Île de Bourbon & Louise OdierSunday, October 15, 2006
Reunion, a French island in the Southern Indian Ocean has had several names during the years. Arab sailors called it Dina Morgavin (Western Island) until 1513 when the Portuguese named it Santa Apollonia. In 1638 the French occupied it and Louis XIII named it Île de Bourbon in 1643. When Louis XIII lost his head the name of the island was changed to Reunion. In 1801 it changed again to Île Bonaparte. In 1810 Commodore Josias Rowley took posession of the island for England and reverted the name back to Île de Bourbon. It kept that name until 1848 when the island was restored back to France as Reunion. It was during the "English" period that rose history was made. A China rose with the peculiar ability to be remontant (it bloomed more than once as many other China roses) crossed paths with an ancient Damask rose called 'Quatre Saisons'. 'Quatre Saisons' blooms, at best twice, in June and then a couple of months later. This is an example of early false advertising. The China rose has had different names in its past. It has been called 'Parson's Pink', 'Old Blush'and by the inhabitants of Reunion as Rosa 'Édouard'. 'Old Blush',as she is known today and 'Quatre Seasons' produced roses that sometimes had the open-faced look of the latter and at others a tight multi petalled ball that resembled the former. M Bréon, director of the island's botanic garden sent seeds to M Jacques who was the head gardener of the Duc d'Orleans. Bréon recognized, with excitement, that these new roses were indeed new. These remontant roses with many colours (except yellow) dominated rose production well into the 19th century. One of the salient characteristics of Bourbon Roses is its intense perfume.
I have been buying Bourbon roses carefully as the ones that have tight incurved flowers tend to ball up in Vancouver rain. In spite of it, my Rosa 'Reine Victoria'(before they open the flowers look like deep pink ping pong balls) does well. Some years ago I was told that the Bourbon rose to have was Louíse Odier' so I bought her from the Langley Dutch sheep farmer and rose breeder Jean Tuytel. But it wasn't 'Louise Odier'. The rose that first flowered in my garden was a much rarer sport of 'Reine Victoria' which instead of being deep pink was white with a very light pink colouring in some petals. She was delicate and hard to grow but grow she has, if not well. I finally got to 'Louise Odier'. She is in a pot on my back garden path waiting for late fall when I will put her into the ground. Meanwhile she has been showing off and here you see 6 blooms I cut last night (there was another but the petals fell). I wasn't too sad to cut them all as I knew that today's rains would probably put an end to them.
Not much is known about where she came from except that M. Margottin introduced her in 1851. Who was Louise Odier? I have not been able to find out. But consider that one of the most beautiful of the more modern English Roses is Rosa 'L.D. Braithwaite'. Hybridizer David Austin has named this superb deep red rose after his father-in-law. Another salient characteristic of Louise is that she is a tetraploid. It seems that she can grow well in Southern Sweden. But that's another story for another day.