The ideal rose?

rosa mutabilis july163

It seems very unfair to title this post and rose as the ‘ideal rose’ when plant breeders have worked so tirelessly to create such a thing for centuries and have got closer in the past few decades than anything before, but apart from the fact that I really appreciate the fine qualities of this long-flowering shrub, there is another reason.

A bit of history first before I sing its praises. Although it is almost certainly much older, this rose (I appreciate that I haven’t even named it yet) was introduced to commerce by the Swiss botanist Henri Correvon in 1934 but it had long grown at the gardens that filled Isola Madre in Lake Maggiore, Italy.  These were owned and created by the Italian Prince Ghilberto Borromeo (Vitaliano lX Borromeo) and apparently they were visited by the Empress Josephine de Beauharnais and her second husband, Napoleon. Apparently the Prince’s son sent specimens to an exhibition in Geneva and that is when Henri Correvon saw it. He decided that it was a new species and named it Rosa mutabilis and it spread throughout Europe and eventually across the Atlantic and was first offered for sale in 1937. The American Alfred Rehder changed the name to Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ (mutabilis means ‘changing’ and there are more to come!) The question is, where did it come from since it is now agreed that it is certainly a Rosa chinensis which, no prizes for guessing, comes from China! It is thought that it came west from China via the travails of The East India Company to the Isle do Bourbon (Reunion) and from there were passed to Italy.

If you are still with me, when it was grown in Isola Madre it was known as ‘Tipo Ideale’ (which translates as ‘Ideal Type’) and is now known as Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’. It was thought of as ideal a hundred years ago and it is still pretty good, even though it is not quite perfect.

rosa mutabilis july16

What do we look for in a rose? I would say a long flowering season is good, nice colours, not too many spines, freedom from disease, scent of course, nice foliage and an adaptable habit. How does Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ match up?

Well let’s get the one problem out of the way first: there’s not much scent. Although you can smell roses if it is a warm day and make like a bee and shove your nose in a flower, I would generally say this is without much perfume. Don’t worry, it gets better from now on. ‘Chinensis’ roses are famous for their long flowering period – it was these that were crossed with European roses to create the non-stop hybrids we expect today. This is no exception and not only is it among the first to bloom in spring, if the autumn is mild it will carry on till Christmas. The flowers start as elegant, red buds and open to single flowers that are honey/amber. As they age they pass through salmon to pink and then rich, beetroot crimson before the petals drop. Produced in large, airy sprays, there will be flowers of every stage all through summer and autumn. The blooms are about 8cm across and beautifully elegant. The colours contrast well with the new foliage which is also beetroot coloured when young and a good enough reason for growing it. It is more or less evergreen and it is usually free from disease although I have read that it can get rust. Having grown it in various places for 30 years I have never known it get rust. Although some references give it’s height as very short, except in a very cold climate (it is hardy to zone 7) it is usually 1.2m high and wide but also makes a very good wall shrub when you can expect it to get almost twice that height (and to flower for even longer in the shelter). Pruning is just a case of thinning out the older stems and this is not a painful process since there are very few thorns. Even better, it can be propagated by cuttings, either in autumn as hardwood cuttings or as semi-ripe in August, which is what I am going to go and do now!

rosa mutabilis july162

Geoff’s rating


Garden rating

9/10 (no scent)



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2 Comments on “The ideal rose?”

  1. derrickjknight
    August 5, 2016 at 7:54 am #


  2. Meriel
    August 5, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    I should do that too (take cuttings). I know Helen Dillon has one, I’m sure she would allow me. Actually, I have always wanted one but not seen it for sale anywhere which means I would have to order from the UK. I did see a fine plant of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ in Lidl last year and at the cheap price couldn’t leave it behind. I noted your recent photos of it. It is quite similar in some respects but hellishly thorny. Not as refined though. I think it is the little twist to the flower that does it for me. Thanks for the history, enjoyed that.

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