Alba Roses are hybrids whose antiquity may go back further than the Roman Empire. Pliny, who lived from 23-79 A.D., mentioned white roses in his Natural History. Botanists believe these roses may have been Albas.
Graham Thomas supports Dr. C. C. Hurst's theory that Albas are derived from the dog rose, Rosa canina, and the Damask rose, Rosa damascena. (More on this can be found in The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book).
Albas make elegant upright shrubs with beautiful blue-green foliage, which some may call grey. Botanists have differentiated the Albas from other roses by their grey, scentless leaflets. They only bloom in spring. They have delicate coloring ranging from white through exquisite soft shades of pink. They have a penetrating pure rosy fragrance with tones of citrus. They are resistant to disease for the most part. Many can tolerate shade, drought, and are winter hardy.
Christopher Brickell suggests pruning Albas like Centifolias, Mosses, and most Damasks. He groups these roses together because they mainly flower on short lateral and sublateral shoots produced from second-year or older wood. These roses also regularly produce vigorous basal or near-basal shoots, which may grow 5-8 feet in one season. He suggests tipping back unripe or damaged shoots in the first year.
For the second and following years, he suggests cutting back long new basal growths by up to one-third in February or March. He notes that care must be taken not to cut back the new shoots too much or the elegant arched habit can be lost. He also recommends cutting back laterals on flowered shoots to 2-3 eyes or 4-6 inches. It is also a good idea to cut out any badly placed shoots. In addition, summer dead-heading
and tipping back extra-long growths to minimize wind-rock is encouraged in September to November.
Many prominent artists including Botticelli, Luini, Crivelli, Shoengauer, da Zevio, and van Spaendonck illustrated Albas.
The following are links to some Albas in works of art:
Edward Bunyard wrote in Old Garden Roses that the roses are Albas: "Firstly the calyx is very long and extends beyond the open flowers, which are semi-double, showing golden anthers. The bud is long and slender and the shape of the flower decidedly flat. They are apparently all of one colour. The calyx lobes are very markedly edged with fern-like appendages, all Alba characteristics."
Crivelli's 'Immaculate Conception' also is said to show the Alba. This painting is also at the National Gallery, but I am unable to see the roses on the web.