I can’t quite remember when I first decided I loved roses…they did not feature in my childhood garden after my mum decided she wasn’t very good at growing them, and dug up the rose bed to make a patio instead.
There was still a wild (dog) rose growing in the hedge at the bottom of the garden (rosa canina) and perhaps dog roses are the only real roses – and indeed, if I lived in a country cottage I’d have a hedge full of hawthorn, honeysuckle and dog rose, but it’s not really the right thing for a city garden.
What really inspired me was coming across a book listing rose varieties. Until then I’d only thought of roses as things that grew in flower beds in parks, but now I realised there were ramblers and climbers, hybrid teas and floribundas – and the rather more prosaic patio roses.
Then there were the individual names, which sounded like poems – New Dawn, Felicite Perpetue, Mme Alfred Carriere, The Fairy, Queen of Denmark – names that stayed with me down the years, and made me dream of my own version of the Secret Garden, full of romantic old roses climbing over arches and trellises, and around statues and fountains.
One rose in particular stuck with me, as it was described as ‘unsuitable to be grown in a children’s garden, because it’s so thorny’ although it was ‘otherwise lovely’ with distinctive red stems and buds, and coral-coloured petals. This was Albertine, and I decided, thorns or no thorns, when I had my first garden it would be the first rose I planted.
Albertine is planted on a west-facing trellis at the end of my garden and has been thriving there – she flowers in June, and I must say my only disappointment is that I quite often miss the best of her flowering season when I’ve been away on a certain farm in Somerset. Still, when she IS out, it really is worth it, however brief the season.
Albertine may have been the first rose I planted, but she wasn’t the first rose in the garden – as I mentioned before, the only plant growing in the garden when I moved in was a yellow rose bush, marooned in a sea of concrete. When I viewed the house in January, the bush looked rather dismal but I did at least register there was something growing there.
When I moved in the following May, the rose was in full flower and was beautiful – with so much work to be done on the house and garden, it comforted me that there was at least one lovely thing growing in the garden.
About a month after I moved in, there was a rather unseasonal stormy summer night with heavy rain, and I came downstairs to see that every blossom on the rose bush had been blown off, along with a lot of leaves. The poor rose looked in a very dismal state and I was so disappointed – but I needn’t have worried.
The yellow rose kept on blooming all through the summer and autumn, unlike the feckless Albertine who has such a short season, and has even had blossoms on its branches in December. Added to its abundance, the yellow rose also won my heart with its gorgeous scent – truly one of the loveliest smelling roses I’ve encountered.
The one mystery I’ve never been able to solve with my yellow rose is – what variety is it? The most famous yellow rose is ‘Peace’, which visually matches the description of mine – primrose yellow with pink edging – but my rose handbook says Peace is not strongly scented and my rose definitely is. Perhaps the handbook is wrong…or perhaps it’s some other yellow variety similar to Peace…or perhaps I will never know.
With soft pink Albertine and the yellow rose in place, I’d covered two of my favourite rose colours in the garden, but I also wanted a buff or apricot colour to add to my collection. (Funnily enough I’m not too keen on your classic Valentine’s Day red rose – bit boring, really).
I had once seen a gorgeous apricot coloured double rose with the most amazing smell called Gloire de Dijon, but had heard that it was a very old variety and quite disease-prone – and was a rambler, and I didn’t really have space to fit another rambling rose in the garden. So I needed to find a bush rose that would give me the same colour and shape, and ideally a good scent too.
A trip to the garden centre provided me with the rose I wanted: the Wren, named to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (as opposed to after the bird, although that would have pleased me just as much).
Even better, the Wren was on special offer, so she was duly purchased and planted, and I wait with excitement to see what she looks like when she finally flowers.
I would say I don’t have room for any more roses in the garden now…but I don’t have a white one, or a bright pink, and I would still love to plant The Fairy, which is a minature pale pink. One day…when I’m on to my next garden…perhaps…