The big picture
Although MICHAEL McCOY isn’t really a fan of roses, there are a few seductive varieties that he simply can’t resist
There are plants that, for me, are loaded with longing. They’re mostly things I’ve never grown but spotted once in someone’s garden, and have dreamt about ever since. And there are plants that I’ve grown and lost, either through neglect or carelessly leaving them behind in a house move. In those cases, my longing to grow the plant again is fortified with guilt.
Weirder still is when I have these longings against my better judgement, like when my yearnings fall upon a rose.
I’m no rose fan. Actually, it’s broader than that. No shrub of any sort is granted respect, admiration or a place in my garden without seriously earning it by providing multi-faceted benefits. Roses are one-trick wonders. They are all about the flower. And for (almost) no other potential occupant of my garden will the flower alone get it across the line. Roses rarely contribute any foliage quality (with a few notable exceptions) or shape benefit.
But I’m clearly not immune to their charms. Many, many years ago, before having a place of my own, I was wandering through a friend’s garden and was stopped in my tracks by the curious blue-mauve colouring and voluptuous clustered form of a great waterfall of a rose tumbling down a retaining wall. The owner knew the name, and I never forgot it – it was a ‘Veilchenblau’. For years that rose sat at the back of my consciousness, and I knew that if ever I had my own garden, and if ever I allowed a rose within its carefully defended boundaries, that rose would be ‘Veilchenblau’.
Ten years later, my wife and I bought our first house, surrounded by a classic ‘Nanna-garden’. It was home to several Hybrid Tea roses, which went onto the scrap heap. But there was one that looked like rootstock that I didn’t rip out. I can’t remember the moment I started to wonder if possibly, just possibly, it might be my rose. But somehow I knew it was ‘Veilchenblau’, even before it started to show colour. To this day, I can’t get my head around that particular blessing.
Somewhere in those intervening years
I also came under the spell of ‘Graham Thomas’. This is a classic David Austin rose, in that irresistible cabbagey style, combining recurrent flowering and modern-rose colouring with old-fashioned rose charm. There is something about its slightly egg-yolky yellow that honestly makes me feel a bit dizzy as I write about it. But I’ve never bought one, and I’ve never planted one. It’s that old shrub thing again. But – and it’s a big, dramatic, stagey ‘but’– last winter my wife claimed a long-forgotten bit of land near the clothesline, wanting to grow roses for picking. I nudged her selection in the direction of ‘Graham Thomas’, and one was included in the list. It’s flowering now. I’m going to go and visit it as soon as I’m done with this.
One more rose, and my secret rose-longing will be fully consummated. I’m now on the hunt for ‘Madame Hardy’. We’ve been eyeing each other off for decades, and it’s time to make a move.
Michael blogs at thegardenist.com.au