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June 2012

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Mary Davies recalls a rose garden

Well outside the city, on the way to the mountains, a gracious Georgian house fronts onto a small green, and was for many decades a favourite place for garden visitors, particularly in June. I pass it still, and remember with pleasure the extensive garden behind full of treasures and the long wall at one side with its multitude of fragrant old roses. Its rosarian gardener, alas no more, knew the history of every one of the scores of roses; not just its history as known from the records, but also her own personal history of acquisition through friendships with likeminded gardeners in Ireland and abroad.  

Rosa

These old roses open their blooms in a vivid palette of colours, their petals blowsy and wide-spreading or tight in a flat rosette. The buds open gradually to show the richness inside; their colours fade or intensify as they age. And these are roses, too, that sport a richness of names with which few other plants can compete: ‘Cardinal de Richelieu', ‘Gloire de France, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison, ‘Reine des Violettes' ... . They evoke a history of rose breeding stretching back across the centuries.

The garden's owner claimed particular favourites, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire'  with its almost saucer-sized purplish-pink flowers, the fragrant white ‘Madame Hardy', mulberry-coloured ‘Charles de Mills'. I envied her huge, semi-double Rosa californica from the American west, standing alone in a grassy space and visible from all sides, so much larger and finer than the one I had in a small town garden - mine, regretfully, grew too large for its surroundings and was eventually removed.

Roses were - and are - only one of the features of this famous garden: it was always possible to wander past deep borders filled with treasured plants, past a magnificent red-barked strawberry tree and a tranquil pool to an extensive old rock garden, created with much labour by an earlier generation. And the garden has, it seems, remained alive, carefully tended, in the year or more since its creator died, and is now to have a renewed existence.

Meanwhile the tall foxgloves, purple or white, outside my back windows are in bloom. Bees move from spire to spire, working their way up each flower's spotted throat: their familiar sound comes faintly through the open window. Nowadays I only have one climbing rose, a double red rose in a large container. But the bees remind me of one of the evocative sounds of summer - that of bumble bees scrabbling busily in cup-shaped flowers, those, perhaps, of the shrubby burnet rose with its creamy blossoms or those of the vigorous Californian rose, with its scented lilac-pink blooms.

 

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