Roses throughout the ages

One of the most interesting collections of plant species in Greece is an historic rose garden on the grounds of a foundation based at Schinos, near Loutraki on the Gulf of Corinth, where over 700 varieties are on display. Although the garden is at its best in the spring (May to early June), when most of the plants are in bloom, among the wide varieties ranging from species to wild roses, some are always in flower. The old roses bloom only once a year but the second flowering of the hybrid tea roses and ground covers is just about to begin, so visitors going in the next couple of weeks will have the opportunity to see a number of them in bloom, according to Petra Meyer, who runs the premises. The garden, begun in 1995 on 2,000 square meters of a 5-hectare area, is in the shape of a spiral, similar to the architectural prototype of the famous City of Belfast Rose Garden. The oldest roses are planted in the center of the spiral and include many rare varieties, including the unique, green-bloomed Rosa Chinensis viridiflora, said to have been cultivated in Europe in 1743. The organization, the Center for Hellenism – Damianos Foundation, was inaugurated in 1999 to provide a base for overseas students of Greek culture and had its first visitors in 2000. Construction of buildings and the garden had begun in 1995 to a design by a British architect. It was Helga Brichet, a past president of the World Federation of Rose Societies, who had the idea for the garden along with Damianos Constantinou, the head of the foundation. «The first roses were planted around the house, courtyard and swimming pool and Helga Brichet had the idea of a historic rose garden to highlight the link with Greek culture and history – the first known painting of a rose in antiquity is at Knossos on the island of Crete,» Constantinou told Kathimerini English Edition. «After hearing Damianos telling me about the great debt that Western civilization owes to Greek culture, it immediately sprang to mind that his cultural center should include an historical rose garden tracing the development of the rose from the earliest species (those ‘made by God’), the earliest natural crossings (made by the birds and bees, so to say), through to the end of the 18th century when man realized that he too could cross different varieties, to today when commercial rose breeders have specific breeding programs guided by the scientific laboratories at their disposal,» Brichet explained. «This garden was not only to include the wild roses native to Greece or even Europe, but, as far as possible, native to all the continents where wild roses are found – and in nature, they are found only in the northern hemisphere. «Of extreme importance was the discovery of the repeat blooming rose in China (mid-18th century) and its importation into Europe. Crossed with the once-flowering European roses (such as Rosa canina), this revolutionized the possibilities of the world of roses, which could now offer flowers not only in the spring months but practically throughout the year! So the garden was to become a journey through time as far as the development of the rose was concerned right up to the present day,» she said. The Royal National Rose Society of Britain has also provided assistance for the historic rose garden. Newer rose varieties are being added all the time, expanding the spiral outward. «One of the things I would much like to see at Schinos is a collection of the wild roses that are endemic to Greece. There are quite a good number of them and they form an intrinsic part of the foundations of Greek culture and so too of Western culture. Knowing that Damianos is of Cypriot origin, I would suggest the inclusion of the Rosa chionistra, which is unique to the Troodos Mountains,» said Brichet. As one enters the grounds of the foundation, lush hedges of a strongly perfumed Rosa damascena (damask rose), very similar to the Bulgarian Kazanlik rose and known to many in Greek as palia Mayiatiki, line the driveway and boundary fence. It is from these blooms that the foundation distills rose water sold on the premises. Meyer said conventional gardening methods are used. «Some of the plants are very rare and so very expensive, so we have to be very careful. Most are from nurseries in Italy, some from Britain,» she said. As yet, there hasn’t been time available to try and propagate from existing plants. Near and around the buildings of the foundation are some of the hardier species which were established earlier – such as «Nozomi» and «Easter Morning,» along with two beds of «Drummer Boy» and «Ballerina.» Around the pool courtyard are beds of orange-red «Trumpeter» and on the outer side of the covered porches are hybrid teas «Elina,» «Double Delight,» «Peace,» «Indian Summer» and «Deep Secret.» Meyer said that some species from New Zealand «Trumpeter» and the floribunda «Sexy Rexy» that are planted by the swimming pool do very well. «They come from a similar climate and conditions – heat, sun and wind – and flower most of the year, even at Christmas if you don’t prune them. Another one which does well in Greece is «Iceberg,» she said. Constantinou has also founded the Hellenic Rose Society, a member of the World Federation of Rose Societies of which he is currently treasurer and which is currently holding its 13th World Rose Convention in Glasgow ( The garden is open in summer from Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and at other times by arrangement. Group visits can also be arranged. The foundation is at Schinos, on the eastern end of the Gulf of Corinth about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Athens. To get there, turn off the Athens-Corinth highway at the first exit to Megara and follow the signs to Alepohori on the coast. From there, turn left along the coast to Schinos. Travelers from the Peloponnese go via Loutraki. Center of Hellenism – Damianos Foundation, 93 Akti Miaouli, Piraeus, tel 210.4290.620-5, Schinos 27440.57224, e-mail: [email protected],

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