Rose called Norma wins Tory beauty competition

Celebrity blooms can be fashion victims, says Michael Leapman
Click to follow
A Rose by any other name than Margaret Thatcher will sell a lot better. Demand for bushes of the pink and moderately fragrant hybrid tea, called after the prime minister following the Falklands War, is in decline.

But the good news for Tory garden-lovers is that Norma Major - large- flowered, crimson and deeply scented - has done so well this season that it is nearly sold out.

Of the four growers listed tor Margaret Thatcher in the FindThat Rose handbook, one has taken it out of his catalogue, two report that sales are falling and the fourth has renamed it.

"The name does put people off," says Christine Slatcher of the Cheshire grower C and K Jones, which still has stocks available as the end of the main rose-planting season approaches.

Abbey Rose Gardens of Burnham, Bucks, has changed the name to its original Flamingo and reports improved sales.

Mattock's Roses of Oxford has dropped it from its list. "We did quite well with it when it first came out in the mid-Eighties," says Mark Mattock, "but it started to go down about the time she resigned. It's a good rose for the vase but not so good for the garden because its petals don't fall off. As it gets to the end of its life the flower goes an ugly brown."

Eurosceptics will be horrified to learn that it was German rose fanciers who gave Margaret Thatcher its name. After first being registered as Flamingo, it was changed on the initiative of the Bonn Rose Society.

Norma Major is grown by P Haynes and Partners of Kettering, Northants. "It's very popular," says Sybil Maple, the proprietor's mother. "We've hardly got any left."

But before anyone takes that as a political omen, Mrs Maple has equally positive reports about Arthur Scargill, a bright-red miniature with no smell at all, bred by a Welsh miner at the height of the class struggle. And sales of Joanna Lumley, an apricot-coloured hybrid tea, are of course "absolutely fabulous".

There are mixed fortunes for other celebrities. Jane Asher, a red patio rose, and Gary Lineker, an orange floribunda, have been dropped from the catalogue of Bridgemere Garden World near Nantwich, Cheshire, because of falling sales. Felicity Kendal,an orange hybrid tea with a discreet fragrance, survives gamely.

Real old troupers never go out of style. Cliff Richard, a pink floribunda, remains one of the bestsellers at Baytree Nurseries near Spalding, Lincs. "I think it's just the name that keeps it going," says salesman Steven Markham.

Some of the best selling roses are named after royalty. Queen Mother (pink patio) and Queen Elizabeth (pink floribunda) are widely grown. Prince Charles (dark-red bourbon) is a more specialised taste, while Duchess of York (orange patio and floribunda) has had its name changed to Sunseeker.

Before a grower can name a rose after a living person, his or her permission must be obtained. The same is true with racehorses, and the sad fate of the Margaret Thatcher rose may be why Baroness Thatcher has refused to lend her name to a two-year-old filly owned by a Newbury racing syndicate.

Although the filly's mother, who never appeared on a racecourse, is named Mrs Thatcher, the former prime minister has twice turned down the request of Henry Ponsonby, the syndicate organiser, to call the filly Lady Thatcher. "We are unable to formally authorise the use of her name for something which could be considered a commercial venture," her secretary wrote.

Mr Ponsonby has now decided that the horse will run as The Honorable Lady. His syndicate will be hoping she has a rosier future than Margaret Thatcher the hybrid tea.

Roof gardens: Sunday Review, page 54