Saturday, 28 September 2013

A Thorn Amongst the Roses

How I admire bloggers who have something interesting to share most days. The frequent long gaps between posts on this blog are testament to my lack of such inspiration. Recently I undertook to contribute a regular column to the monthly newsletter of my local rose society. I find it more difficult than I had imagined, much as I enjoy it. Once again, lack of inspiration is my Achilles heal. Posting my monthly efforts here is not, I'm sure, going to greatly increase the readership of my column, but I thought I would share them anyway. Here's the first one, from about three months ago, with others to follow from time to time.

Given my family history, editor Dave is taking a huge risk in allowing me to contribute a column to this newsletter. Throughout my father’s long life, he told us many times that he first played what is now called premiership grade rugby in the season after his club won a premiership title. The rugby club in question won its next title 76 years later, ending the drought which my self-deprecating dad claimed to have started.  Let us all hope my debut as a contributor doesn’t mark the beginning of a similar hiatus for ORS in the “Best Small Newsletter” stakes!
The purpose of this column is to entertain. If it informs, that will be a bonus. If it does neither, the writer will be unemployed and hungry. It is assumed that while readers are rose enthusiasts, they have an interest in gardening generally. Let’s get started then.
The naming of roses is a fascinating topic. Many names, most even, have an interesting story behind them. It really is regrettable that there is not a system in place which records those stories, perhaps in the registration process. For example, naming a rose in memory of a loved and respected person may be effective in perpetuating the person’s name, but unless the individual is particularly well known for some other reason, e.g. ‘Sir Edmund Hillary’, ‘Hayley Westenra’ or ‘Kate Sheppard’, nobody knows anything about the person behind the name and the opportunity to celebrate their life and achievements is lost.
Many roses are named with sales in mind (‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Many Happy Returns’, ‘Loving Memory’, etc) and while the practice is understandable, it does nothing for the intrigue of rose names. Much more exciting are the likes of ‘Squatter’s Dream’, ‘Earth Song’ and ‘Rambling Rector’, but even then the story is usually left to the imagination.
Not so with David Austin’s English Rose Collection. The names of his roses are as fascinating as England itself and in almost every case, if the name is not easily recognizable in British culture, history or literature, it will be explained in Austin’s books or on his company website. For example, ‘Lady of Megginch’ was named for the late Baroness Strange, whose family home is Megginch Castle in Perth, Scotland; ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ was the mistress of Lord Nelson and ‘Brother Cadfael’ is the main character in a series of mediaeval whodunnits written by English author Edith Pargeter under the nom-de-plume ‘Ellis Peters’.
Even potential names Austin has not used inspire curiosity. While he has named many roses for Shakespearean characters and those of other notable English writers, I can find no rose with a name from any of Charles Dickens’ works. As other breeders have used some such names in the past, one must assume it is not because of copyright issues, so does Austin have an aversion to Dickens? If that is so, he has no such aversion to Thomas Hardy, the titles of at least three of whose Wessex novels are honoured with the names of roses: “The Mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and……
'Jude the Obscure'