Rose is a rose is a rose…
A 1913 poem by Gertrude Stein describes the inimitable majesty of the rose. And indeed, which other flower, really, could prove her wrong?
In her poem ‘Sacred Emily’, Gertrude Stein describes the inimitable and unique rose. Roses are considered the most beautiful flower in the world, and have long been a symbol of love and passion from the days of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Edith Piaf’s song ‘La Vie en Rose’ celebrates the very deep and heartfelt experience of new love.
Roses are purported to be 35 million years old, with garden cultivation starting some 5,000 years ago, probably in Asia. The earliest example of a rose painting was discovered in Crete around 1600 BC. Since then, roses have been celebrated by all the great artists over time, from the Dutch Masters through to Monet with his glorious roses at his garden in Giverny. Pink roses were the first cultivars, since pink roses are the most common in the wild.
It was such a pleasure for me to spend time with Ludwig Taschner of Ludwig’s, South Africa’s largest rose grower and world-renowned expert. Strolling through the approximately 500,000 bagged rose shrubs and climbers, all about to burst into flower, with the sprinklers spraying in the wind and the sun shining, I had such a sense of summer about to arrive.
And I heard many fascinating stories from him. How the Iceberg rose is the most popular rose in South Africa, with the original sticks brought to South Africa from Germany and Ludwig grafting them; how the Burgundy Iceberg was a mutant stem on a white Iceberg in Tasmania, and from that one stick all the Burgundy Icebergs in the world have been grown.
How the yellow ‘South Africa’ rose is a top seller in America and Australia, although the Australians have renamed it. The beautiful red flowering ‘Archbishop Tutu’ is another top seller in America. He told me about how the Americans developed the ‘Peace’ rose just before WW2 from sticks bought from the famous French Rose growing family, the Meillands; and at the end of the war, they had a lot of stock, so to help sell it all they named it ‘Peace’. The French call the same rose “Madame Meilland”, the Germans call it ‘Gloria Dei’.
I was fascinated to learn, too, that in different parts of South Africa, the clarity of colour of the petals change, and the shape and positioning of the thorns change. If the weather is cooler, the rose will carry more petals. With South Africa’s longer summers, the climbing rose ‘Pierre Ronsard’ makes a gorgeous vertical show. In Europe it is a shrub due to the shorter growing season. I could go on and on.
There is the practical side of things too. Yes, roses need well-rotted manure and compost and some fertilizer when planted. They need deep watering about twice a week and they have a hard time with us as we continuously cut them back with our pruning, as opposed to just letting them grow wild.
So to encourage them and nurture them to continue flowering, we should feed them every 4 to 6 weeks. Or you could go the route of Gerald Durrell in ‘My Family and other Stories” where he wrote,
‘Aspirin is so good for roses, brandy for sweet peas, and a squeeze of lemon for the fleshy flowers’?
How you plant them is up to you, there are so many ways.
In colour swatches, in clumps of one height, planted only for scent, on their own in mixed borders, planted to grow up trees, such as the beautiful ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’ that can flower in some light shade. Everyone has their favourites, but I revert often to the tried-and-tested ones.
Massed pale-yellow, knee-high, ‘Forever Busy’ (same repeat flowering quality as Iceberg), thigh-high massed ‘Deloitte and Touche’ for unbelievable effect and colour, the old German rose ‘Duftwolke’ with its coral colour and sweet fragrance; the very tall red ‘Mr Lincoln’ with its staggering scent, the prettily named pink ‘Summer Lady’ which is perky, upright and wonderful for picking.
Then there are the Beauties – ‘Elegant Beauty’, ‘Delicate Beauty’ and ‘Beauty from Within’. ‘Double Delight’ and ‘Just Joey’ are old-fashioned Hybrid Tea roses with big blooms. All the David Austin roses deserve a place in any garden for their abundant flowers, delightful scent and gentle growth habit. And the low growing ‘Waterwise Blush’ white rose is excellent for more drought-tolerant gardening.
Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) was inspired to write her beautiful poem ‘The Rose’ from the English countryside. It goes:
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is Lady of the Land
There’s sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But Lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.
When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.
It is thrilling to know there are only three more weeks to go until the roses set our hearts and world on fire. DM/ ML
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