Botany and Cultivation of the Rosa Damascena

Two major types of oil-bearing roses used to be cultivated for the purposes of attar extraction: the pink and the white rose. Until 1970, the pink rose plantations brought almost 90 per cent of the total output. White roses were preferred for planting in higher altitudes.

Some rose-growers used to plant white rose in the outer 2-3 rows of their gardens - the ones more liable to exposure to the northeastern winds, in order to protect the rows of pink roses.

By the end of the 19th c., areas planted with white roses accounted for as much as 30 % of the total acreage of rose plantations. However, because of its lower content of attar, inferior quality and because its cultivation was more labor and fuel-consuming, the white rose came to be less frequently planted. The fact that the white rose flowers were sold at half the price those of the pink rose also explains why the interest towards this rose subsided.

It is generally accepted that there are more than 5000 varieties of roses, yet only a few of them exhibit that marked fragrance that is sought by perfumeries. The Bulgarian oil-bearing rose has been cultivated in the Rose Valley for more than 300 years now. It has established itself as a stable, independent type of rose, differing in its anatomy and physiology from the oil- bearing roses cultivated elsewhere, even from the original rose of the town of Kashan in Iran.

The oil-bearing rose species developed into an independent type as a result of the peculiar climate in the Rose Valley. It preserved its unique character due to a strictly applied new technology of multiplication and cultivation. This special technology, not used anywhere else, was adhered to by all rose growers in the region. It generally consisted in the following: Prior to planting, the ground had to be well plowed. This was usually undertaken in late summer. In early autumn, about 45 days prior to planting, rose growers started shoveling parallel ditches. The rows were oriented depending on the predominating winds, or, in the case of sloped terrain, along the horizontals. In the areas south of the Sredna Gora mountains, the orientation was mainly North - South, to allow maximum exposure to the sunlight. It was generally believed that the more sun the roses got, the more buds they produced and, respectively, higher crop was obtained.

The 40-50 cm wide and about 50 cm deep ditches were dug at 200-250 cm apart. The "upper" and "lower" soils shoveled up from the ditches were piled up separately on both sides of the ditches - a requirement that was strictly observed. The earth was left for 1-1 1/2 months to the combined influence of moisture and sunlight. Before planting, some of the "upper soil" was shoveled back. The cuttings necessary for planting were procured from old rose fields, selected beforehand from among fields not younger than six years. Cuttings were taken from the base of rose bushes and were then carefully inspected. Dry and sick parts were removed and then burned off. An older method for procuring cuttings was to uproot the entire rose bush and use the roots as well. Later on this method was abandoned as inefficient, because the old rose garden died, the roots were not a reliable planting material and the whole procedure was too labor consuming. The woody 30-100 cm long cuttings were placed into ditches horizontally, their ends overlapping.

Rose Industry in the Bulgarian Rose Valley

They were usually laid in two or four, most often three parallel rows, 6-8 cm. apart. Then a 10 cm layer of the "upper soil" was shoveled on top of the cuttings, followed by seasoned organic fertilizer. In May and June the soil round the stalks was slightly hoed. The same was repeated several times in autumn, especially after rainfalls and some "lower soil" was shoveled each time, until the ditch was filled up. This planting technology, called kesme, a Bulgarian invention, is most appropriate for the Rose Valley. It has proved it has a number of advantages: - It produces roses with high propagation factor: 0,1 ha of a cut-off garden provide material for planting of 0,3 ha of new gardens, preserving the old one, so that in three years time it can bear blossoms again.

  • The new gardens grow as hedges, consisting of a large number of stalks per linear meter. If a stalk perishes, the plant as a whole is not harmed and the hedge remains thick. The rose gardens planted in this way, with mutually protecting rows, remain productive for over 30 years.
  • It is less labor consuming than other methods in which seedlings are used.
  • The most important benefit, however, is that the habit of the plant is preserved and the oil produced is always of the same quality the quality to which the foreign client is accustomed to.

Rose Industry in the Bulgarian Rose Valley

In the spring the rose gardens were ploughed and hoed over again. The branches were carefully inspected and those injured or dead, were cut out. Before the actual harvest started, another ploughing and hoeing was carried out. Good farmers used to plough the gardens a third time, immediately after the rose harvesting. By scarifying the stamped soil, they ensured that humidity was preserved during the summer. With the onset of autumn, the farmers mounded soil from between the rows around the base of the plants to protect them from nipping in the cold winters. The vegetation of roses begins in March with the formation of the buds. The buds develop in April and usually start opening around May 10-15. Usually every five or six years the roses start blossoming at the beginning of May, so the harvest begins at that time as well. There have been occasions, however, when rose harvest began in June. The preparations for the processing of rose flowers begun depending on the time the first roses were expected to start flowering as well as on the predictions for the crops. Old rose-growers assumed that rose gathering could begin 40 days after the first buds were to be seen in the gardens. Depending on the intensity of the blossoming, the harvest begins at a slow pace, the amount of flowers gathered increasing with each day. Harvest lasts some 20-25 days, depending on the atmospheric conditions. Towards the middle of the harvesting period, within a single "peak" day, as much as 8% of the entire crops of the season are gathered. After the "peak", the daily output gradually decreases.

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