roses in Portland Victoria. The Tea Ladies received their roses by Australia Post in 2012. Di Durston says "I love 'Aussie Sixer' and with our weather conditions it flourishes in my garden"

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 "Australia and India are two countries in which cricket has become almost a religion. One of the most spectacular achievements on the cricket field is the ‘sixer’ – when a batsman hits the ball so hard that it lifts up high and sails over the field and into the stadium, earning him six runs to his total).

Similarly in the field of rose books, the new book on Tea Roses, written by six enterprising, indefatigable and knowledgeable ladies from Australia, is a spectacular achievement.

Just as the Tea Rose Book is a sparkling new assessment of what is old, the parentage of my ‘Aussie Sixer’ is a combination of the best of old and hopefully of the  new – one of the oldest of Tea roses, ‘Safrano’ combined with the Noisette, ‘Reve d’Or’ and the species Rosa gigantea itself. In other words, ‘Aussie Sixer’ is the result of crossing Safrano x my ‘Manipur Magic’ ( R.gigantea x Reve d’Or).

We were keen to name a rose to honour the tremendous work done by the six ladies, and after getting their permission, we have named this seedling of ours ‘Aussie Sixer’. It has been sent to the International Rose Registration Authority for registration.

We hope in the coming years to have it available in Australia. It already is, in the USA."

Viru Viraraghavan, Rosarian, India 2010

"Aussie Sixer"

"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."

William Grant, Rosarian, Aptos, California 2008

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