A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Making Of A Snob - Part II
Sunday, June 03, 2007

To anybody who might be a faithful reader of this, and if you don't have a passing interest in roses, you may have to search for something else to while away the next few summer days. I am convinced that my relationship to roses helps me understand the world and the people I interact with. I am convinced that roses reveal to me my many flaws but at the same time they (the roses) gently offer corrections that just might make my relationship with others a bit better.

To continue on this subject of being a plant snob I must state that while I am dead serious there is also a bit of whimsical lightness in it. Take for example the three roses featured today. Of the first, the little five-petalled single, the species rose Rosa glauca Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix in their Random House Guide to Roses write:

Rosa glauca , Pourret ( R. rubrifolia Vill) A tall shrub up to 4 m with support but usually with arching branches and few thorns, easily recognized by its very grey or sometimes purplish leaves, and small deep pink flowers. Hips brownish red. Native of the mountains of Central Europe, from the Pyrenees and Alps eastwards to Poland, Romania and Albania, but not common. Introduced into cultivation in England before 1830, this rose has recently become excessively popular for its foliage, both in a garden setting and for use in flower arrangements. Beautiful specimen bushes grow on the terrace of Crathes Castle in Aberdeen.

Seen with Rosa glauca in my scan is David Austin's English Rose, Rosa 'St Swithun'. The highly scented (of myrrh) blooms are 4½ inches wide and my bush blooms most of the summer. The third rose is a classic rose, Rosa 'Fantin Latour'of which little is known. Peter Beales writes in his Classic Roses :

A superb mystery rose with records conspicuously absent. The soft delicate pink flowers and their form place them here (Centifolias[Provence Roses, Cabbage Roses] -Forms and Hybrids), although its foliage is smoother, darker green and more rounded than is typical. Its shoots too are less thorny. I find the all-pervading perfume rather more Alba-like than Centifolia. One theory of its origin suggests that it was once used as an understock, but since it does not root readily from cuttings, at least for me, I think this unlikely.

From the point of beeing a practical gardener one would say that the best rose here is Rosa 'St Swithun' as it has very large, beautiful and extremely fragrant blooms which occur from June to fall. Rosa glauca blooms only once and the flowers are only lightly scented and quite small. Fantin Latour flowers are 3 inches wide, they are scented but they appear only once in early June and that's it for the season.

Some snobs (and I know a few of these) keep their Rosa glaucas pruned severely (they get almost no flowers) but the foliage of these specimen plants is fresh and the leaves develop that prized and snobbish glaucous green. I would like to add that that Rosa glauca immediately develops hips (right after the blooms) that are the colour of Hershey milk chocolate!

The scans you see here are all from flowers I cut today from plants in my garden. This snob has chosen to have all three for different reasons. I have been rewarded in my choice democracy by discovering (after a 7 year wait) that Rosa 'Fantin Latour' when allowed to grow to about 7 ft will become extremely shade tolerant. In my garden where I have a heavy tree canopy this is a definite plus. And this is true even if a true plant snob would point out that Fantin Latour's leaves are a bit too big in proportion to the size of bloom.

Rosa glauca appeals to my Rosemary who may be more of a snob (or at least in the direction of plants that may have blue in them and are not immediately showy) than I am. We have to very large specimens which never show any disease.

Now St Swithun is special for me because it was the last rose Rosemary ever showed a keen interest in. She lost this interest, outwardly at least, as soon as I became enamoured with roses. Some 7 years back Rosemary spotted St Swithun at the VanDusen Garden Show and she told me she had to have it. It was a display plant at a nursery booth so she went early on the last day and put a hold on it. We brought him home and it rained for a week. It rained so much that it made the news.

I investigated the story behind St Swithun and this is what I found out. St Swithun is apparently the saint to blame for rainy summers. It is said that if it rains on his special day, 15 July, it will then rain for forty days after that.

It all began when he was made Bishop of Winchester in 852 by King Ethelwulf of Wessex. Winchester was the capital of Wessex, and during the 10 years Swithun was there, Wessex became the most important kingdom of England.

During his life, instead of washing out people's summer holidays, and damping down their spirits, Swithun seems to have done a lot of good. He was famous for his charitable gifts and for his energy in getting churches built. When he was dying in 862, he asked that he be buried in the cemetery of the Old Minster, just outside the west door.

If he had been left there in peace, who knows how many rainy summers the English may have been spared over the last 1000 years. But, no, it was decided to move Swithun. By now, the 960s, Winchester had become the first monastic cathedral chapter in England, and the newly installed monks wanted Swithun in the cathedral with them. So finally, on 15 July 971, his bones were dug up and Swithun was translated into the cathedral.

That same day many people claimed to have had miraculous cures. Certainly everyone got wet, for the heavens opened. The unusually heavy rain that day, and on the days following, was attributed to the power of St Swithun.

Swithun was moved again in 1093, into the new Winchester cathedral. His shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the middle ages. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation, and restored in 1962.

It would seem that being able to have all three roses in my garden would represent a botanical version of learning to live with one's friends. If being a plant snob creates this situation then we should all grow Rosa glauca and when visitors come to your garden, like Rosemary you would say, "The flowers are insignificant but isn't the foliage lovely?"


Previous Posts
Rosa 'Mary Rose' Redux

Rosa 'Mrs. Oakley Fisher' & The Making Of A Snob

Antonio & Ramón de Irureta Goyena

A Beautiful Aberration

Rosa 'Hansa' - Alexandra Elizabeth

Hilary - That Cheerful Welsh Poppy

A Quirky Crystal

Karen McSherry

The French Go Gaga For Ancient Egypt

Jude Law, Athena, The Anesthetists & The Morgue

January 2006

February 2006

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