Roses for Remembrance

The Rose Garden at East Finchley Cemetery

Dear Readers, I have always had a bit of a strained relationship with roses. They are so much hard work, what with the pruning, the black spot, the feeding, the greenfly, and for most of the year they are just spikey stumps. And yet, today I was in the memorial rose garden at East Finchley Cemetery, and for once I could see why people love them so much. It was a warm day, and the roses were in full bloom in all their myriad colours, but what struck me most was the extraordinary heady scent.

We think we know what roses smell like, and yet there are a wide variety of different scents. David Austin is credited with reviving the interest in old-fashioned roses, with their heady fragrance and blowsy, loose-petalled blooms that just beg you to bury your nose in them. The roses below are just ones that looked particularly fine, rather than being illustrative of the scent type – if you are interested in seeing what’s what, you can see rose varieties organised in this way on the website (linked below).

The David Austin website describes five main categories of scent:

Fruity –Found across all colors of English Roses, fruity fragrances are diverse in nature, ranging from zesty citrus scents to rich berry and exotic fruit aromas. With notes such as apple, mango and elderflower, fruity fragrances are fresh and uplifting, each with their own delicious twist.

Myrrh – This distinctive scent holds a majestic spiciness and the aromatic warmth of sweet anise. Found almost exclusively in English Roses, it can be an acquired taste due to the medicinal character of the licorice notes.

Old Rose –Seen as the classic rose fragrance, it is traditional in nature, with warm, heady notes, often softened with a dash of sweetness. Unique in its character; and reminiscent of rose perfumes, it is arguably the most delicious of all the rose fragrances and can be found almost exclusively in pink and red roses 

Tea – True to its name, the Tea Rose scent is often said to resemble a freshly opened packet of tea. In English Roses, the aroma most frequently appears in the yellows and apricots. A complex fragrance , it can have sweeter elements of violets and fruitiness mixed with spicy, tar-like qualities of the dominating tea notes.

And finally Musk –The musk scent, resembling the old musk used in perfumes, is a warm, rich fragrance that can be both sweet and spicy and, at times, is dominated by the scent of cloves. Unlike other fragrance types, musk is produced in the stamens rather than in the petals of a rose. Musk is often found in ramblers, where the sheer abundance of flowers produces a heady blanket of perfume.

Taken altogether, the roses in the cemetery produce a symphony of perfume  – there are lemon notes, distinctively ‘rosy’ notes, chocolate, violet, creamy softness and even a note of bitterness. And so many loved ones, celebrated in so many different colours and styles of rose, from little shrub roses with tight buds to looser flowers that attracted hoverflies and bees.

And of course it reminded me of Dad and Mum, and how Dad delighted in making sure that the roses were beautiful every year. They were Mum’s favourite flower, and when she managed to buy a silver rose bowl in my local East Finchley charity shop she was delighted. When I visited Dorset earlier this year, I wandered around past their bungalow (the first time I’ve felt emotionally strong enough to do this) and I was pleased to see that the roses are still thriving.

Roses cut from Mum and Dad’s garden in 2017, just before they went into the nursing home.

And so I think that maybe I’ve been way too dismissive of roses. It’s true that they aren’t always the best plants for pollinators (though the more open-flowered, natural-looking ones do attract bees) but maybe I could find space for one or two. I find it impossible to look at the David Austin website without getting excited. Any views, Readers? Who has roses in their garden? And are they worth it in your view?

3 thoughts on “Roses for Remembrance

  1. Anne

    We inherited some roses with our garden some 35 years ago now and I was delighted, especially as some were very old. Sadly, years of drought killed them all. I was impressed by the variety of heavenly smelling roses at the botanical gardens in Kristiansand and admire them in other people’s gardens. They require far too much effort for me.

  2. gertloveday

    We live in a country town that has fiercely hot summers and freezing winters. Roses thrive there. Not just in our garden, but all around roses bloom abundantly for many months of the year.

  3. Vic156

    I wasn’t keen on them when younger, thought they were an old-fashioned sort of flower (whatever I thought that meant!)

    But my Mum was so proud of the very long lived roses she had planted in our small garden when I was a child – the old classics including Peace and Ena Harkness – and 40 years later I enjoyed tending them when she was no longer well enough to do it herself.

    So gradually in the years since she died I have somehow acquired a few roses, and then a few more, and come to love them.

    I have mostly chosen old fashioned scents as they are so evocative. My favourite is the Generous Gardener which smells heavenly and repeat flowers for months. It is very vigorous and aptly named.

    I also have a couple of delightful less scented repeat flowering ones. Tottering along Gently is a pale yellow open rose that also flowers prolifically for months; the flowers do not last long but there are always more.

    In the increasingly changeable climate my roses have been so resilient, defying drought and downpour and often producing buds right up till the beginning of winter.

    Of course you have to not mind being regularly stabbed but you will be rewarded by how beautiful they look and the scents which will enchant you.


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