A rose by any other name…

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
June 2015

Steffie Shields focuses on the classic flower for romance.
The darling Princess of Cambridge was born on 2nd May, (my daughter’s and David Beckham’s fortieth birthday!). Pundit wires were alive with suggestions for names for the Queen’s latest great granddaughter. I wondered idly if Rose, the symbol of femininity, would be in the doting parents’ mix of names, before the royal announcement proclaimed: Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Coincidentally, Charlotte is where my daughter lives in North Carolina, a town named for George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, who loved her gardens.

‘Charlotte’ is also a popular, soft yellow David Austin rose. So those whose pleasant chore is the naming of new roses might now have to plump for Rosa ‘Princess of Cambridge’ which, if roses were to mirror humans, should really have a pink hue and stem from Rosa ’Queen Elizabeth’. This popular clear pink rose, bred and named in 1955 by Lammerts, an American nursery, is upright and tall. It marked a turning point in roses: the first, and finest, Grandiflora and ‘a consistent performer’ appropriate to our long reigning monarch.

According to legend, the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite first gave the beloved and easily recognisable flower its name. So the soft, petalled sweet-scented rose has long been associated with love and romance. William Shakespeare would have it that the rose’s name was of no consequence for sweet young Juliet, which proved not to be the case for the Capulets and Montagues. If you ever visit Ninfa, an hour or so’s drive south of Rome, there is no hint of warring or family strife. The late Peter Beale, classic rose nursery specialist, used to visit once a year to supervise pruning the rose-laden ancient ruins. Ninfa is one of my top ten favourite gardens. I remember stopping to sing praises to one of the gardeners sweeping a path. How lucky was he to work in the next best place to paradise?

I have photographed many a rose; admired for fragrance, fascinating form and convenient hidden meaning for those who dare not communicate their passion openly. There are no rules to flower photography – just patience, timing and practice being keen-eyed. Rather than a studio portrait set-up, I prefer nature to be my photographer’s assistant, providing the perfect lighting to convey an essence of its character and the short-lived moment, when the rose is newly-opened and flawless. Having said that, the Photoshop app does magic away the odd blemish!

Gentle early morning light is best. Then again, diffuse light on bright but overcast days is good to achieve the exact colour with not too much contrast. Temperature affects the way the camera records colour. Afternoon sunshine often makes for much warmer and more saturated tones, but good shadow as background. Photographer Peter Foster will lead a garden photography day course organised by Lincolnshire Gardens Trust on 22nd June at Goltho Gardens.

Lately, contemporary garden designers have tended to shun roses. Perhaps there were too many boring beds of hybrid-tea roses after WWII or maybe pests and disease associated with growing roses discourage some. It is hard to grasp, like the thorny rose itself, that roses are not ‘cutting-edge’. No other flower is as popular in the entire world, as affecting or as versatile in its wide range of colour, form and habit. Barring dense shade, there is a rose for every occasion let alone every location in your garden. Most roses are long-lived.

I bless the Misses Elliot, two spinster sisters who were teachers. They built our 1960s house, and laid out the encircling third-of-an-acre garden in the old orchard adjoining a regency rectory, leaving us a floriferous legacy of early to late-flowering roses in choice locations. We discovered Rosa ‘Queen Elizabeth’ as a welcome by the gate. I have planted a companion ‘lady-in-waiting’, the earlier-flowering star-shaped bright pink Rosa rubrifolia (also called Rosa glauca) with attractive greenish red to burgundy foliage, arching red stems and elegant rosehips. The faultless Rosa ‘New Dawn’ occupies the cool east wall of the house, its delicate blush pink blooms intertwined with purple and magenta perennial sweet pea hiding the thorny stems. A friend has a clipped, rounded apple tree paired with the same rose – a brilliant idea I intend to copy – where the roses growing up and over the canopy extend the effect of blossom time well into June. When the apple tree is pruned hard in winter, so too are the roses.

Rosa ‘Joseph’s Coat’, one of my best-loved roses, features in the middle of the sun-warmed house wall west. A masterstroke, the sisters planted several Rosa ‘Maigold’ along the rustic garden fence edging the neighbouring Glebe Field. Golden and apricot roses soften, and blend with ripening grasses and buttercups in the pasture.

Elsewhere, old-time shrub roses, perfect for a naturalised garden, appear in season in the hedgerow or dotted about in the orchard. They include the classic white rose, Rosa x alba ‘Semi-plena’ that some call the Rose of York, accommodating my Yorkshire husband! As for me, I extended the collection with an orange delight, Rosa ’Warm Welcome’ climbing the patio pillars with vines, gain hard-pruned together later in the year. A China rose treat for this June’s birthday will be Rosa x Odoratus ‘Mutabilis’. Its single flower cups change from light yellow to copper-pink and then deep pink. Pure magic.

It is said that the Chinese philosopher Confucius owned a library that included 600 books on tending roses! Those who are equally passionate about improving their gardens do not need a higher degree in rose culture, don’t let academic expertise put you off. Feeding and pruning are advisable but, given the right location and sufficient rain, most roses survive a certain degree of lack of care or pests.

The oldest living rose adorns the wall of Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany, thought to be 1,000 years old. In the Victorian age, with rose-arches and arbour seats all the rage, every grand garden had a circular ironwork ‘rosary’. Recently I was amazed by the Edwardian brick pergola at Aswarby Hall. Though the wooden crossbeams are long gone, twenty-five pairs of red brick pillars remain, some like miniature leaning towers of Pisa. Imagine this gloriously romantic summer walk.

June and July are perfect months to visit open gardens for ideas. Take yourself, your family, or a friend, to Gunby Hall, Aubourn Hall, Easton Walled Gardens, or Little Ponton Hall. The rose garden at Belvoir Castle is set off by glamorous peacocks. Extend and familiarise your knowledge of different rose types in size and habit. Seek out recommended varieties. Compare roses that ramble or climb, hedges or tall shrubs, miniature patio or ground-cover, classic old-fashioned English, many-headed floribunda or tea-rose so as to choose the correct rose for the special space in your border, against a wall, fence or tree. Life may be no bed of roses, but I guarantee the air you breathe will be sweet-smelling. You will come home enriched, uplifted – and perhaps just a tad more romantic!



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