I thought I would write a whole post dedicated to what I think is the most romantic of all roses: The Gallica rose, ‘Tuscany Superb’.
The Gallicas are the oldest of all garden roses: their predecessors were grown by Ancient Greeks and Romans. They were then developed and bred in greater numbers in France through the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is where their name ‘Gallica’ comes from.
Their longevity of the Gallica may be due to their natural good health. Gallicas rarely have problems with pests and diseases. They have bright green foliage, slightly wrinkled in texture, and bristly stems. It reminds me of the equally healthy Rosa rugosa, and like Rosa rugosa, Gallica roses are ideal for poor soils and less-than-ideal situations, owing to their vigour. Also like Rosa rugosa, the Gallicas have a tendency to sucker: to spread runners via their roots. This does not happen if they are grafted onto different roots, as most roses are in the UK.
Gallica roses make neat little shrubs, of about 1.2 metres in height and width. This makes them ideal for a small garden. They tend towards upright growth, with multiple upright stems, each of which will bear a cluster of three or more flowers. The central flower opens first, and then the outer flowers follow.
Gallicas tend to have deeply-saturated colours, in the crimson-purple range. The flowers have soft, velvety petals, which are gently ruffled. They are a double flower, with at least twice, but often many times more, than the five petals found on species roses. The petals of Gallica roses often open out in maturity to reveal the stamens. Because Gallica roses still have stamens (many later developed roses don’t), the bees love them.
‘Tuscany Superb’ is at the maroon end of crimson, but it can look purplish or reddish, depending on the light. Its petals are softly, sweetly curved, as if to hold just enough sun-warmed air to delight the nose with old rose perfume.
It is the loveliest of all roses to deadhead. I like to remove the central flower once it has started to dry out and curl up. The removal of the central spent flower allows the outer flowers to show their best.
It is one of my favourite sensory pleasures to hold the impossibly soft and tender rose in one hand and snip its bristly stem with the other. The petals are softer than anything I know: peach fuzz, babies’ bottoms, duck down: they are nothing to this rose. The spent flower fits perfectly into my hand. Its petals may suddenly let out a silent ‘oh!‘, let go of their calyx all at once. They drop into my waiting bucket, with a flurry of petal confetti. and glorious rose perfume.
I grow ‘Tuscany Superb’ without support. It holds its weight well. I have three shrubs, planted from bare-roots, placed about a metre apart in a circle. Planting in threes creates more of a presence in a border, if you have the space (and I would make space for this rose). I have surrounded ‘Tuscany Superb’ by the airy hardy geranium ‘Brookside’. Any blue or white geranium would do. The geranium weaves its way through the rose, enjoying its support. There is never any need to weed, as there is simply no space left.
This pairing of rose and geranium is especially beautiful in the morning sunlight, when dew is just clinging to the edge of the petals of ‘Tuscany Superb’ and the sunlight is shining straight through the geranium. They twinkle, and wink at one another.
Gallica roses only flower once in the summer, but are glorious for the whole of June. Once the flowers have gone over, the foliage remains healthy. It provides structure and scaffolding for its neighbours for the rest of the summer. In my rose garden, I have geraniums, salvias, foxgloves, hollyhocks, phlox, penstemons, agastache and day lilies. They ensure the display continues until November.
If I had to choose just one Gallica rose, then ‘Tuscany Superb’ would be it. No other old rose combines health, vigour, neat growth habit, lush foliage, deep, rich velvety flowers and heavenly scent, like this rose.
I mulch my roses deeply (5-10cm) with well-rotted manure in winter. Whilst I may feed my more hungry English and Bourbon roses with blood-and-bone or a liquid seaweed feed at the end of June, I don’t think it is necessary with the healthy old Gallicas. And besides, I challenge anyone to find the base of this well-clothed rose in the height of summer.
I never spray my roses. So long as you grow roses with plenty of other species, like geraniums and salvias, I find that disease does not take hold. Very few pests harm roses in the UK. By spraying roses, you are doing great harm to the garden’s ecosystem. I have no desire to take away food from birds or the frogs in the garden, let alone poison them.
If you would like to explore more recommended roses, click on the ‘Roses’ category from the main menu, or from the ‘Rose Portraits’ tab near the title of this post. As you may have guessed I have a little bit of a rose problem. English roses and old roses are my obsession and my joy.
Do you too have a rose problem? Join me! Join in the conversation: I love comments or questions, which you can post below.
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