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There was a time in Jerusalem when, with the notable exception of roses, cultivation of plants was forbidden. When the Holy Temple stood within Jerusalem's walls, no gardens could be planted because of the smells of rot and decay associated with decomposing vegetation and manure that well-tended gardens often produce (Bava Kama, 82b). Unpleasant odors could not be allowed in the vicinity of God's sanctuary.
For two reasons, growing roses in Jerusalem was permitted, despite the overall ban on horticultural activity in the capital city. The first was tradition; to quote from the Talmud, there had been rose gardens in Jerusalem "from the days of the first prophets."
The other reason was that, according to Rashi, roses were used as an additive to the Temple incense mixture. At the end of the Talmud's list of incense ingredients (Keritot, 6a), an extra element called kipat hayarden is mentioned. Rashi says this term means "banks of the Jordan" and is a reference to roses that grew along the edges of the Jordan River. Thus, per Rashi, the gardens permitted in Jerusalem were for cultivation of Jordan River roses whose function was to enhance the fragrance of Temple incense.
According to most authorities, roses are not mentioned in the Bible, King James translation notwithstanding. In the Song of Songs, havazelet hasharon is erroneously translated as "rose of Sharon." Havazelet is a compound word meaning "hidden in the shade" and refers to the lily, noted for its underground bulbs that remain hidden and alive after the annual death and disappearance of lily flowers and foliage.
A similar mistake is made with shoshana ben hahohim, also from the Song of Songs, which is often translated as "a rose among thorns." Yet here, too, shoshana means lily, confirmed by shoshana's derivation from the word shesh or six, which refers to the lily's six petals.
When the Talmud mentions roses, they are called vradim. The word is derived from varehda, which means rose in Avestan, an ancient Persian tongue, or from vard, the Armenian word for rose. These words are related to wrodon and rhodia, ancient Greek words for rose, which led finally to rosa in Latin and rose in English. Thus, vered and rose have common etymological roots.
Today, Jerusalem is home to one of the world's outstanding rose gardens. The Wohl Rose Park, situated between the Knesset and the Supreme Court Building, is home to 15,000 plants, comprising over 400 rose varieties. If you have always wanted to become acquainted with the various types of roses but have wondered how to do so, a tour of the Wohl Rose Park is highly recommended. An hour or two spent there, once spring arrives, will provide an excellent introduction to the world's most popular flower.
Even now, in winter, you can get a feel for the diversity of roses simply by observation of their various growth habits. Grandifloras are large bushes that may reach eight feet in height, while miniature varieties may not grow more than 18 inches tall. Some roses, such as polyanthas, produce canes that arch and cascade down like waterfalls, while others only want to climb or ramble, and some - the ground cover types - put out as much horizontal as vertical growth.
When you begin to grow roses, you quickly learn one of nature's rules: the more spectacular the flower, the more disease-susceptible the plant. Hybrid tea roses have the most voluptuous blooms and the heaviest, most hypnotic scents, yet they are welcoming hosts for insect and fungus pests of all kinds. Shrub and Floribunda roses, on the other hand, have smaller, more demure flowers of mild fragrance, yet they put up formidable resistance to pests. Floribundas are sometimes called landscape roses because of their suitability for hedging, their lush foliage and their compatibility, design wise, with a wide spectrum of plants.
Now is the time to prune roses. There are two approaches to winter pruning, one radical and the other conservative. The radical approach reduces all canes to less than two feet in height, while the conservative approach leaves canes at least four feet tall. Radical pruning results in a spring crop of roses that are large in size but relatively few in number, while more conservative pruning yields a bigger rose harvest, yet one whose flowers are of a reduced size. Regardless of how much you prune, the resulting plant should have a vase shape so that all new growth will receive maximum light and expanding shoots will not touch each other.