Pretty in pink

The his­tory of a fash­ion­able French rose, plus an Open Gar­den in Deux-Sèvres Gar­den­ing

Living France - - Con­tents - Josie Bounds Open Gar­dens mem­ber, Deux-Sèvres open­gar­dens.eu

There’s much more to the Mme Caro­line Testout rose than its pink silky petals: for sev­eral years this flower was a key part of the brand­ing for a French fash­ion de­signer who was at the height of her pow­ers dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury.

This re­doubtable cou­turière from Greno­ble had sa­lons in Paris and Lon­don and fre­quently went to Lyon to buy silk.

France’s third largest city is also fa­mous as a cen­tre for rose breed­ing and it was dur­ing one of her trips that Madame Testout went to see the cel­e­brated ‘Wiz­ard of Lyon’, Joseph Per­net-Ducher to ask if he would name one of his new cre­ations after her.

She’s said to have in­sisted on a par­tic­u­lar large, dou­ble-flow­ered and per­fumed hy­brid tea rose – a type all the rage at that par­tic­u­lar time – and launched it at her sa­lon’s Spring Fash­ion Show in 1890.

Rosa ‘Mme Caro­line Testout’ was an in­stant hit, draw­ing ad­mi­ra­tion from the cou­turière’s wealthy cus­tomers both sides of the Chan­nel. Two years later it re­ceived an Award of Gar­den Merit (AGM) from the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety, while in 1896 the vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Rose So­ci­ety, the Rev HJ Pem­ber­ton, said: “In my opin­ion it is one of the best, if not the very best, new roses of the last seven years.”

Mme Testout made the most of the rose, go­ing so far as to cul­ti­vate ad­di­tional pub­lic­ity by pro­duc­ing damask ta­ble cloths on which it fea­tured.

The flower’s pop­u­lar­ity was not re­stricted to Europe, how­ever, with thou­sands be­ing sent to Port­land, Ore­gon, shortly be­fore the First World War, all of which were planted along the side­walks and led to the nick­name ‘City of Roses’.

Rosa ‘Mme Caro­line Testout’ is still re­garded as one of the best climb­ing hy­brid teas avail­able, with the abil­ity to reach 20 feet or more in height and put on gen­er­ous dis­plays. It can also be grown as a bush rose.

Jackie Duffy from Peter Beales Roses said the cul­ti­var is a pop­u­lar choice.

“Mme Caro­line Testout has large stun­ning, very full, cupped, satin pink blooms with a won­der­ful scent,” she said. “She is not shy to flower on north-fac­ing walls and is very florif­er­ous if climb­ing hor­i­zon­tally. She re­peats ex­tremely well.” Au­tumn is a great time to or­der roses. Bare­rooted plants are gen­er­ally avail­able be­tween early No­vem­ber and April and can be put in at any time over the cooler months, although avoid pe­ri­ods when the ground is frozen. Many nurs­eries also sell roses in pots and these can be put in through­out the year.

Plant in rich soils into which some well­rot­ted com­post or ma­nure has been dug in. Al­ter­na­tively, you could fork fer­tiliser into the top few cen­time­tres. Make a hole that’s around twice the width of the rose’s roots and about a foot (30cm) deep and tease out the roots to as­sist growth and im­prove re­silience to drought.

Keep the knob­bly sec­tion of stem at which the root­stock is joined to the cul­ti­var to about 5cm be­low the sur­face of the soil to pre­vent wind rock and en­cour­age good roots to de­velop. Wa­ter well dur­ing dry spells.

Iam what you would call a novice gar­dener, a ti­tle I have proudly car­ried for the past six years! If plants grow, then they were meant to be and if they don’t, that’s fine too. We started with an un­kempt field of grass and weeds sur­rounded with spec­tac­u­lar views.

I’m not the first and I cer­tainly won’t be the last to try to cre­ate a gar­den out of noth­ing. There was not much to see when I first saw the gar­den at La Menan­tel­lière. It was a hor­ri­ble cold, wet and freez­ing Fe­bru­ary day - the weeds were taller than me.

As I paced to the bot­tom of the gar­den my feet and legs soaked through, I could just make out the view from the bot­tom of the gar­den. Wow! It re­ally was spec­tac­u­lar. We bought the house and gar­den be­cause of the view.

FRANCE’S BEST-KEPT SE­CRET

Our gar­den is a south-fac­ing wide open space with spec­tac­u­lar views of the coun­try­side. Our lit­tle slice of heaven in the ham­let of La Menan­tel­lière is sit­u­ated in DeuxSèvres, France’s best-kept se­cret, and our gar­den of­fers the per­fect an­ti­dote to the stresses of mod­ern liv­ing.

We have clay soil, which is

“I have tried to blend el­e­ments of tex­ture, colour, sea­sonal blooms and, at times, sim­plic­ity through­out the gar­den, pro­vid­ing a haven for birds, bees, but­ter­flies and wildlife”

squelchy in the win­ter and rock hard in the sum­mer, just like the Serengeti! Well-rot­ted ma­nure from our kind and friendly neigh­bour and home-made com­post with the ad­di­tion of leaf mould has been dug over and over. Lots of weed sup­pres­sant and mulch has been used and con­tin­u­ally used when mak­ing the flower beds and potager.

When cre­at­ing the gar­den, we tried to find a bal­ance that off­set our car­bon foot­print. Tread­ing lightly, we have used a lot of up­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als for the hard­scap­ing, us­ing the old tiles and beams from the barn ren­o­va­tion. There are a cou­ple of mas­sive trac­tor tyres block planted with Echi­nacea and we have used tyres in the potager to grow fruit and veg­eta­bles. Last year we had a bumper crop of mel­ons.

LIV­ING OFF THE LAND

Liv­ing sim­ply is liv­ing well. The sum­mer months bring us an abun­dance, which serves us hand­somely. You can’t buy the grat­i­fi­ca­tion that comes with gath­er­ing break­fast, lunch and din­ner from the kitchen gar­den.

Try­ing to live off the land is truly one of the hard­est things I have done. Ev­ery year the whole process starts over again and I am pow­er­less to the hand­i­work of the sea­sons. That’s pretty amaz­ing, but each year I love the an­tic­i­pa­tion with the plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion.

For me, it’s all about pro­vid­ing an en­vi­ron­ment which serves the wildlife, es­pe­cially the bees and but­ter­flies. The av­enues of laven­der pro­vide a haven for both. You will find piles of logs and tiles ly­ing around for hedge­hogs and toads. I have tried to blend el­e­ments of tex­ture, colour, sea­sonal blooms and, at times, sim­plic­ity through­out the gar­den, pro­vid­ing a haven for birds, bees, but­ter­flies and wildlife.

It’s a mat­ter of frus­tra­tion that you can’t learn how to make a gar­den in two or three years. I now ap­pre­ci­ate and un­der­stand it will take a life­time. How­ever, there is noth­ing love­lier than sit­ting un­der the dap­pled shade of the wal­nut and cherry trees with a glass of wine or two, chat­ting with friends and be­ing ser­e­naded by the bees. We are truly blessed, even in the hottest sum­mer days the dap­pled shade of the trees keeps the place cool.

Above: The gar­den blends tex­ture, colour and sea­sonal blooms Be­low: Sit back and re­lax in the south-fac­ing, wide open space

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