Graham Stuart Thomas. CLIMBING ROSES OLD & NEW, published 1965. Aldine Press, Letchworth, Herts.
R. gigantea, 'the giant rose' -- we might say the queen, the empress of wild roses -- ascends in nature to a height of 40 feet or more by means of its strong shoots and hooked prickles, with large elegant drooping leaves and great lemon-white silky flowers 5 inches across. They have lent their poise and length of petal, their texture and their fragrance, to the Old Tea roses of the last century, which became merged with the Hybrid Teas and are now seldom seen. It is scarcely surprising that this luxuriant inhabitant of south-west China and upper Burma, where the monsoon spends itself in the mountains, should not be taken kindly to the British climate. We can perhaps give it the rain it needs, but not the sun's ripening power, and in consequence its sappy stems get cut by the autumn frosts, and really cold winters will raze it to the ground or kill it outright. In greenhouses and on the Riviera the tale is different, and superb blooms have been picked under glass. For some years Mrs Nigel Law grew large plants in the open in her garden at Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, but they were killed in a cold winter; they flowered well in warm summers. There are records in the 1939 Annual of the National Rose Society, page 177, of its growing and flowering well in such varied districts as Chepstow, Monmouthshire; Hinckley, Leicestershire; Hayward's Heath, Sussex and in Suffolk. It is evidently worth trying in sheltered gardens.
This regal rose was introduced from the Far East in 1888; there appears to be more than one form in cultivation in this country: a white flowered plant with rather small leaves and a much larger plant with large leaves and large lemon-white flowers. The former grows well on a sunny wall at the John Innes Institute, Hertfordshire; the latter was my first introduction to this species when it flowered in the corridor of the greenhouse range at the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, in 1929. An account of this particular form is in The New Flora and Silva, vol. i. The smaller type would appear to be more hardy, but could certainly not be called 'regal'. It is possible that the larger type may be that which Collet called 'macrocarpa'.
We must, I am afraid, write this rose off as a garden plant for general use in England. But if what Dr Hurst called his 'Four Stud Chinas' -- or at least two of them -- were descended from the China Rose and this species, it has had a profound influence on modern rose-breeding. 'Park's Yellow Tea-Scented China' in particular, and 'Hume's Blush Tea-Scented China' are both looked upon as of gigantean derivation, if only on account of their scent. They were, presumably, old roses in China before being bought over here. These China hybrids produced flowers throughout the summer and autumn, and R. gigantean gave them what yellow colouring they had, together with long petals and a silky texture.
All this and more is fully explained in my two earlier books on roses. Here we are concerned with climbing roses, and unfortunately these two 'Stud Chinas' became linked with a species of the Musk Rose Section, and gave several roses of diverse characters which later became known as Tea-Noisettes or Climbing Teas.
It has been stated that the fragrance of the Tea Rose resembles that of the Tea plant (Thea sinensis), but I have not found this so. On the other hand , several of them smell exactly like a freshly opened packet of gentle China tea -- not the fully 'tarry' quality but 'slightly tarry'. This delicate and delicious aroma is found in several roses, one of the best known being 'Lady Hillingdon' and another 'Paul Lédé'.