As I have confessed before, I have a thing for crimson roses. For plush, plump roses. For those that you want to bury your face into, and get a headrush from their scent.
This is my quest to find the perfect crimson rose.
These roses are all David Austin English roses. There is an overwhelming array of roses in cultivation, but these are the roses I am drawn to. They all have old roses in their heritage, and are selected for plush, plump flower form, scent, elegance, health and repeat-flowering.
The first crimson English rose I grew was ‘L.D. Braithwaite’. This is the closest to red that you can find in the English roses.
In a moment of madness, I decided to plant a small hedge of these, in our front garden. This involved excavating the most horrible trench of cement-like clay and lumps of chalk and it took forever. The site is prone to drying out and baking hard. I didn’t really know this until I’d dug up quite a lot of lawn. They may languish in the long-run, but for now the roses are humouring me.
The blooms are perfectly nice, and they are certainly the brightest of my crimson roses, but there is something a bit stiff and upright about their growth. And they only have the faintest scent, just as they are about to drop their petals. Also, and I know, I am starting to sound totally unreasonable in my demands from the poor rose, the colour is a bit uniform. I like a range of hues in my crimson roses.
I thought, when we started making a garden here, that I would be happy with one or two crimson roses. I thought I would just add ‘William Shakespeare 2000’, which I had fallen in love with at Sissinghurst.
Now we’re talking. It is this variation of colour that I love, with the deep plum of the outer petals, with darkest shadows between the petals, through to bright cherry-red at the centre.
This is a huge rose. When fully blown it is probably my hand-span across. It really is a face-planter rose. You can be smothered by its pillow of intoxicating scent.
My eldest daughter loves the buds on this rose. She likes the hybrid tea rose shape, with their long, pointed buds, and only a few outer petals fully opening out.
For me, the hybrid tea shape is too spiky and upright and stiff. I want a rose which plumps up and spills over, and fills space. I want swirls of lush petals, and hidden depths, that you can only guess at. I want a rose that changes every day, hour by hour, with ever-evolving dimensions. One that can handle a storm, a heat-wave, a drought.
It can. It fights back. It has the most fearsome thorns, and throws out great spurs of flower-trusses, six-foot high. It is an Amazonian shrub rose. This can be the frustration with ‘William Shakespeare 2000’. It is challenging. It is not a rose which likes to be contained. It will not fit into a neat little box. It pushes boundaries and crosses lines.
I grow ‘Will’ with the sprawling Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’. She weaves through Will, and leads a merry dance. I love the combination of her vampish purple with his plush plum. I have three weird sisters to accompany my three wild Wills.
So it would appear that my quest is over? I have found the perfect crimson rose.
But those people at David Austin know how to tempt. Every year a plush and plumptious new ‘Book of Roses’ appears on my doorstep. I take myself off to a quiet corner and greedily devour it.
We have a really ugly oil tank to cover up. So my fingers stray to the Climbing English roses pages.
And that is how I found ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. ‘Tess’ was my favourite book when I was about sixteen. I re-read it a couple of years ago, and whilst I still enjoyed the idyllic pastoral setting, I must confess that Tess infuriated me. I really wanted her to Girl Up, and stop blaming herself, and stop being so grateful to the equally infuriating Angel Clare. Which is unfair I know. She was a woman of her time.
I like to think this is a ‘Tess’ for the twenty-first century.
‘Tess’ is at the brighter end of crimson. The blooms are satisfyingly round, with the outer petals reflexing back to make a loose, airy globe. She relaxes on the stem, and dangles comfotably. She is a strong climber, and is currently dominating her partner on the trellis, ‘Falstaff’.
I know. I do wonder why I put these two together. She is Melania to his Trump. But she has the upper hand.
‘Falstaff’ flowers are as they should be: bumptious and brash and big-headed. But he does seem to struggle to get off the ground. Which is apt, as Falstaff presumably struggled to mount anything. Because the flowers are so huge, they hang down, which would be brilliant, if this rose ever managed to climb. At the moment it just tends to be bent double, wobbly on its feet, and unable to string two buds together.
I have struggled to get a good picture of ‘Falstaff’ owing to the meagre quantity of his flowers. I cut the nicest one for A Rainbow of Roses. But there is this one, with a sprinkle of dew.
Now that I’ve compared him to Trump, I can’t help but see this as hairspray holding his swirls in place.
I will never again plant two crimson roses together. ‘Tess’ and ‘Falstaff’ clash. ‘Tess’ has found her voice, and she is singing louder.
Of course, if you read my post Portrait of a rose, you know that I found my perfect rose eventually. Just in case you didn’t, here it is, ‘Munstead Wood’.
‘Munstead Wood’ is a cure for the ills of all the other crimsons. It is the perfect size, shape, complexity, stature, posture, depth. Its scent is sublime. It is poise and poetry combined.
I have realised it is in the thickness of the petals. Whilst ‘William Shakespeare 2000’ and ‘Falstaff’ do have wonderful huge plush flowers, they are just a bit too much. I like ‘Munstead’s lightness of touch.
I need say no more. My quest is over.