Garden rose bouquet by Mary-Jane Vaughan, London
China and now cultivated from America to Africa and from Eastern Europe to the Far East.
Available in every colour except blue and true black.
All year round.
For extra scented roses, look for 'Sterling Star' (lilac), 'Jacaranda' (blue-pink), 'Osiana' (peach-cream), 'Sterling Silver' (lilac) and 'Extase' (deep red). You can also get gorgeous, frilly-petalled garden varieties, and small, multi-headed spray roses.
Limp roses can be revived by standing up to their necks in lukewarm water in a cool room. Do not bash the stems as this prevents them taking up water effectively. Don't remove thorns unless for a hand-held posy, as these can cause wounds where bacteria can enter. They have a vase life of around a week but can last even longer.
In the 19th century old scented roses were used to make jelly. The red rose is the symbol of England and is worn on St George's Day. It is also the symbol of love and is hugely popular on St Valentine's Day, when roses make up the largest proportion of the £22 million spent on flowers in the UK on this day.
The crusaders when defeated by Saladin in Jerusalem returned to the west with rose plants which were then cultivated by monks in their monastery gardens for their medicinal properties. Rose water was successfully used to cure all kinds of ailments, such as trembling, constipation, drunkenness, skin and throat infections and insomnia. There is some truth in this as we now know Rosa rugosa hips contain high levels of Vitamin C. Indeed, rosehip tea is often recommended in pregnancy. Rose oil can reduce high cholesterol levels. Roses are used in face toners and perfume and are one of the most effective anti-ageing ingredients.
Clay tablets excavated in the temples of Ur in Iraq speak of the delivery of rose water intended for the Sultan of Bagdad. The Sultan used no fewer than 30,000 jars of rose water a year, to make his rooms smell nice for his extensive harem.
The Saracen general Saladin sent camel caravans loaded with rose water through his empire to cleanse the mosques after 'impure' crusaders had occupied the prayer rooms.
Until the early 19th century dried rose petals were believed to have mysterious powers. Napoleon gave his officers bags of rose petals to boil in white wine, to cure lead poisoning from bullet wounds, Even today, rose water is still used to refresh the hands before a feast or festive greeting, from the Middle East to northern India.
Cleopatra covered the floors of her palace with a thick layer of rose petals every day. The mattresses and pillows of her bed were stuffed with rose petals.
There is a special rose language invented as a secret means of communication between lovers who were not allowed to express their love for one another openly in the harems of the Middle East. In the mid-18th century Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, described this in her letters, which were published after her death. These letters inspired many books on the language of flowers, each describing the secret message hidden in each flower. A red rose bud stands for budding desire, while an open white rose asks "Will you love me?" An open red rose means "I'm full of love and desire", while an open yellow rose asks "Don't you love me any more?"