Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gertrude Jekyll and the Old Rose

Tessa Arlen is my guest today to celebrate the release of her latest Lady Montfort historical mystery, A Death by Any Other Name. Today, she transports us to an idyllic English garden, just like the ones we will spend time in when reading Tessa's novels.

Welcome, Tessa!
~ Samantha

Guest Post by Tessa Arlen

I grew up in England where the natives have a deep reverence for their gardens. My mother and both my grandmothers were dedicated gardeners and when I moved with my family to the rainy American Northwest twenty five years ago it seemed it was my destiny to take advantage of this wonderfully temperate climate to create a garden. And a very English cottage garden it is too!

Creating a garden is like a visual form of writing a novel in that you dream up an idea and set about putting it into tangible form. You plan a garden design (plot) and populate it with a variety of colorful and interesting characters. Weeding, pruning, and transplanting are very like editing a novel.  My passion for gardening has crept into my historical mystery series featuring amateur sleuths Clementine Talbot the Countess of Montfort and her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, in the England of the early 1900s. So it is not surprising that if I am a keen gardener then my main character, Lady Montfort, is too!

‘Serious interests’ filled the empty hours of the leisured classes in the early 20th century, and in Clementine and Jackson’s latest adventure together they become involved with an eccentric group of very gossipy amateur rosarians.  So I thought it would be fun to introduce Gertrude Jekyll, the real-life garden designer, to judge a rose competition at the Hyde Rose Society. It is rather cheeky of me to put Miss Jekyll on the spot as in reality I don’t think she would be caught dead judging a rose competition –especially of hybrid roses.

Miss Jekyll designed some of the most beautiful gardens in England, Europe and America. She bred a number of herbaceous specimens that we grow in our gardens today, and she was also a writer, and talented water colorist –most notably of her beautiful gardens at Munstead Wood in Surrey. But she was chiefly known as a garden architect and her designs still influence garden landscapes across the world today.

So what’s so wrong with hybrid roses you might ask that Gertrude Jekyll’s name should not be linked to them even in a piece of light-hearted fiction? Nothing at all –these are the roses you buy in your local supermarket and florist. They come in an acceptable red, pink, white or yellow, their stems are long, straight, and thornless. Sadly they have no scent whatsoever, but they are uniformly identical, affordable and long lived, cultivated in rows by the mile for mass consumption. 

Imagine you are walking in a beautiful garden on a warm summer evening, there is a delicious scent in the air reminiscent of jasmine, honeysuckle or is it sweet-peas? You round a yew hedge and there in the fading light of a summer evening is a garden of roses.

Their colors are subtle: pure reds, carmine and blush pink; pale golds and deep yellows, and the purest white. Their petals are layered and delicate. Some look like great double peonies; others are simple saucers surrounding yellow tasseled stamens. Many of them date back to the time of the Roman Empire when they were revered for their beauty and fragrance and still live on today in other strains and varieties. These are the old roses of poetry and love songs: Alba, Bourbon, China, Damask, Gallica, Moss, and Noisette. Just the names alone are wonderfully romantic. Here are some of my favorite varieties.

Alba Roses are tree roses that often reach six feet in height from a family that date back to the Middle Ages. Flowers are usually pink, blush and white and are set off by their gray-green foliage, creating a delicate beauty that is unequaled.  Here is Rosa: (below) a delicate pink and white rose with a delicious fragrance reminiscent of ripe apples. 

Bourbon Roses have a unique heritage. The French developed this rose to be a perfect blend of strength and beauty, with stout branches and magnificent clusters of translucent blooms, ranging in color from deep red to delicate pink and a truly pure white, this is a stately rose with noble elegance.  Here is Louise Odier (below), one of the most beautiful of the great Bourbon roses with an exquisitely rich lavender-like perfume.

China Roses were developed before the 10th century and are by far the most exotic of the old roses. Their silky flowers are in rich hues of red, pink and yellow.  Here is one of the most beautiful of China roses: Old Blush (below) a historically important rose because it is the ancestor of many of our modern day roses, I love it because of its sweet pea fragrance.

Damask Roses have graced the world since ancient times and gave birth to thousands of new varieties while maintaining their own unique heritage. Damask blooms are held on open airy branches and are almost always clear pink in color. World renowned for its fine fragrance it is often grown for perfume production. Here is Celsiana (below) an outstanding rose with magnificent perfume. I love the tassel of stamens in its center.

Gallicas are the oldest of the garden roses, and date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Later, they were bred by the Dutch and French, as many of the names indicate. Gallicas are fine varieties with great color range for old roses. They offer shades of pink, reds, purples and even crimson-red with stripes. They are heavy bloomers and are very fragrant. Here is Rosa Mundi: ‘Fair Rosamund’ (below) named after the mistress of King Henry II one of the most famous of all old garden roses.

And here are the roses of Victorian England! Moss Roses are actually Centifolia Roses and Damasks that have developed a distinctive fragrant moss-like growth on the sepals, adding elegance to the flowers. They come in almost all colors and some varieties are repeat blooming. Here is Alfred de Dalmas a ballerina of a rose with semi-double blooms and the most delightful jasmine-like fragrance!

Noisette Roses can be grown as climbers –they flower in abundance and have a delicate spicy fragrance. Colors range from white, crimson, and purple. In the opening chapter of A Death By Any Other Name, Clementine is sitting under a bower of white Madame Alfred Carriere roses, one of the most fragrant of the Noisettes. 

Miss Jekyll only used old garden roses in her designs and in her own garden, so now you see why it is rather unfair of me to have put her in the position of judging roses that were becoming very fashionable in English gardens, simply because they bloomed all year and in a range of exciting new colors, or as Gertrude Jekyll cautions the Hyde rosarians “Colors never seen before in nature!”

Connect with the Author

Tessa Arlen is the author of the Lady Montfort historical mystery series set in England in the early 1900s.  Her latest book in the series A Death by Any Other Name was released March 14, 2017.

You can find out more about Tessa’s books and her blog Redoubtable Edwardians on her website:

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