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.

Rosa 'LD Braithwaite' (2)
Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite’

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.

Rosa 'LD Braithwaite'
Rosa ‘LD Braithwaite

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.

Rosa 'William Shakespeare 2000' (5)
Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’

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.

Rosa 'William Shakespeare 2000' bud
Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’ bud

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.

Rosa 'William Shakespeare 2000' (2)
Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’

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.

Geranium 'Ann Folkard'
Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ with Rosa ‘William Shakespeare 2000’

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.

Rosa 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' (4)
Rosa ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

‘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.

Rosa ‘Falstaff’ climbing

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.

Rosa ‘Falstaff’ climbing, with dew

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.

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors. 

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder. 

25 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    What is it about crimson and purple, do you think, that makes it such a zingy, in-your-face combination? I love William Shakespeare and the geranium together. And your description of poor Flastaff and his hairspray made me laugh out loud! Another fab post, Ali.

  2. pommepal says:

    I think the rose catalogue people should give you a job Ali. Your descriptions make me want to go out and and buy a rose, even though I know they would not be happy in my sub tropical garden

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, thanks Pauline!

  3. Heyjude says:

    I love your love affair with your roses 🙂
    But surely that bud is NOT WIll? And if not what is it? Like your daughter I also like the shape of a tea-rose. And my favourite rose is Gertrude Jekyll. Although I am considering some yellow/apricot ones for the north-facing courtyard, have to like open shade and be in containers, but I think they would lighten the area up.

    1. Ali says:

      It is Will! Are you surprised because DA rose buds aren’t usually so pointy? ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is lovely. ‘Buttercup’ and ‘Grace’ both do well on our North-ish facing wall.

      1. Heyjude says:

        I am very surprised at how pointy he is and then how full and flouncy. What a surprise! Thanks for the names. I have ‘The Lady Gardener’, ‘The Lady of Shalot’ and ‘Roald Dahl’ as being suitable for containers. Grace looks like being a good contender too.

      2. Ali says:

        You’re right, it is a very neat little bud for a huge flower! Those are all lovely roses. I have never grown ‘The Lady Gardener’ but have admired it.

      3. Heyjude says:

        I like the name. And ‘The Poet’s Wife’

  4. Nat says:

    Hi Ali,
    Your blog made me smile again and I needed it so thank you. I enjoy your blog very much. Please don’t feel obliged to answer any of the award questions. I just wanted to say thankyou.


    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Nat, I love reading your comments, and your blog posts.

  5. I loved entering your world and story with the roses. Enchanting.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you. It is always nice to know if people get it!

  6. bcparkison says:

    I love that your garden has character.

  7. Penny Post says:

    Like you I have Falstaff and Tess close together, although mine are separated by Paul’s. Himalayan Musk, but they both behave exactly as you have described. I also love that like me in the book you wanted Tess to stop being such a wimp and see how pathetic Angel was. However, I loathed the book and Hardy as I was forced to read it for A level when no-one else would read Domeby & Son.
    Looking at your rose garden might have finally helped me decide what to do with a patch of ground I’ve never been able to decide how to plant up, I’d never considered roses for the location until I saw yours.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh, that is a much better idea to have ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ refereeing between them! That sounds like a lovely combination. Good to know mine are behaving consistently with yours, so I’m not leading anyone up the garden path (haha)! I’m so glad you’re considering roses!

  8. Oh my goodness! Have just stumbled across your blog, it was mentioned (linked) in another gardening blog I follow. Your blog is both inspirational and informative, I love your descriptions of roses and peonies, and am working my way through all the posts. I too love my David Austin roses and identify with your descriptions of the ones you have. I am in awe of your photographs, as I have only just started to photograph my garden with a DSLR as opposed to the camera in my Samsung S4!

    1. Ali says:

      Hi Chris, thank you, you are so kind, and I really appreciate your lovely comment. I remember finding a blog that blew my mind because it was all about the roses I love – if you want to check it out. I am finding my way into photography too – my iPhone has taken some really good photos, but I am starting to play with a proper camera now. One thing leads to another!

  9. Helen says:

    Yes Munstead Wood is the best!!!

  10. Christina says:

    I don’t share your love affair with roses (mostly because they don’t grow well in the conditions in my garden) but I love reading about yours!

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Christina. I know what you mean. I love reading about tropical plants, though I don’t grow them. It’s just nice to indulge in what others are doing, isn’t it?

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