The David Austin English roses have been getting a lot of my attention, but I shouldn’t forget where it all began. Many of the Plush, crimson English roses have Gallicas in their heritage.
I grow three Gallica roses, ‘Charles de Mills’, ‘Tuscany Superb’ and ‘Sissinghurst Castle’.
I grew ‘Charles de Mills’ at my old house. Here he is, showing off his whirligig swirls:
He was the first rose I ever grew, and it pained me to leave him behind. When I went back to my old house to just do the last once-over before handing over the keys, Charles was in full bloom, with swathes of flowers tumbling over the fence.
So I’ve grown him again in our new garden.
‘Charles de Mills’ flowers start as slightly incurved saucers. They are described as having a ‘sliced-off’ appearance, because all the edges of the petals line up neatly. I would go so far as to say it is ‘scooped-out’.
Then he starts to invert. Or rather to out-vert: to turn himself inside out. Just slightly, to become domed.
He takes on a more purplish tinge after a day or two, and just shows a glimpse of his button-eye.
The texture of ‘Charles de Mills’ is soft and bouncy. It is like crepe-paper, rather than the satin, silk or velvet of some roses. I find that Charles has a tendency to speckle a little: he starts off brightest pink, but can have faded freckles in the second wave of flowering.
I deadhead mercilessly: like all Gallicas, the first flowers are the central ones in a little spray. If you don’t remove the first one once it has started to go limp, then I think it squashes and suppresses the growth of the surrounding buds. Sometimes they shrivel up and sulk. We can’t have that.
‘Charles de Mills’ will flower for the whole of June if I keep up with the deadheading.
‘Charles’ is the rose I have pegged down, to get more flowering shoots. It has worked, but they are a little low. Next year I am wondering if we can coppice our cobnut and make ‘benders’ (hazel-hoops), Sissinghurst-style. That way the flowers will be higher up and I may get that ‘tumble’ I’m after!
All the Gallicas are fabulously healthy. They have bright green foliage, which always looks perky. The leaves are smaller than a David Austin English rose, and are matt rather than glossy. The growth habit of Gallicas is also lovely and bushy, with lots of new shoots from the base.
In autumn, I will prune out any dead, diseased or damaged stems (the 3 Ds) – there are rarely any – and then take out about a third of the oldest stems. These can be cut to the ground, which will encourage new shoots to develop. I trim all the remaining stems back to thigh-height, and they are ready to tie in to a support. They are best bent over to near-horizontal, as then they will produce lots and trusses of flowers. Roses need to feel stressed (energised? challenged?) in order to produce masses of flower.
‘Charles de Mills’ is often described as having little or no scent, but this is not my experience. There isn’t a smack-you-in-the-face fragrance, but there is a definite old rose sweetness.
‘Tuscany Superb’ is the second Gallica that I planted. ‘Tuscany’ is known as the velvet rose, and ‘Tuscany Superb’ is a slightly larger ‘sport’. A ‘sport’ is a naturally-occurring genetic variant. In this case the sport is superior to its siblings (ouch), and so it is propagated by cuttings to get more plants that have the same genetic make-up.
‘Tuscany Superb’ has flowers that are about the same size as ‘Charles de Mills’: the size of a jam tart (home-made). Also like ‘Charles de Mills’, they are fairly flat. But unlike ‘Charles’ who just has a button-eye (a sort of raised bit of green, under-developed anthers), ‘Tuscany Superb’ has fully-fledged anthers. Here they are, looking like tacos.
Which is why, unlike ‘Charles de Mills’, ‘Tuscany Superb’ is always covered in bees, and other lovely creepy-crawlies. It is suitably velvety and plush. It starts as deep maroon.
And then gets more purplish. It is a lovely rose to deadhead. The flowers are lighter than ‘Charles de Mills’. You hardly feel their weight in your hand, and they are as soft as Ziggy. They often fall apart when you drop them in the bucket, giving a purple and white cascade of petals. It is only on deadheading, that you notice the white at the nub of the petal. And the purple seems darker once the petals have detached. You are left with a stem of dried-up anthers in your hand.
I am unable to properly review ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ yet, as I don’t think it has had a proper chance. I just planted it this winter, so it has produced a very light smattering of small, very dark purple flowers. It too is velvety, like ‘Tuscany Superb’, and similar in form, but with darker purple petals. They have been prone to speckling after rain, but that might be because it is newly planted.
I know that this is going to be a tough little rose. It got its name because it was found by Vita Sackville-West in the remains of Sissinghurst Castle, having been planted there a couple of centuries before. I wonder if it will outlast them all in this garden?
Do you grow any Gallicas? Which are your favourites?