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