Country & Garden: A rose by any other name

Some varieties, however, have a special, non-horticultural value.
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A COMMON-held, but erroneous, belief about roses is that choosing them for the garden is really a job for experts - people who understand and know about what is, after all, one of the largest and most complicated families of plants, whose bloodlines are as complex as that of a racehorse. But, just as you can enjoy a day at the races without necessarily having intimate knowledge of the antecedents of any horse on which you are planning to lose your shirt, so you plant up your garden without knowing how the Poly-Poms are related to the Noisettes. The most important thing you need to know is whether you like a rose enough to want to see it flower each year. And the best way you can discover that is to go and look at roses in other people's gardens, especially those open to public view.

Even at the beginning of September, that is very useful advice, surprisingly, for many roses are still flowering well, and the best time for planting new ones, namely between November and late February/ early March, when the top growth of the plant is dormant, is fast approaching. (You can plant containerised plants at other times, but this is the most successful tried-and-tested method, especially if you buy them "bare-rooted" from mail-order nurseries.) Look for these attributes: scented; at least reasonably disease resistant (this has been a bad blackspot year, so plenty will be evident); sturdy, but not too stiff habit; with more than one flush of flowers; capable of fulfilling one of several functions in the garden, namely as a climber, as a bush rose planted with others of the same kind, as a shrub in a mixed shrub and perennial planting, or as a pot plant.

Patrick Taylor's excellent Guide to Gardens of Britain and Ireland (Dorling Kindersley, pounds 12.99) lists and describes the best large ones, such as Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire and the Royal National Rose Society's Gardens of the Rose at Chiswell Green in Hertfordshire, but there are also any number of gardens, which open for charity under the National Gardens Scheme, where roses are prominent. The NGS website (www. ngs.org.uk) now has a search facility called Garden Finder, providing information about location and times of opening of gardens which are especially noted for roses. There are, I discovered in a twinkling, 23 gardens, open between now and mid-October in England and Wales, where roses are a marked feature.

When you settle down to make a list, may I suggest that you consider `Irish Hope', which I planted last November, and which seems to me extremely promising. It is a Floribunda, 4ft in height, with a spread of 2.5ft, which has clusters of full, shapely flowers of a delicious pale-lemon yellow, with slightly scalloped edges to the many petals; it is highly scented and, what is unusual, also very resistant to blackspot, though the glossy leaves are not leathery. Best of all, though it is a little late to start into flower, the masses of flowers never dips but goes on flowering strongly and, I am told will continue well, provided we have a warm autumn. Its only drawback, according to Philip Harkness of Harkness Roses, the firm which bred it and introduced it in 1998, is that it gets a little mildew late in the season. My plant, in an open situation admittedly, seems so far free of that.

There is another reason for my enthusiasm, which has nothing to do with its garden qualities. This rose was chosen to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of Bryson House, a cross-community charity in Belfast, which works as an enabling organisation for many social and environmental projects, including the making and maintaining of community gardens in deprived areas, both Catholic and Protestant. Three years ago, I was shown some of these projects, and I was deeply impressed.

The rose is an offspring of `Rosemary Harkness' and `Typhoon', but is also descended, fittingly, from `Peace'. Now, every time I pass the rose bed, which is often, that sturdy, healthy, perpetually flowering, scented rose is a sharp and salutary reminder to me of the cheerful and tireless work of Bryson House in difficult, but never hopeless, times.

`Irish Hope' is available by mail-order from R Harkness and Co Ltd, Cambridge Road, Hitchin, Herts SG4 0JT. Telephone 07000 476737 for the 1999/2000 catalogue or visit www.roses.co.uk

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