With all due respect to Gertrude Stein, a rose isn’t always a rose. I discovered this while living in England in 1991. It seemed that whether it was a tiny patch behind a modest flat or the magnificent collection of old roses at Mottisfont Abbey, British rose gardens looked nothing like the one I’d created in Virginia. There were no boring rectangular beds stocked only with prissy Hybrid Teas. There was no calculated spacing with bushes lined up like dutiful soldiers. No naked, segregated canes to stare at all winter.
Instead, roses were part of the overall landscape. There was an understated accent here, a flashy punctuation point there. And, oh, what wonderful blooms! Some the size of a dinner plate, with a fragrance that took me back to summer days on my grandmother’s farm.
I assumed many of these roses I’d come to admire in British cottage gardens were antiques—Comtesse de something or other. But a trip to the Chelsea Flower Show set me straight. There I found not only a collection of the roses that had captured my fancy, but I also met the man behind roses with names like ‘Wise Portia’, ‘Chaucer’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, and ‘William Shakespeare’, the creator of the “English” rose—David Austin.
Imagine being able to wave a magic wand and create the perfect rose. You’d want it to bloom prolifically all summer. You’d make it resistant to disease and hardy in cold climates. You’d give it eye-arresting color. And for the final touches, you’d conjure up a multipetaled form and heady fragrance reminiscent of an era gone by.