The moment it was launched, I rushed to plant Rosa Rhapsody in Blue and soon came to regret it. Yes, its slatey-violet blooms were unique and irresistible, but they proved too strange to consort with our other roses or with much else for that matter. I’ll be more wary with For Your Eyes Only, this year’s sensational novelty rose.
I may fall for its flowers’ dusky centres, a charming trait inherited from the rare R. persica, but I’ll know now that I’d soon fixate on the rest of its petals and decide that anything so close in colour to a guava smoothie had no place among our noble reds, whites and rosés, our cherished vintage roses. I’ve learnt to play hard to get with the launches of so-called must-haves. There is one great exception, however: Rosa Burgundy Ice.
A repeat-flowering, lightly fragrant and bushy Floribunda to about 4ft tall, it’s a mutation of R. Brilliant Pink Iceberg, which was itself a sport of Iceberg, the world’s most popular rose. Although it came to light in Australia years ago, R. Burgundy Ice has only recently become widely available in Great Britain. Before that, it was a thing of gossip, hankering and photographs that some people thought fake.
It’s easy to see why. The flowers aren’t any old Burgundy. They’re as deep, plummy and satiny as the best red in Nuits-Saint-Georges. The petal reverses are paler, emphasising the blooms’ shapeliness and stopping them from seeming too brooding. That’s most of the flowers, but, on the same plant, even on the same spray, a few may be parti-coloured maroon and white, solid pink or pure white. Its own genealogist, this rose loves displaying the stages of its pedigree, but always playfully and never to the extent that one would prune out ancestral branches.
With its Harlequin habit, Burgundy Ice is a one-plant bouquet. But it’s also remarkably companionable for such an oddity. Ours grows beside Rosa Mortimer Sackler, invaluable for its long succession of slender stalked and fetchingly tousled light-cerise blooms. Uniting the two is Geranium Brookside, a brilliant lavender-blue cultivar that’s sometimes chided for sprawling, but which triumphs when clambering among this duo and perching its flowers in their twigs.
These companions epitomise how we use roses not in isolation or ghettoes, but as the protagonists of moments of horticultural theatre. Finding the right supporting cast for them is one of our greatest gardening pleasures.
With summer-long flowers like carnation Shantung silk, the tough little Rosa Fru Dagmar Hastrup exults in gravel and pebbles alongside the copper grass Anemanthele lessoniana and sea-green euphorbias. At the back of a herbaceous border, the grey leaves and shell-pink blooms of R. Great Maiden’s Blush become pure floristry when glimpsed in a mist of bronze fennel and the white-variegated and pearly-plumed grass Calama-grostis x acutiflora Overdam.
On a wigwam, amethyst Clematis Black Prince interlaces R. Claire Austin Climbing, whose blooms are perfect meringues reverse-manufactured whirled spheres that begin with a light toasting of buff and end in sparkling white. Another climber, R. Francis E. Lester embraces a barren old apple tree and compensates for the tree’s flowerlessness with cascades of outsize blossom. Our orchard’s turf dances with sky-blue meadow cranesbill, ox-eye daisies and the scarlet buds and crimson blooms of R. Officinalis.
On the terrace walls hang two 19th-century French masterpieces, both wanderers with a liking for heat. Rosa Souvenir du Docteur Jamain tumbles through Teucrium fruticans, decking its silver sprigs with alizarin plush, and R. Desprez à Fleur Jaune basks in the boughs of a Brown Turkey fig.
This last rose is the absolute favourite of Yoko, my partner in garden and life. She loves its melancholy air the flowers nodding, quite small and raggedly double and its complexion of faded grandeur the petals in antique nankeen, parchment and ivory with smudges of rouge that diffuse into peach. Its perfume, she reckons, has ‘fresh green notes, like Balmain’s Vent Vert’.
This article was first published in Country Life Magazine on August 27 2014