There are usually good reasons why plants survive the test of time. When you think about how many new roses are introduced each year (there must be dozens) and the fact that most of these must disappear after a few years, only something special can survive for a hundred years or more.
In some circumstances these days the older varieties get a mention in books and magazines simply because the writers don’t bother to find out about modern alternatives and so the same old recommendations get trundled out again and again. Not all new varieties are improvements on the old and how could they be when we all want different things from plants. I usually want roses to smell but that wouldn’t stop me from planting a scentless rose if it had other outstanding attributes. But some of the older roses, although they are nice, are possibly not worth planting any more.
A problem with roses is that people like them so much. They conjure memories of summers past, of picking strawberries, picnics under apple trees and cricket on the green: that’s a lot of responsibility for a plant!
If someone mentions wanting to dig up a plant from their mother’s garden you can be sure it is a rose. Rather than buy a new rose people want to dig the poor thing up and move it to a different garden, minus most of its roots!
Rose names are incredibly important and the right name will ensure it is a success. years ago I saw a rose in San Francisco called ‘Hot Cocoa’ and thought it looked just like ‘Hot Chocolate’, quite a feat actually as the flower colour can vary a lot. Mentioning this later to Keith Jones he told me that ‘Hot Cocoa’ was thought to be too soporific for the English market so it was changed to ‘Hot Chocolate’ which had more exciting associations.
Another problem with some old roses, and I mean from the fifties and sixties, is that they were bred when the air was filled with sulphur from coal fires and the UK was always being blamed for creating acid rain that was ruining Scandinavian forests. This sulphur had an interesting side effect because fungi hate it and it helped to reduce the incidence of blackspot and mildew on roses so many rose varieties, even though they were prone to the diseases, didn’t show it. But now that the air is cleaner these roses can be martyrs to disease. It is not that the roses have got worse, just that they were bred for a different age.
But a few roses really have stood the test of time. ‘Albertine’ is one of these and it is available everywhere because:
1. It has a sophisticated French name but one the English tongue can get around
2. It is pink and we like pink roses
3. It is a rambler but not one that is so vigorous that it cannot be controlled without reducing its flowering potential
4. It is scented – really scented
5. When you were a child it was the rose that grew over the doorway of Miss Marple’s cottage in the village.
It only flowers once (now) but it does make a spectacular display. It dates from 1921 and was bred by Barbier Freres (and company) – the name Barbier will be familiar to old-rose lovers. It is a Wichuriana hybrid and will make a plant 3m tall and wide with ease. It is flexible enough to wind through trees though it is more often contained against a wall or fence. It can be a bit of a martyr to mildew and blackspot. It has some blackspot this year but no mildew yet, but it is sure to come later in the season on the ends of the shoots. It is also a wickedly thorny beauty so be careful!
Like all ramblers (as opposed to climbers) it is best to prune it after flowering, cutting out the flowered stems and tieing in the new stems to the support for them to bloom next year.