In The Gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

WHEN my daugh­ter Camilla was posted to Prague—she’s a diplo­mat—she lived in a sub­urb called Bar­ran­dov, fa­mous in its day as the home of the Czech film in­dus­try. We all went there for Christ­mas one year and I no­ticed that part of her gar­den was car­peted—i could al­most say ‘in­vaded’—by a small, creep­ing rose. The leaves were an un­usual shape, be­ing slightly cor­ru­gated like a horn­beam’s, but I had no idea what it might be, so I dug up some pieces and planted them back in Eng­land. They grew prodi­giously to about 6ft in height and turned out to be some­thing rather rare: a ‘Frank­furt’ rose.

Frank­furt roses are a small group of closely al­lied hy­brids be­tween the su­per-hardy Mayflow­er­ing species Rosa ma­jalis and the fat-cab­bage Cen­tifo­lia roses, much loved by Dutch flower painters. Al­most all are ex­tinct now, but their ex­is­tence is recorded in a num­ber of 18th­cen­tury flo­ri­le­gia such as Salomon Pin­has’s prints of the roses grow­ing at Wil­helmshöhe in Kas­sel in the early 1800s.

Goethe used them as short climb­ing roses to cover the gar­den house where he worked in the Park an der Ilm in Weimar. I’ve seen them oc­ca­sion­ally in old rose col­lec­tions, but their in­di­vid­ual names seem to have been for­got­ten, so they tend to bear vague and un­help­ful la­bels.

The best-known of the Frank­furt roses (called R. x fran­co­fur­tana by botanists, but no one re­mem­bers why) is Em­press Josephine. Snobs call it Im­péra­trice Joséphine, but both are bo­gus names be­cause it was in­tro­duced in about 1950 by Gra­ham Stu­art Thomas. He had re­ceived it from a York­shire plants­man called Bob­bie James, who thought it re­sem­bled a rose called Turbinata that Red­outé had painted.

The link to Napoleon’s de­li­cious wife was too good to lose, which means that what we still grow as Em­press Josephine is another of those old roses in search of a cor­rect name.

I have no idea what name the rose we brought from Prague should carry. So lit­tle re­search has been done on Frank­furt roses that there is no chance of iden­ti­fy­ing it cor­rectly, but it would make a good PHD pro­ject for an as­pir­ing hor­ti­cul­tur­ist— bring­ing to­gether prop­a­ga­tion ma­te­rial of all the plants that seem to be Fran­co­fur­tanas, us­ing DNA anal­y­sis to group and sep­a­rate them, and com­par­ing the plants with old paint­ings.

My ‘Fran­co­fur­tana ex Prague’ (as we call it) is typ­i­cal of the group. It has large pink flow­ers, very dou­ble, but scent­less. The petals are very thin (this trait comes from R. ma­jalis) and the flow­ers tend to ‘ball’ in wet weather. Truth to tell, we get a de­cent flower off it only once ev­ery three or four years. Why bother to keep it? Well, I like the con­nec­tion with Camilla’s house in Bar­ran­dov and I like the thought that the rose is so old as to be name­less.

When we moved house, I for­got to pot up a piece for our new gar­den, so I asked Michael Mar­riott, the ever-help­ful pub­lic face of David Austin Roses, if his firm could prop­a­gate it for me. Only one plant ‘took’ and was ready for me 18 months later.

The plant I brought from Prague was lost com­pletely (we sold the house for de­vel­op­ment) so Michael’s re­mained the only spec­i­men in cul­ti­va­tion. I pan­icked when I re­alised this, be­cause bud­ding had proved dif­fi­cult and then I re­mem­bered the old tech­nique of ‘mound­ing up’ a shrub as a way of pro­duc­ing new plants.

You cut it al­most down to ground level, prefer­ably in win­ter, and pour a mass of gar­den soil on top of it (I use spent com­post from plants that have died in their pots and last year’s tomato grow­bags). The new shoots that come up from be­low the sur­face put on roots as they grow and, a year later, you can push away the dumped soil, cut the new stems off be­low the roots and, lo and be­hold, you have sev­eral new plants. What’s more, they are on their own roots and will grow into a thicket that will al­ways be with you.

My plants of Fran­co­fur­tana are now ex­pand­ing at the rate of about 3ft a year. I reckon they will have reached the M25 by 8517. Per­haps, by then, some­one will know its proper name.

‘I like the thought that the rose is so old as to be name­less

Charles Quest-rit­son wrote the RHS En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Roses

Next week: Here be dragons

By any other name: R. x fran­co­fur­tana has a num­ber of guises

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