Year of Grace, Day 166. Roses, roses

Until I came upon intensely fragrant roses, I was never a huge fan. I found them rather unfriendly (especially to my then growing children) — being prickly, vulnerable to a host of pests and diseases, extremely temperamental, prima donna-ish plants. And so I could never bring myself to fully appreciate having them in my garden. They are, admittedly, exceedingly elegant and beautiful, and I always admired them in other people’s gardens. But I have come across many that are sheer perfection in colour and form, particularly in bud, but alas carry little or no scent. What’s the point of a barely scented or unscented rose? A rose without its unique perfume is, to me, not quite the real thing. The first truly, intensely rose-scented rose – I say this because some roses smell rather lemony-citrusy – that I planted myself was a Zéphirine Drouhin.

Zephirine Drouhin

Zephirine Drouhin

Zéphirine (named after the wife of a French rose fancier surnamed Drouhin from the 1800s) is a climbing Bourbon rose. Its two outstanding features are its perfume that carries in the air for several meters around — characteristic of damask roses — and its lack of thorns! How wonderful to be able to stand close to Ms. Zéphirine and not get your clothes or fingers pricked. Its colour has occasionally been described as magenta, which sounds rather brassy and also uncharitable, because in real life in my garden in Leamington Spa, it was a bright pink. (Some catalogs describe it as cerise-pink.) It also has pale pink sports, known as Kathleen Harrop and Martha, but I have never come across them.

Here in Bonn in our third summer in this house, the roses in the front garden are looking their best. The first year they had yet to recover from construction upheaval and debris, not to mention the thickets of thuggish goutweed and bindweed that had flourished among them, choking their roots. I had to prune the rose bushes hard to the ground to rid them of the powdery mildew that clad their ailing and malnourished stems. In their second year, I planted chives around the bushes, and that seems to have done the trick. This year I have yet to see aphids or other pests  on them and the bushes look marvellously healthy and full of fat buds.

The intensely fragrant rose whose name I do not know

I don’t know which variety of rose these are, but they have the characteristic quartered structure of classic old roses. And their scent! Oh! To walk among them at any time, especially after the rain when drops glisten on their petals, is such a delight! This is the first time I don’t mind their extremely bristliness one bit. (To cut a few for the house, I had to don a pair of thick leather gardening gloves.) A vase of them in the living room perfumes the entire space and the nearby hall, including the stairs. Even a single one fills the kitchen with its heady perfume.

And its quartered petals mean that when fully open, its flower head doesn’t go all limp and blowsy. I love its colour too – deep pink in the centre and pale, almost white at the edges. The buds too are whitish pink suffused with blushes of darker pink. It is not at all a delicate plant: its leaves are rather leathery and resemble those on Rosa rugosa, the Ramanas rose, which is known in its native Japan as hamanasu (coastal pear) for its remarkable rosehips, as large as cherry tomatoes.  I think I’ve just fallen madly in love with this old-fashioned, highly perfumed rose, notwithstanding its exceeding prickliness, though I have yet to know its name. In its quartered form, with multiple petals clustered around a central green eye, it resembles Louise Odier and Madame Isaac Pereira, though its colouring is different. (But I’ve only searched for its possible name online.) I would love for some rose expert to identify it.

Year of Grace, Day 162. Traces of ancient Rome

Just when I thought summer was settling in at last, we’re back to colder weather and rain. The rain I don’t mind at all as the plants love it – after a few days of steady gentle rain, they put on so much growth. And I have to admit, flowers tend to last longer when it’s cooler. The pink roses, the old-fashioned quartered ones, are ready to bloom and perhaps because of the humidity from the rain, their sweet perfume hovers delicately, suffusing the air all around them. What joy to be near these beauties surrounded by such gorgeous scent!

The other day we spent a few hours in Xanten, an ancient Roman city close to Düsseldorf. Unearthed some decades ago, it is extensive, with an ampitheatre and temple, and many reminders of everyday life as it was then. A few craftspeople’s workshops and living quarters had been reconstructed over the foundations of the original (left in their excavated state with ramps for viewers). There was a building devoted to Roman games and amusements – and it was good to see children in twos or threes happily engaged on the boards – a sight rarely to be seen in this age of electronic games and solitary absorption. A group of tents had been set up on the grounds, and history enthusiasts clad in garments of the time injected life into their displays of tools, weaponry, armour, and other household goods with explanations and demonstrations. There were even children dressed to match. Please click on the photos below for a larger view.

And while sitting down and resting on the lawns that had once been a bustling Roman colony, I was reminded of Shelley’s poem about Ozymandias. Two thousand years ago, this had been a place to which the power of Rome had extended, and of those ancient structures of marble and brick and stone, very little remained. And two thousand years from now, what of our cities, the skyscrapers, the malls, the shops? There was a slight dig at our disposable culture in one of the displays: Latin inscriptions on stone are still legible thousands of years on, as compared to the average lifetime of a USB stick or hard drive.