Category: Gallica

Five Purple Roses – Old Garden Roses

Red is the new purple, purple the old red. At least as far as western rose breeding goes, this is the way it went. Maybe red was always a desirable color, but among the old garden roses of Europe, true red wasn’t one of the options. There was white, light pink, dark pink, and even darker pink – but not red, not quite. The closest the breeders could come is by selecting darker shades of pink until they ended up with a select few roses that were dark crimson/pink to purple, fading through mauve.

One of the highest rated roses of all time is a gallica bred in this fashion, ‘Charles de Mills’:

Can you even believe the depth of color on this bloom? The form of the bloom is quartered, with loads of petals and quite a flat surface. The blooms are quite large in diameter, particularly for an old garden rose. The scent is strong & classic old rose. It’s a low, suckering shrub – once-blooming in early to mid-spring.

Another gallica rose in the same shade is ‘Tuscany Superb’ – which has blooms nearly the same diameter, but with a more open bloom form:

‘Tuscany Superb’ has a smaller-flowered “twin” in the same form, called ‘La Belle Sultane’. It’s also a gallica rose, but despite having smaller flowers, it’s actually a somewhat larger, more vigorous shrub than either ‘Tuscany’ or ‘Charles’. Here’s a picture:

I have two other purple-blooming roses in different classes, both in bloom around this same time in the garden: ‘Robert le Diable’, a centifolia, and ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’ a china/damask. Here’s ‘Robert le Diable’:

Here’s ‘Cardinal’:

Here’s a quick video I made featuring the above five roses:

These are by no means the only deeply colored “purple” roses, but they are among the finest (in my oh so biased opinion). Some modern roses have tried to capture the charm of these wanna-be red roses. Here’s ‘William Shakespeare 2000’, a modern shrub with a great color and a similar bloom form to ‘Charles de Mills’:

One more worth mentioning is ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ a very old climbing rose with a depth of color to rival any of these.

‘Complicata’ and ‘Veilchenblau’

I don’t have a very good excuse for pairing these two roses together: one’s a gallica, the other a rambler, one has huge flowers, and the other has tiny ones. However, they were both in bloom on the back fence of our farm at the same time, so let’s just call it a marriage of convenience. Here’s a quick video to see what these roses are all about:

Now the more in-depth description of each, for those who want a little more detail.

‘Complicata’ is a rose of unknown parentage, but is presumed to be a hybrid of Rosa gallica and Rosa canina. It’s and old rose, but not ancient – known to be around since around 1800, but not much before that. It can be used as a large mounding shrub, or trained up as a climber. Here’s a close-up of some of the flowers:

The individual flowers can be up to 4″ across, and are a luminous pink with white centers and prominent yellow stamens. In mid-spring, the shrub blooms all at once in large clusters.

Later in the season, when the flowers have faded, ‘Complicata’ is covered in large round hips. This is an adaptable shrub: it can be grown in full sun or part shade, and is extremely cold-hardy.

‘Veilchenblau’ is about the closest thing to blue that I’ve seen in a rose that doesn’t involve dye or genetic modification. Bred a little over 100 years ago from a multiflora rambler, this is one is a little space-hungry – to the point of voracious.

The buds and newly opening flowers are cerise in color, but soon fade through to the “violet blue” for which it is named (in German). ‘Veilchenblau’ is a once-bloomer, but the bloom period is so spectacular that it earns its this rambler a large place in the garden for the whole year. In addition, the long stems are thornless, making pruning and management a lot easier. Full sun or part shade will suit its needs.

For both of these roses, save your pruning until after flowering, then prune for both shape and size.

Charles de Mills

This Gallica rose is old, but no one can say for certain how old it is. It has persisted in gardens since at least the 1800’s and is often listed as a favorite rose of people who love the form and scent of old garden roses.

You really have to give it to the breeders of these old garden roses, they found a way to pack a whole lot of petals into a single bloom. So many petals, in fact, that they tend to swirl together towards the centre, a bloom form they call “quartered”. This one has a green eye in the middle that you can see when the blooms aren’t too tight.

The color varies, but is a complex mix between pink, red, and purple… fading towards the purple or mauve end of the color range. Charles de Mills is strongly scented as well.

The shrub can grow to 5 feet tall and wide, and because it’s a gallica rose, it tends to sucker, creating its own little thicket. Not unmanageable, but I’d be careful siting it near less competitive garden companions. In any case, during the spring bloom (as this rose only blooms once in a year) it’s hard to argue that any other plant should share its space. We sell Charles de Mills in a 1 gallon pot for $12. Ask for pricing if you’re looking for a larger pot.


Commandant Beaurepaire

This rose was bred at a time (the 1870’s) when the hybrid perpetual class was giving way to modern roses, the closely related hybrid tea that still dominates in rose gardens. ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ was bred from a hybrid perpetual, but because the breeder wasn’t convinced the rose would bloom after the initial flush of lowers, it was classed as a gallica. This stunningly striped rose would be every bit worth a place in the garden (perhaps as an absolutely stunning hedge rose) even without reblooming, but when ‘Commandant’ was established in the trade, it was observed to be a (stingy) rebloomer, so the breeder reclassified it as a hybrid perpetual. He also renamed it, but I bought it as ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’, and I’ll keep it with that name.

Commandant BeaurepaireThis rose has large flowers, and they have a nice strong old rose fragrance to them. ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ grows to a dense shrub to about 4 feet tall and wide. It sometimes takes on some powdery mildew, but doesn’t seem to mind it much.

Something about striped flowers can look a bit gaudy, but this rose combines a lighter and darker pink together, with some darker (purplish) and lighter (whitish) splashes… and it works beautifully. When in bloom, it’s one rose I always get comments about. We grow ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ in 1 gallon and 2 gallon sizes for $10 and $20 respectively.


The simplicity of this rose makes me think that it’s close to a species rose, but nobody knows for sure. It’s classed as a gallica, maybe for lack of better information. While most near-species roses are nicest grown as a free standing shrub, I think you’ll find it rewarding to give ‘Complicata’ something to climb. You’ll find nicer pictures out there, but here’s one I snapped in the garden (aphids and all!):Rosa 'Complicata'

The blooms are dark pink at the edges, white nearer the center, with prominent yellow stamens. What you can’t see here is how large they are! The only other single I know to compete on bloom size is ‘Altissimo‘. The large size of the flowers, their simple form, wonderful scent, and the fact that it blooms in one main flush of flowers makes this a stunning shrub (or better, a climber) in early Summer.

‘Complicata’ can grow to 10 feet with some support, or to a lax shrub of 6 feet or so. It also sets hips after blooming, for fall/winter interest. We sell ‘Complicata’ for $10 in a 2 gallon pot.