There’s a rose in my garden which looks like a raspberry ripple ice cream. The Rosa Ferdinand Pichard is a thing of beauty and makes me smile every time I walk past it.
While my garden project is still in its infancy, I couldn’t resist bingeing on roses. I’m no stranger to Gardeners’ World so I knew to make a beeline for the David Austin company. If this stalwart of the rose world was a rock star, it would be Elvis.
The Shropshire-based family business has been breeding roses since 1961 and today, more than 60 years later, most of the growing is still carried out by hand. I’ve previously bought roses from garden centres and flower shows but nothing beats the quality, flower and fragrance of a David Austin rose.
So I threw caution to the wind and ordered a number of different plants, including my much-loved raspberry ripple which smells as good as it looks. I got a bit carried away with pink blooms, also buying a Gertrude Jekyll, named for the celebrated garden designer and author. It sets the soul alight with its strong old rose scent and rosette-shaped flowers of bright, glowing pink.
I also fell in love with the Charles Darwin rose, marvelling at its soft aroma and perfectly formed yellow petals. But I think the Roald Dahl shrub rose is my favourite. I’d long coveted this apricot-coloured rose with its moreish perfume. It was named to mark the centenary of the author’s birth, its appearance reminiscent of the peach in his book, James and the Giant Peach. Now I can look out of the bedroom window, past my much-thumbed copies of Dahl’s books, and see his namesake quietly doing its thing in the garden.
But what is the allure of roses? Yes, they are beautiful and yes, they smell gorgeous. Surely there is more to it than that, though? Perhaps the cultural significance of the plant gives us a clue. Over the centuries, roses have weaved their way into society’s ideals of botany at its best. In Islam, it is said that the fragrance of a rose represents the sacredness of people’s souls while Hinduism and Buddhism see roses as expressions of spiritual joy.
In Catholicism, the scent of roses is sometimes called the ‘odour of sanctity’ although the expression can mean flowers in general. Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, known as the ‘Little Flower’, was said to have produced a strong scent of roses at her death.
However, roses have long been venerated in secular ways too, with poets and novelists using the rose and its symbolism for centuries. Shakespeare was a big fan, with a line from Romeo and Juliet one of the most famous lines in literature: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet’. And how lovely is this by the French writer Alphonse Karr? ‘We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.’
So, whether you have red, pink, white, yellow or ice cream-coloured blooms in your garden, take time to stop and smell the roses. It will bring a smile to your face, I guarantee it.