In 1789, as Graham Stuart Thomas ruefully notes, “the rose was to suffer a great revolution in common with its most ardent admirers of that time.” The upheaval was caused by the introduction in Europe of the China rose, chinensis , which had the ability to flower more than once a season. The rose world suddenly faced a crisis of rising expectations, and it wasn’t long before the old families gave way to a new generation. The first of these remontant roses was the Portland. But the most important rose of this type was the Bourbon, a naturally occurring hybrid found on the Ile de Bourbon, a small island near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and sent back to Paris in 1823 by a visiting plantsman. It soon became the most popular rose of its time.
These new roses may have toppled the ancien regime , but their own demeanor turned out to be decidedly more aristocratic than Jacobin. Here was new blood, true, but it displayed imperial rather than democratic aspirations. The rose’s Napoleonic Era had begun.
Its particular tastes and requirements soon led to revolutionary changes in the rose to the point where, in David Austin’s tactful words, it became “to all intents and purposes, a new flower.”
In 1867, a French breeder produced La France, by most accounts the first hybrid tea. The hybrid tea was a petite bush (rarely more than three feet tall), and it bloomed nonstop with no thought to the future. Also, with its long, shapely bud, the hybrid tea was destined to triumph on the show bench, since it was at the bud stage that roses were usually exhibited. “The pointed bud of the hybrid tea can be of exquisite beauty,” David Austin observes.