Pierre de Ronsard, The Heritage Garden

Roses: choose a favourite

My trip to South Australia a few weeks ago reminded me why I gave up growing roses. Mine were always puny things, but in South Australia even the blackest-thumbed gardeners seem able to grow fat, fabulous roses. A drive through the state will have you convinced that eviction notices must be served to anyone who doesn’t grow roses (exemptions given to those who grow grapes). In the smallest front yards in the smallest towns there will be roses blooming. Though it must be said all too often the choice was a standard ‘Iceberg’. Really? Would the iceberg come out at number one if you were living in rose-growing heaven?

Julia's rose, The Heritage Garden
This question began a discussion on the coach and over dinner about what makes a rose desirable. Is it the colour?  One of the most desirable rose colours is ‘Julia’s Rose’. The sepia-tinted antique silk look is highly sought after by brides to subtly accent their bridal ivory, but it also looks particularly good growing on the gal iron shed at Walter Duncan’s Heritage Garden. In fact, did you ever see ‘Climbing Julia’ looking quite so healthy. Usually an insipid thing here she looks as vital as an ‘80s supermodel!

Souvenir de Malmaison allee, Heritage Garden

Perhaps what sucks you in is the squashed-tissue, multiple-petal look of old roses like ‘Souvenir de Malmaison’. Here she is, grown by Walter on a series of arches that make an allee of such romantic blossom that brides find it irresistible. Unseasonable spring rain had scarred the blooms when we visited but it still looks a picture.

Complicata rose by David Austin

Or do you go for the simpler look of the paradoxically named ‘Complicata’.

While Walter grows quite a few David Austin roses, his favourite rose breeder is the Guillot family in France. Guillot has been breeding roses since the 19th century and was the first to breed a hybrid tea rose. These days the company concentrates on developing diversity in roses, looking to expand colour ranges, forms and foliages, and build complex scents.

Versigny rose

This is ‘Verisgny’, a Guillot rose with a fragrance of anise, apricot, citrus, almond and vanilla. And that’s not the only reason to love it. It is vigorous, blooms in flushes through the season and holds its blooms on strong stems, which are rich burgundy, a perfect foil for the apricot-pink-peach flowers.

The only category this rose doesn’t tick for me is what happens when the flowers fade. You can see, if you look carefully, a browned-off flower, the petals persistently clinging to the stem. Call me picky but I like a rose to be self-cleaning, dropping the faded petals to reveal something handsome left behind. Take ‘Mermaid’, a vigorous, albeit thorny, climber that repeat flowers with a pretty scent.  Here she is in bloom at the Rose Trial Gardens at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

'Mermaid' rose

And this is what happens next: now that’s a well-behaved rose.

Rosa 'Mermaid' Adelaide Botanic Gardens

The rose in the pic at the top of this post incidentally, is the champion of the chocolate box ‘Pierre de Ronsard’.  Over the top?  Or just gorgeous?

Photos: Robin Powell

We’ll be returning to the rosy glories of South Australia next spring when we take to the trains for our rail tour of South Australia and Victoria. Stay tuned for details. 


Comments (4)

  1. That balling (as shown on Versigny above) is often a result of wet or humid weather. ‘Souvenir’ always did this in Spring back in those long-forgotten days when I was doing my apprenticeship at Ripponlea, but not when it reflowered in Autumn

  2. I do love the fragrance of Souvenir, and that pale pink when seen up close, but I just can’t get over the balled tissue look. It reminds me of having a cold! How unromantic is that.

  3. Wonderful post, Robin. I’ve given up growing roses here in So. Calif, one of the reasons being our low water supply and low, low, rainfall. But one positive result was the Souvenir (SDLM) was wonderful here and never balled up. I grew it as a climber too. Cheers!

  4. Great to hear from you Denise! You’ve posted our first comment form across the seas. So tell us, if you had to give Souvenir away, what’s the go-to climber for low-water gardening in southern California?

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