The Garden of the Rose
Weekdays 9am – 5pm. Members of The Royal National Rose Society only
I’m not sure what might have triggered it off – it seemed to come out of the blue – but I remember once, when I was in my mid-twenties, long before I had a garden, telling a colleague that I hated roses. Clearly puzzled, he screwed up his eyes and looked at me strangely, not quite knowing how to respond.
Prior to my impassioned outburst, I suppose my only experience of roses had been those I’d seen on chocolate boxes and the massed ranks of Hybrid Teas grown in the middle of roundabouts in dull, British seaside resorts or in municipal parks. I probably could have named a couple of other flowers – daffodils and pansies – but, on the whole, felt pretty ambivalent about them.
Shortly after my odd declaration, I was put in charge of the design of the Lifespan pages at The Sunday Times Magazine, which, among subjects such as food and travel, included, for my sins, gardening. The gardening editor at that time was the late, and appropriately-named, Graham Rose – who, at first struck me as a stubborn sort of man with a deep, rasping voice that the more he smoked got deeper and more rasping. His fingers may, in an earlier life, have been green but nicotine had turned them the colour of polished oak. While I tried hard to temper evidence of my own northern roots, Graham spoke with a raucous, music-hall Geordie accent which, whenever he came near my desk rose in decibel-rating and frankly embarrassed me. Possibly out of what he imagined as kindred spirit – both of us were displaced Geordies – Graham took a shine to me and in no time, I found myself – a non- and fervently anti–smoker – dragged off in a smoke-filled car, in the rain, to some nursery in, I think it was, deepest Berkshire to look at a few canes with sodden, limp string stretched between them that had been stuck into a muddy corner of a field. This ensemble apparently represented the plan of The Sunday Times competition garden, which would be installed at that year’s Chelsea Flower Show. I was unimpressed and unconvinced. But, little by little and with a lot of cajoling and witty remarks from Graham – it had dawned on me he had a very dry but hilarious sense of humour – and his encouragement, over the next couple of months, my own fingers, at first reluctant, took on a distinctly green-ish hue and by the time Chelsea came around, wild roses wouldn’t have kept me away. Graham kindly got me a ticket for press day and, that summer, even came around to my and my wife’s first house to give us a few tips on how to sort out the garden, including where to position the climbing rose he’d recommended; it was raining so we even let him smoke indoors.
About twenty years later, on a blisteringly hot day, last summer, I visited The Garden of the Rose at the The Royal National Rose Society, in Hertfordshire, where, in the course of 8 hours, totally engrossed and in my element, I photographed 73 different varieties. A dozen beautiful red ones, including Rosa ‘The Jubilee Rose’, pictured above, are now blooming on Pedro Silmon.com.
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