I am often asked about "Fairy Roses" and I always encounter the same problem, and that is one of definition. The problem is that there are two distinct groups with the same name so the first item on the agenda is always to distinguish between the two. It's not difficult to tell them apart but it is a little difficult to describe the origins of Fairy Roses.
The Fairy is a shrub rose of the Polyantha family and as such is a great specimen for any garden. This is the most common reference to Fairy Roses and the one we will look at a little later. The other reference refers to the original name given to the Miniature Chinas group of roses and the hybrids that came along later that we know today as "Miniature Rose".
What we refer to as "Fairy" are dwarf (two to sixteen inches) rose bushes with single or double blooms, cultivated in the 1800's. The earliest reference it seems was in 1762, where a reference to Miss Lawrances rose is mentioned as a cultivar of a Chinese import. They are the, dwarf or miniature Chinas.
They were known in the U.S. in the 1830's with 13 varieties listed by 1846. Such names as PomPon de Paris, Rouletti, Lilliputienne and Petite Laponne are some from this group which are now considered antique and "lost" roses.
[ Please Note: Sequoia Nursery is asking the public to help in finding some of these "lost" fairy roses.]
The rose that we can purchase for our own garden is not a miniature at all but a Polyantha Shrub Rose which is usually a smaller than average rose bush, but in this case, grows to about three feet.
Polyanthas were very popular during the first half of the century and the most popular of these, The Fairy was introduced in England in 1932. It has small, light pink blooms and dark glossy green foliage.
It is vigorous with numerous repeating blooms, and what makes it a good garden specimen is that it is fairly resistant to disease. This hardy little specimen would be a good addition to any garden, especially if you prune it hard in the spring to keep the compact shape.
Recently there have been some other Polyantha roses that follow this trend. Lovely Fairy was introduced in 1990 and is a darker pink. Fairy Queen is red and was introduced in 1998. There is also Crystal Fairy which is white and has been available only since 2001.
So there it is: the term "Fairy Roses" refers to two distinctly different types of roses, one of which would make a fine garden specimen for all of our gardens, and the other is a very rare [ probably extinct] miniature rose.
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