The result of crosses between China Roses and roses already in commercial production, Tea Roses were bred during the nineteenth century - with most bred in France. They have larger flowers than the Chinas and are long flowering. They can grow into very large shrubs. With many having being bred in France, it is not surprising that many have French names. The name 'tea' rose comes from the rose's fragrance, which is similar to the smell of black leaf tea.
Lady Hillingdon 1910
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.
A growing interest in Tea Roses was spurned in the 1970s by growers who were keen to preserve and conserve many Tea Roses that were in jeopardy of becoming extinct. One of the forerunners in Australia was renowned Rose Grower David Ruston, who joined his first rose society in 1948 at the age of 18 and not long after exhibited roses at shows. His collection of Tea Roses is in the thousands, and can be viewed at his historic gardens in Renmark, South Australia. To find out more about David Ruston, please visit our parent site HERE.
In 2009, David Ruston was curious to know what were the World's Ten Best Tea Roses, so in 2009 he, along with Di Durston, conducted a Worldwide Plebiscite. Below is an image taken from the April 2009 Newsletter of the World Federation of Rose Societies Heritage Rose Group. You can also view the results in a printable pdf HERE. You may also like to check out Di Durston's Ten of the Best Tea Roses.
A vase loaded with the Top Ten Tea Roses voted for in David Ruston's 2009 Tea Rose Plebiscite
Image credit Martin Davidson
The Tea Rose Book
Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens
Published in 2008, and awarded a literary award by the World Federation of Rose Societies in 2009, this definitive resource book about Tea Roses was written by 6 members of the Perth Region of Heritage Roses in Australia. Find out about the writing of this now quite rare book.
“A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring.” – William Carlos Williams