The names of my roses

(With no apologies to Umberto Eco, either—after all, I’m merely demonstrating the use of the floating signifier.)

Yes, I have roses. And I often ask myself why. Every summer, around mid-July, I make plans to tear out every bush and replace them with:

a. A pond.
b. Sun-loving perennials such as delphinium, phlox, lavender, eryngium, poppys, and other plants that could only be grown in the space where the roses are.
c. A rock garden.
d. A summer bulb garden: including dahlias, canna, clivia, agapanthus, and the existing lilies.
e. A tropical garden (to be greenhoused in winter).
f. A tiki lounge.
And I’m sure I could come up with g, h, i, j, k, et al.

At this time of year, however, all the roses are in bud, and many are in bloom. The air is filled with promise and, often, with scent. I’m able to overlook the awkward habit of the bushes and close my eyes to what might be the beginnings of blackspot or some more exotic disease. I show my roses off with a certain amount of pride to my friends and neighbors. But more than any of that, I think it’s the romance of the flower—in history, in literature, as a universal icon—that keeps the shovel at bay. And the names have a lot to do with that.

When we first moved into the GWI property, there was one Double Delight, a bunch of white shrubs (White Meideland, I think), a red climber, and some kind of pink polyantha. The Double Delight was a blackspot magnet that produced one or two blooms per season. The pink polyantha was blanketed with mildew most of the time. Out they went, and with them most of the White Meidelands, which—though rather nice—lost a lot of their canes during a severe winter. I became entranced with the idea of old roses, both the really old ones and David Austin’s reinterpretations.

So now I have Charlotte, Abraham Darby, Louise Odier (shown above), Gloire de Dijon, and Blush Noisette. But I still think I love the idea of them more than the botanical actuality. More than any other plant, roses invariably fall short of the promises made by the verbiage in catalogs and nursery labels. At least they have for me. The diseases, the inactivity during midsummer, the need to keep some in pots for overwintering inside, the untidy form, and most of all, the rose pests (I am tormented by midge) present yearly reasons to tear all of them out. But how can I get rid of a plant called Gloire de Dijon?


lispet said…
I sympathise!! I, too, am entranced by the lure of the Rose. My garden is filled with dought-tolerant, hardy perennials that I divide and tend with pleasure, but nothing thrills me more when my out-of-place Adelaide Hoodless blooms with abandon despite the moisture shortage. I'm moving to a new garden soon (I hear that there may be a house attached--bonus!) and I imagine prairie grasses and native perennials and...roses!

You may be right: Shakespeare could be out-to-lunch.
Unknown said…
Yup! Gloire de Dijon does kind of pull you in, doesn't it? But I've resisted so far. I absolutely had to have roses when we moved into our new house, because I had SUN for the first time in years. But I stuck to disease-resistant, hardy ones. Less enticing names, unfortunately.

I am going to have to finally pull Umberto Eco off the shelf and actually read the book.
Anonymous said…
YOu'll love the old roses! I have about 30 of them in my yard - and live in the south where they are a bit more tolerant of our heat and humidity.

I just found your blog today - and it looks fun. Anyone who plants impatiens with a beer in hand - has to have their priorities in order...
Anonymous said…
Oops, I forgot to link.
Anonymous said…
I also have 'Blush Noisette'. She tends to ball sometimes during Austin's humid springs but she fills the garden with scent like no other.

My favorite rose is 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', though. All my roses are "old roses" and they all give me problems with black spot or mildew, stop blooming in the heat of our summer, and are otherwise troublesome. But I love them so and will keep planting more.
nwcajun said…
My favorite rose currently is Bonica. I have a 30' foot hedge of it across the sidewalk of my front garden. It's underplanted with lavendar on the south side and nepeta and lady's mantle on the north. When all are in full bloom, it is a riot of barely controlled profusion. I love it!
EAL said…
Ah yes, Bonica. That is a fantastic rose. If I had the space I would plant just as much as you have.
Pat said…
Once again, really late to the party. I am drunk with enthusiasm about Garden Rant and Elizabeth's blog, so can't resist butting in. And definitely do the Tiki Bar!

Gloire de Dijon! Souvenir de la Malmaison! Abraham Darby! The Swan! Heritage! Othello! I love them all, although I don't currently have Gloire or Malmaison -- next year, when I remove Cecile Brunner because she is sulking and has aphids, whitefly, blackspot and mildew. The best name of all to me, though, is Cuisse de Nymphe Emue (Thigh of an Aroused Nymph). Who could resist that in one's garden? Imagine the conversations!
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Anonymous said…
commonweeder said…
I'm late to comment, but I couldn't pass up a chance to talk about a favorite rose. We have over 70 hardy roses now and I do love them all - but perhaps my favorite is Rachel's Rose, a rose given to me by one of our town's grand dames the summer before she died. I had to dig it up myself, but it is a fantastic bush, with beautiful flowers and amazing vigor - a testament to the kind of women who live in our tiny hill town. I've written about my roses on my blog.
judya said…
I buy roses at the end of the season when they are $5 each, but somehow don't get them into the ground. They sit in pots in a fairly protected part of the lot, and I water them with the other potted plants. But at least the ones that survive over winter in my zone 5 yard I figure will be hardy once in the ground.
A. Marina Fournier said…
I cannot say enough good things about Zephirine Drouhin--nearly thornless, good scent, TOLERATES SHADE, Elizabeth! I had it on the north side of a house in Santa Cruz, and it was happy. No bugs seemed to get to it.

Some of the roses in my gardens (former and current): Deuil de Paul Fontaine, Charisma, Joseph's Coat, the various Peace cultivars, Intrigue and Lavaglut, and I shall soon have Lady of Shalott. Some of the heritage/heirloom apples and pears I've had or wish for have amazing names, too: Westfield Seek-No-Further, Northern Spy, some of the buttery grit-free French pears...

I was looking for something else, and nearly 6 years after this post, am reading it.

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