As already mentioned, I have a soft spot for roses in unusual colours, especially roses that are described as blue. Now I now that there are no blue roses. In fact I am not sure I want one. But the purple and lilac shades are very beautiful, in my opinion. What is even better is that, I am convinced, the fragrance of the mauve, silvery, lilac and lavender cultivars is often among the best. The most famous blue rose is ‘Blue Moon’ and this has beautiful, large, sumptuously fragrant flowers that are to die for. Unfortunately it is a martyr to diseases including rust, swooning as a fungal spore blows near, and I am not prepared to tolerate it because of this. Happily there is now ‘Twice in a Blue Moon’ that looks and smells just the same and is much more resistant to disease. I planted some of these and they look great.
But I also planted two big patches (the garden is planted symmetrically) of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (FRAntasia). This was an exciting introduction for me and was ‘Rose of the Year’ in the UK in 2003. (The garden contains a few more, including ‘Magic Carpet’, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, ‘Joie de Vivre’ and ‘You’re Beautiful’)
It was raised by an amateur breeder, Frank Cowlishaw of Derby and was introduced by Warner Roses in the UK in 2003 and by California-based Weeks in the USA in 2007.
It has been much vaunted as the bluest of all roses but even so do not be ‘conned’ by the photos in some less reputable catalogues that spend more money on Photoshop than their plants, because neither it nor any rose is true blue. It is really smoky purple that fades to a slatey lilac as it ages and this happens more quickly in hot, sunny weather. There is something to be said for saying this is a rose for cool climates rather than hot ones because of this. The petals fall soon after the flowers have fully opened to reveal the yellow stamens. The petals often have a white stripe through them too that some feel is attractive but that annoys me.
The way the petals drop mean this is not a good rose for cutting but the flowers are produced in large clusters on tall stems that are often almost thornless. I have read that the colour of this rose, and its leggy habit, comes from the old climber ‘Veilchenblau’ in its ancestry but the immediate parents of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ are the gorgeous semi-double, peachy ‘Summer Wine’ and the small, mauve ‘International Herald Tribune’ (which is a child of ‘Blue Moon’) so I am not sure where the logic of that comes in. What is certain though is that it has strange, very pale green foliage. There is no red pigment in it at all. I personally like the red of young rose foliage and I find the rather anaemic foliage of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ distinctly unpleasant, more so in the shoots that often appear that are flushed and spotted with yellow as though virused.
It may seem as though I am not a great fan of this rose and I have been drawn into the negatives first for some reason but this is a great rose for the garden and a perfect rose for an obelisk because of its tall, slender habit.
It is not overly thorny and grows to about 2m high. It is vigorous without being massive and it flowers again and again in summer and into autumn. The flowers are about 8cm across and have a lovely, spicy perfume that is often said to have undertones of cloves.
If you want a fragrant rose for a sunny or very slightly shaded spot this is a good choice. The fact that it keeps its colour best in cooler weather means it is a perfect choice for gardens in the UK and Ireland, especially in the west and in the NW USA.