Could you fall in love with Bad-Girl roses?
October – and November – is the time to plant roses. Why not try what I call ‘Bad-Girl Roses?’ For the past three decades, roses have been romantic, tasteful flowers, tumbling artfully over an arch or sprawling across a wall. They have been grown in discreet, ladylike shades of soft pink and white – very Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West. Now – maybe – it’s the turn of brash, 1960s/70s Mad Men style -or Bad Girl hybrid teas.
This summer I blogged about the communally-gardened West London Bowling Club, where volunteers are clearing the bracken from what were 1970s award-winning rose gardens. A stripy circus-tent of a rose, with the unlikely name of ‘Harry Wheatcroft‘, had survived three decades under a thicket of self-seeded trees and bushes. My daughter, aged 24, was so entranced by its sheer vibrancy that she photographed it and kept it on her phone as a screen-saver saying: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’
My childhood memories of such roses are the surburban ‘rose beds’ of the 1960s and 70s. These were stiff upright rows of bare-legged bushes in traffic-light shades of yellow, red and shouty pink (or all three together). Underneath the earth was bare and kept strictly weeded. But the twenty-somethings of today see these vibrant blooms in a new context.The impact is completely different. My daughter is interested in vegetable gardening – but for her to keep a rose picture as her phone screen-saver shows that these roses have the power to engage a new generation of rose-lovers.
There’s also a strong interiors trend towards retro. Furniture from the 1960s and 70s is being re-discovered in junk shops or is inherited from elderly relatives. Modern design – as in mid-century modern – is back in young fashionable homes, as Liz Bauwens and I discovered when we did our book ‘Upcycled Chic & Modern Hacks‘ (sorry, shameless book plug). Louder, brighter colours are being used in contemporary ways. Surely gardens will follow?
At this year’s Hampton Court, I set out to test my theory in the famous Rose Tent, marching up to rose growers with the question: ‘Do you think that 1960s and 70s roses in bright colours might be coming back?’ People backed away from me as if I had announced I was wearing a suicide vest. ‘Ah, er…’ and ‘um…’ were the most common responses, along with ‘I’ll go and find someone who might know.’
When I mentioned ‘Harry Wheatcroft’ as an example of a retro rose that could, possibly, be popular again, one rose grower dropped his voice and murmured: ‘You see, in horticultural terms, these aren’t very good plants.’ Yes! Bad-Girl Roses! These are not roses that sit in drawing rooms making polite conversation about Jane Austin. They’re roses that climb in the bathroom window at 6am having been smoking and drinking all night with unsuitable men.
‘Not good’ in horticultural terms, however, he explained, was about resistance to disease and other factors. However any rose that can emerge from three decades under brambles is a pretty tough rose (it probably swore, drank and smoked its way through) As I walk my elderly dog slowly along the road, local front gardens show some survivors of what were clearly 1960s and 70s roses, that are being maintained, in an absent-minded way, by those that inherited them. These retro roses are pretty tough.
I also asked the rose growers what roses were popular (very different from fashionable) to see if there were any raucous contenders for Naughty Rose of The Year amongst them. Some of the yellows and variegated ones had a distinct whiff of rebellion about them. However, the RHS’s 2015 trends report identifies red or gold roses as on the up – ‘designers are breaking up swathes of perennials with strong shapes like yucca. They’re also using stronger colours such as red or gold, especially in roses which are growing in popularity.’ So perhaps I’m not completely on the wrong track.
I visited Peter Beales rose gardens in Norfolk to see if I could discover any Bad-Girl Roses. It was September – late in the season – and there was still a good display of blooms. I realised that roses offer a good long season of colour. They don’t just have to be June flowers. One of the rose advisors said that yellow was emerging strongly as a direction. For example, Summer Sky, Rose of the Year for 2016, is a yellow rose. Its tight, sculpted rose shape is quite retro. I also saw alot of roses planted with dahlias, which I think is a good, colourful – slightly raucous – combinatin.
I’ve just planted my own Bad-Girl Rose. ‘Cheshire Life’ (1972, David Austin) was planted in Posy Gentle’s front garden, probably in the 1970s. I loved its vermilion, lipstick-orange flowers from the moment I saw them. But Posy likes flowers that are ‘the colour of old ladies’ knickers’ (her words).
She dug Cheshire Life up, and gave it to me in a pot this spring. We pruned it down to a stump with a few twigs sticking out of it. It bounced back with vigour. Having kept it in the pot all summer (on advice), I have just planted it in the dahlia bed. So if your neighbours are re-vamping their gardens and getting rid of their Bad Girl Roses, do swoop down and offer them a home.
So what do you think? Are you tired of good taste and soft, romantic roses? Are you ready for the Mad Men of the rose world – smart, artificial, hard-living and colourful? Or do you think I’m wearing the horticultural equivalent of a suicide vest? Do let me know, and I’d be really chuffed if you share this using the buttons below – thank you.