GARDENING / Power Flowers: A hand-picked guide to hardy perennials 5: Old Roses

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The Independent Culture
MOST old roses are not power flowers because they flop and fade and their season is short; that is why park superintendents prefer to plant a modern variety, the assertive hybrid tea. For 'look-at-me-I'm-flowering' qualities, the hybrid tea is your rose. But for scent, colour and shape, the old ones are the best. These are the flowers of dreams and old paintings: they give a garden that lingering waft of nostalgia that stiff-bushed modern roses can never supply.

If you search, you can find old varieties that will flower off and on all summer. They will never be as vigorous as their modern heirs, but they make up for that with the quality of their blooms. Rosa 'Cecile Brunner' (the Sweetheart Rose) produces sprays of tiny, pointed shell-pink flowers all through the summer. It is a china rose and, like all of these ancestors of hybrid teas, it is long-flowering. Cecile Brunner makes a tall bush, about four feet high, of delicate stems with fine leaves. There is a climbing form which is less free-flowering than the bush - so avoid this. The same flower is also found on the rose known as 'Bloomfield Abundance' but it has long green sepals which curl around the petals; so you get as many roses but less pink for your money.

Rosa 'De Rescht' is supposed to have been found in Persia by the famous mid-20th-century lady gardener, Nancy Lindsay. Vita Sackville-West admired and grew it, but it is rarer in gardens today. The Persian rose is a deep maroon-purple, packed with petals almost like a carnation. It makes a small, twiggy bush never much more than three feet high and, unlike most old-fashioned roses, it seems to flower better when pruned. The perfect rose for a small formal town plot, it smells delicious. A square bed of four bushes surrounded by Alchemilla mollis, or green box, would look more original than any bedding scheme you could devise from annual plants. In the long run, it would also be less expensive.

A late-flowering rose, 'The Fairy', will bloom from early July until October, after the other roses have faded. There is a touch of salmon in the small pink flowers which gives this one a livelier look than most. But the flowers are tiny and mixed with plenty of green, so 'The Fairy' is not as tricky to place as other flowers in the same colour range. Against a red brick house, it looks better than roses which have a hint of blue in their colouring.

Pearl Drift (pictured above) is a deceptively old-fashioned looking rose, but it only came on to the market in the last decade. For a bedding plant it is perfect, because it makes a bush wider than it is high, holding its mother-of- pearl flowers above polished green leaves. Pearl Drift is almost never out of flower. Traditionalists who like blue and pink bedding schemes might try Pearl Drift above blue catmint, as an alternative to pastel-coloured geraniums with pale blue lobelias.

Instead of planting petunias, which cost a formidable annual sum, choose a rose like this one. One bush will cover a yard square for years and should not cost more than the price of the cheapest supermarket wine. The impoverished and the thrifty, if they are prepared to wait, can grow Pearl Drift and most other roses from hard wood cuttings taken in late summer. Set in a sandy trench in a shady place, they will root by the spring and in two years will give you a bush of your own for free.

(Photograph omitted)

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