Recently the great rosarian Peter Beales died.
If you are saying, “Too bad but why is she mentioning him?”, I understand. Most people, by which I mean “normal people who do not obsess over roses”, have no idea who Peter Beales was. His book Classic Roses was, and is, the best guide to roses. It is (to my knowledge) the only one that managed to make any sense of the tangled lines of descent down which modern roses have been hybridized. Also he was a nurseryman and a rose breeder himself, and he had an eye for a good rose. He was never wrong.
I wish I had read Peter Beales’ book before I embarked all those years ago on my mammoth rose garden in Vermont. I must have grown two dozen different varieties at least, but like most people who have small experience of roses in the garden I grew roses that photographed well in catalogues, or which were novelties of one sort or another. David Austen’s roses were being introduced then, hybrids between old roses that flowered only once a year and hybrid teas and floribundas that bloomed all summer long.
I fell for this category of rose but found out that they were very uneven performers. Had I read Mr. Beales’s book, I would have known to wait until other more fool hardy gardeners had humiliated themselves with roses listed as shrubs when they were really climbers, or roses that only produced three flowers a season, or others that spotted in rain, and so on and so forth.
Eventually I read enough about roses to find which ones were really worth while. Dainty Bess for instance, a single rose with pink flowers four inches across, looking like butterflies on the bush, which was always flowering, or Ballerina, a small rose with pink and white single blooms in huge trusses that made it resemble a pink and white hydrangea. It was beautiful and foolproof, could be grown in pots, and I still miss it.
By the time I had learned always to take Peter Beales’ advice on roses, we were moving south and out of state. But I have learned since, and keep a sharp eye out for Pink Parfait, a wonderful old floribunda with flowers in many shades and gradations of salmon and rose. I have not found it yet, but will keep on looking.
Right in the beginning of the book, he gave you all sorts of priceless information such as which roses to use as hedges (very difficult to discover by trial and error) The answer being Meg Merrilies, or Bourbon Queen, or Maxima, or which would tolerate relative shade, Greenmantle, Karl Forster, or Scarlachglut.
But then he gets to the meat of the matter for perfumistas: perfume.
If you want a rose that really gives off fragrance, there are varieties which will perfume the garden. Hugh Dickson, a great old scarlet, Königin von Danemark,, Reine des Violettes, Souvenir de la Malmaison. And if you want climbers, he mentions Guinee, Zepherine Drouhin, and Etoile d’Hollande, which many of you may recognize as the rose that was the “model” for the last Mona di Orio perfume, also called Etoile d’Hollande.
His children carry on his nursery and are rose breeders too, so perhaps there will be more from the Beales to brighten and perfume the world. I certainly hope so.