‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, an old garden rose, can take a lot of abuse when it’s grown in the right climate. A Noisette, it really doesn’t like the cold, which may reflect the fact that the Noisettes were initially hybridized in a mild climate. The first Noisette was probably created in South Carolina by John Champneys, in 1802, when he crossed a Rosa moschata with Parson’s Pink China. He gave seed to Philippe Noisette, who in turn sent some to his brother in France. Louis Noisette and his descendants developed the Noisette line—‘Blush Noisette’ was the first—and they introduced Mme Alfred in 1879.
Although ‘Mme Alfred’ is officially a repeat bloomer, the big show is in springtime; the rest of the year there’s just a smattering of blooms—soft, creamy white double blooms with a hint of a blush. Right now, my neighbors stop and ask me what it is and where they can get one. I bought mine from Heirloom Roses, which grows and sells own-root roses and ships them in four-inch containers. These slips are small and benefit from a little babying for the first year, but after that—wow! These own-root roses are tough, and you never have to worry about suckers. Any cane growing from the base of an own-root rose is the rose you planted, not root stock.
‘Mme Alfred’ can clamber up a twenty-foot wall with no problem. I grow it along my front fence, and instead of pruning it, I just take the hedge clippers to it every so often, keeping it roughly eight feet tall and letting it twine through and over the pickets for about ten feet. Almost thornless, with soft, whippy canes, it’s easy to train. I have a flowering pear tree on the other side of the front walk; one branch arches over the walk and reaches out for the white rose. Sometimes I think about letting it go up into the pear tree, the way my ‘Blush Noisette’ climbs up through another tree. And then I remember the deep disapproval of the knowledgeable man who prunes my trees. He says frostily, “Vines and roses should never be allowed to climb trees.” Thus, so far, Mme Alfred stays on the fence. One of these days though, I might “forget” to clip it back. I think those white roses among the new green pear leaves would be quite a sight.
Roses get new names all the time. The same rose can have three or four names–and three or four different roses can have the same name.
Take a handsome climber I first saw clambering over a tall arbor at the Huntington years ago. It was identified as ‘Harlekin’, a Kordes hybrid. (Kordes is probably best known for ‘Iceberg’, the most widely planted rose in California.) I wanted a nice pink climber to replace one that wasn’t performing well on the front fence, so I went looking for it. I couldn’t find it–but I could find ‘Kiss of Desire’, which, it turns out, is the name it’s marketed under now. Kiss of Desire? Could a rose be afflicted with a more embarrassing name than that?
Then there’s ‘Valencia’, another Kordes rose. It’s a lovely apricot hybrid tea; I bought it five or six years ago from Arena Roses, and it’s done very well. But as I was researching it on Help Me Find–a wonderful resource for any rose gardener!–I ran across a bitter plaint from someone looking for ‘Valencia’ as it was 25 years ago, not as it is now. Evidently the ‘Valencia’ currently on the market is the third version–and in that rose fancier’s opinion, the current ‘Valencia’ is a pale copy of the original. I’d like to see that one sometime because the current ‘Valencia’ is gorgeous.
That’s the nature of hybridization. Varieties come and go, replaced on the market with something newer and possibly, though not necessarily, better. With vegetables it’s possible to save seed and grow varieties that are no longer commercially available. With roses you may be able to reproduce the one you desire vegetally, but first you have to find the variety you covet.
Sometimes, of course, you just have to find out what it’s being called now. Kiss of desire, indeed.
It's hard to imagine a prettier rose than the modern-day 'Valencia' but there are those who believe the version available 30 years ago is superior.
I suspect that every garden contains at least a few mystery plants, unless you start with a completely empty lot–and imported, sterilized soil. My garden came with a number of roses, many of which were unsalvageable, but nine of them survive to line the driveway. I’ve identified some; others remain nameless.
One is a handsome, fragrant bicolor, sometimes coral, sometimes orange. For a while I thought it was ‘Brigadoon’–but then I saw a properly identified ‘Brigadoon’ and realized just how wrong I was.
This is a common rose in my neighborhood, but none of the shrubs I see has an identifying tag. I suspect that mine came from Home Depot. It's a beautiful bud but as it ages, it becomes messy and unattractive. Still, it's fragrant and prolific, and so it remains in my garden. So far.
Another of my unidentified roses is tall, fragrant and prolific. It’s also lavender. I’m not partial to lavender roses, but friends love this one, so I cut handsome bouquets of it and give them away. What’s not to like about that?
A nameless lavender rose. Pretty if you like that sort of thing.
And then there’s this bright yellow tall bearded iris. This one is embarrassing. I have no idea what it is–but I bought it and I planted it. I know it came from Greenwood Daylilies and Irises. I’m pretty sure I have a record of all the irises I bought, but can I find that list? Nope. I put it in a safe place. Maybe someday I’ll find it. If I do, I’ll let you know what this iris is called. In the meantime, I’m cutting great stalks of it for a tall vase.
I have no excuse for not knowing the name of this iris. I chose it and planted it myself.
I wouldn’t want you to think I only grow Austin roses. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I grow Meilland roses too.
'Abbaye de Cluny' is a modern hybrid tea, meaning it's fragrant. 'Just Joey' is one of its parents and that shows in the lovely color and shape.
'Colette', in other climes a tall shrub, is a short climber here. I have it on an arch leading into the back garden. It gives me a fabulous first flush--and then it provides an occasional blossom during the rest of the season. I guess when your growing season is 12 weeks and you get flowers for six weeks, you feel okay with what is, in effect, a once-blooming rose. When your growing season is nine months, you wonder why you waste your garden space on something that only blooms for six weeks. But it's sure pretty right now.
'Jude the Obscure', introduced by David Austin in 1995, changed my life in the garden. Before 'Jude', I thought all roses were just those thorny, dull, scentless hybrid teas that proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s (and there are still plenty of them around). I had never seen an old garden rose, and I had no idea that Austin and others were determined to combine the old rose forms and fragrance with modern disease resistance and repeat blooming. One look at 'Jude' and I was a convert. It was like seeing a Redoute come to life.
Ravishing though 'Jude the Obscure' (yes, Austin does have a certain literary bent to his names!) is, it's a bit reticent when it comes to reblooming. 'Tamora,' which is right next to it in my backyard, has no such problem. What a generous rose this is. And unlike many Austins, it doesn't turn into a space hog.
Named for the legendary English garden designer, 'Gertrude Jekyll' has been around for more than 25 years. It's only been in my garden for nine years. I love it passionately at this time of year, when it is covered in blossoms and their fragrance drifts out to the street and sweeps into the house. Ask me how I feel about it in August, when its incredibly thorny canes snag passers-by and it hasn't given me a single flower for two months. Every August I swear I'm going to take it out. Every spring I relent. But what possessed me to plant such a thorny creature right next to the gate?
David Austin, in his book on his own roses, recommends planting 'Gertrude Jekyll' in groupings of two or three. Possibly if I had acres and acres in which to plant roses, that would be feasible. As it is, serious pruning (thank you, Nina Rumely!) keeps it to a somewhat manageable eight-foot spread.
More photos from the garden.
This exquisite semi-double is David Austin's 'Comte de Champagne'. It's only been in the ground for two years, where it's part of a grouping of peach- and apricot-colored roses.
I was the lucky recipient of a castoff. Some unfortunate person didn't have room for one of the most beautiful roses I've ever seen. 'Heaven on Earth'--well named!--is so laden with blooms right now that the young branches bend almost to the ground from the weight of them. A Kordes hybrid, it was introduced in 2003.