The Oldies

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:

Rosa 'Charles de Mills' in vases
Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’ in vases

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’.

Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

Then he starts to invert.  Or rather to out-vert: to turn himself inside out.  Just slightly, to become domed.

Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

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.

Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’

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.

Gallica rose foliage

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.

Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ showing its anthers

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.

Gallica rose ‘Tuscany Superb’

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.

Gallica rose ‘Sissinghurst Castle’

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?

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Heyjude says:

    Oh, that ‘Tuscany Superb’ is soooo velvety! And those anthers! You are making me want to grow roses Ali!

    1. Ali says:

      They don’t bite very often! Just when you aggravate them!

      1. Heyjude says:

        I don’t think Cornwall is known for growing roses, there must be a reason for that. I suspect too damp for them. Saying that I do have a few including a white climber which has one very spindly main stem. Wonder if I should cut it right back after flowering has finished to encourage new shoots from the base. Or not? Any thoughts?

      2. Ali says:

        Yes, definitely. Tidy it up when it’s finished flowering so that the stem isn’t flapping around, and then in February/early March, give it a really good prune, down to 1m or even 50cm. I t should respond by producing more shoots from the base. I’ve done that with some of the spindlies here, and they are great now. A bit of well-rotted manure might help too.

      3. Heyjude says:

        I shall grab my bucket and go and collect the horse droppings on the lane 😀

  2. Penny Post says:

    I ,ove how much you know about rose sand the detail you go into when describing them Your passion for them really shines through in each post.

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, thank you. That’s nice to hear. x

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    ‘coppice our cobnut and make benders’ sounds like some kind of outrageous party. Another entertaining and informative post Ali, in which you don’t mention a single rose I’m familiar with. And that illustrates how many beautiful choices there are. The anthers on Tuscany Superb are gorgeously curly, like French knots in embroidery.

    1. Ali says:

      It does! We are wild!! That is a lovely description, Jane! I love how everyone sees different things, depending upon their interests and experience!

  4. pommepal says:

    These gallicas look so strong and healthy. Is it the love you bestow on them, or is it the breeding, being old strains with no inbreeding?

    1. Ali says:

      The latter, Pauline, they are just naturally vigorous and healthy. All the David Austin roses tend to be healthy, but the Gallicas have that will to climb and sucker too. I should have called the post ‘Tough old Boots’!

  5. Love your Galicas. If you saw my roses this year, well, lets just say they are pathetic compared to yours. You do inspire me to keep trying though instead of pulling them all out.

    1. Ali says:

      Sorry to hear that, Cindy. Has it been dry?

  6. Oh man, these roses. They are so luxuriant, it is hard to believe something like this just happens in nature. It is one of the biggest miracles in life. Your photos are fantastic, Ali.

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