Text & images by Ludwig Taschner
My impression from a Rose Tour in May 2014 through Persia or as it is correctly known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. I thoroughly enjoyed the the masses of roses growing all over Persia.
The idea was to find and look at historic roses. We, 39 members of the German Rose Society, traveled by bus some 3000km. Iran is considerably larger than South Africa, but much of the climate and countryside is fairly identical to our Karoo with snow capped Mountains on the North western periphery.
Driving from the airport to Teheran I could not believe my eyes…roses, roses everywhere! Not Rosa persica, Rosa foetida persica or Rosa damascena that have their origin in this country but, take a guess, the best rose variety in a warm climate. Yes, it was ‘Iceberg’. My estimate is a million ‘Iceberg’s growing in the cities of Iran.
The next popular rose was a multi-coloured one and I had to take a closer look to identify it as ‘Charleston’ (MEIridge).The runner’s up in smaller parks and landscaped areas were ‘Scarlet Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Red Success’. Vermillion is definitely the favourite colour.
Every hotel had rose gardens, I identified the varieties easily. Mostly, popular cut roses from three decades ago: ‘Tineke’, ‘Anabell’, ‘Antique Silk’, ‘Cora Marie’, ‘Ilona’, ‘Black Baccara’, ‘Frisco’, and its striped sports, ’ Corvette’, ‘Osiana’ and a few others. Amongst them some strong growing miniatures such as Magic Carousel and ironically ‘Stars ‘n Stripes’ in the otherwise very anti – American attitude.
An attempt was made in many gardens to introduce the “oldies” by planting ‘Rose de Rescht’ and ‘Jacques Cartier’. Even so, when we explored every ancient building, I did not find ‘Shiraz’ in Shiraz nor ‘Omar Khayyam’ or ‘Rubaiyat’and ‘Ispahan’ in Isfaham. I did make an appeal to some officials that they should really make an attempt to plant these historic varieties at the historic sites and buildings, seeing that they spend millions on restoration.
The local population frequents the historic sites often, actually crowding them. It is obvious they like roses, however, they are happy with the modern types and varieties. This convinces me even more that historic, once a season flowering roses belong into “rose museums”- Rosariums i.e.Sangerhausen, Bedford or private collectors and not into city plantings and public gardens. Even when restoring buildings, modern paints, glues and materials are used and most definitely we have these days’ modern roses that by far exceed the performance of the old roses yet still provide that very nostalgic effect.
The importance of the roses in the old times is clearly seen in the wall and ceiling decorations of the old mosques and palaces.
In Isfahan we did find a restored public rose garden with a high activity by Nightingales as written about by their old poets.
A visit to the Maidan and the Ali Qapu palace in Isfahan is a must. This second largest city square in the world (after Tiananmem in China) is impeccably kept and full of action with hundreds of horse drawn coaches. The endless two level bazaars surrounding the square were very neat and one is able to walk and look without being accosted.
In several mountainous places at just under 2000m altitude, the Persian Oil Rose, Rosa damascena trigintipetala, is grown commercially for the extrusion of rose water.
The distillation process and copper kettles are historic, but the heating is taken over by gas burners.
The Persian Oil Rose is planted underneath these trees in this high lying village
We did find a superb specimen of The Persian Yellow or Rosa foetida persiana growing on the edge of a damascena field.
Rosa lutea persica or The Yellow Persian rose
The actual Rosa persica, better known as Hulthemia persica, is regarded as a weed in the Barley fields and is burned in winter. Alec Cocker had seed of this rose collected in Iran in 1964 and shared this with Jack Harkness. Jack was succesful in cross pollinating this rose and these hybrids are the base of the very many novel “eyconic”, deep eyed, varieties released by Chris Warner, Jim Sproul and others.
The 5 petalled Rosa lutea also originated in Persia. This rose was used by Pernet as a parent and resulted in ‘Soleil d’ Or’, the forerunner of all modern yellow roses – and the black spot.
Rosa foetida lutea
All in all a great country to visit with friendly locals and beautiful roses.