Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Red Rose of Lancaster...

Mid-summer is when roses really begin to get going, and for the true old roses it is their only period of bloom. What these may lack in repeat flowering, they more than make up for in the quantity and quality of their annual display. 

The ‘Red Rose of Lancaster,’ Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’ is one of my favourites in this group and is certainly a rose of great antiquity. Introduced from the East by the Romans to Gaul (France), throughout the middle ages it was grown there in vast quantities around the town of Provins. Unusually, the dried petals retained much of the fragrance, and this led to their early international trade and use in herbal remedies. Its other common name, still widely used today, is ‘The Apothecary’s Rose.’


Although it takes its place in our pre-tudor history as the ‘Red Rose of Lancaster’ the flower seems far from red to our modern eyes. The semi-double blooms are a shade of bright pink we might in fact more simply describe as “rose” coloured. Individual flower’s slightly ruffled petals open wide to reveal the cluster of bright golden yellow stamens within. Gorgeously and heavily perfumed, they are as attractive to bees as they are to ourselves.

The tough and very hardy bushes grow about a metre high and are more prickly than sharply thorny. They thrive in full sun, but otherwise don’t require rich living, doing well in relatively impoverished soils. The foliage is a strong deep green, and each stem carries one, three or more flowers. Throughout late June and into July the plants are literally smothered in bloom, the branches hanging low with their weight, particularly after rain. Sadly though, something so good does not last forever, and in time those fabulous flowers fade and pass away.
It is at just this point in time that pruning can be most effective. Although secateur work generally can be taken to the level of an intricate art form, operating on these red roses can be much simpler... 
We take a big petrol hedge-trimmer to them and slice everything off to half height. A nervous few days follows when we search for signs of life amongst the remaining brown sticks. But, luckily they always quickly green up, going on to give a superb display again the following year.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Chris, this is one of my fave roses as well. This year I tried r.g. 'Splendens' which I think is going to knock down the officinalis on my top list. Smaller flowers but beautiful hips. Very useful blog by the way, thanks for sharing your experience. Alberto.

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  2. Thank you for your comments Alberto. Since starting this blog I have been amazed at the international spread of visitors...

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  3. The Apothecary's Rose is one I bought years ago for the name and just loved everything about the plant. I had to pot it when I changed the rose garden to a woodland (a shade encroachment story) and your post has made me remember that the rose is still waiting for a new home. I thank you, it thanks you...

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  4. Thanks for commenting, hope the rose enjoys its sunny new home when it gets it. Thanks for your blog too! It is a treasure...

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