A rose by any other name: 'Little White Pet' or 'Belle de Teheran'?

Emma Townshend knows which one she prefers, even though they’re exactly the same flower...

Here's a dilemma: would you rather plant a rose called "Little White Pet" or one called "Belle de Teheran"? I don't feel there's much competition here. I'm plumping for the one that evokes beautiful old-world Iran, with long suppers eaten on terraces overlooking the city, and the sound of Farsi being spoken. "Little White Pet", on the other hand, sounds like something nasty out of Enid Blyton. Or a slightly weird Manga character who turns out to have vicious tendencies.

The truth, is, though, that these two small white roses are actually one and the same. It's pretty standard practice among breeders for roses to be named more than once, especially in different countries, and this particular variety is just unfortunate in having two such contrastingly different handles. And believe me, it makes me feel quite superficial that I actually care which my plant is called.

As we know from Shakespeare, the name may change but the perfume should remain the same. Yet names really do make a difference. I'd prefer "La Belle Marseillaise" to "Fellemberg", "Spring Morning" to "Frühlingsmorgen", and I'd definitely purchase "Gloire des Rosomanes" over "Ragged Robin".

For me, the names have a kind of enchantment, conjuring up the long and magical history of roses – a history that's beautifully captured in a new book by Clare Foster, Painterly Plants (Merrell, £25), which tells the stories of 14 of our most seductive garden flowers, alongside absolutely perfect pictures. And for me, the book serves as a reminder that the reason to fall in love with those old names is that they evoke a quieter time, of monastery gardens, French rose fields and the tables of old Tehran.

Garden roses date at least to the time of the Cretans, where just a single image of a rose survives in a Knossos palace on a fresco dated to 1,000 years before Christ. These flowers were probably domesticated varieties of Rosa gallica, the wild species that still grows in hedgerows and wastelands throughout southern Europe, and it's still possible to grow such plants in your own garden.

One of the loveliest is the medieval Rosa mundi, Rose of the World (which also goes by the far less interesting name of Versicolor). It offers sumptuous streaks of deep pink and white on a flower that's straight off a 14th-century tapestry – though it will cost you a very modern £18.95, pot-grown, from Peter Beales (classicroses.co.uk).

From all this it can be surmised that rose-breeding dates back pretty much as far as rose-growing itself. Some of the earliest varieties may have been accidents: one beautiful possibility illustrated by Foster is Complicata, probably a cross between a gallica and the native English dog rose. It has a pretty wildness that adds a touch of runaway-gypsy magic to any garden as it romps away over fences and hedges (£12.99, davidaustinroses.com).

It's only a matter of time, of course, before one begins to see the beauty of the wild species themselves. Some of them have to be seen in the flesh to be believed: Rosa rubrifolia has the most delicious purplish-grey leaves, with star-like pink flowers and bright-red hips in autumn, a delightful ensemble whose only downside is its enormous reach, growing out long arches of flowers over the course of the summer, which may delight you while horrifying the neighbours (£18.95, classicroses.co.uk).

Which illustrates perfectly that the only problem with these ancient roses is that they don't necessarily come up to modern standards of convenience. Some may flower only once; others are deeply prone to diseases we now know how to breed against.

Which is where the 20th-century rose-breeders come in. Foster is clear on their talents, pointing out how well they have worked to keep characters we love (such as old-rose fragrance) and incorporate others (such as repeat flowering). The epitome of all this industry and skill is one "Ferdinand Pichard", which has the beautiful medieval stripiness of Rosa mundi, but all summer long. Crocus.co.uk has Ferdinand for £12.99 at the moment: a bargain. And with a name like that, how can you possibly resist?

Claire Foster's favourites

ROSA ‘BALLERINA’

A smallish rose whose pink blooms form in clusters like tiny bouquets. £18.95, classicroses.co.uk

ROSE ‘SCEPTER’D ISLE’

Great big baby-pink bowls of petals that look almost like peonies. (Just don’t call it “Ausland”, its original name; it makes me think of the supermarket.) £14.50 for autumn delivery, davidaustinroses.com

ROSA ‘WILLIAM LOBB’

OK, we fall down on the name here. But this is one of the best moss roses, with utterly old-fashioned glamour. £13.49 (currently on sale), crocus.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police