WALKING THE hound down the alley this week, I was pleased to see the rose 'Peace' in its climbing form with about 30 flowers open.
There is more than one form of this climber in cultivation. I suspect, since some bloom in the fall more freely than others. Incidentally, if this climber is rather sharply pruned, on a 6-foot wire fence, it makes a tremendous show in May, and sometimes the blooms then are strong yellow.
It nevers has any scent worth speaking of, but it can be very handsome, and is a fine exuberant grower.
How different from 'Marechal Niel,' the yellow climber of the 1860s, which I propose to try once again in this spring.
It is a rose, let me quickly say, that nobody should grow unless he can cope with almost certain disaster. It is a rose for rose nuts.
It gets canker with marvelous ease. It is killed outright in cold winters. In any case, it does not make a handsome plant, and in our climate will almost always look sickly, even if more or less alive.
I say that lest some innocent gardener is led astray to the great Marechal, when all he wants is a rose that is healthy and free flowering. If that's what you want, the obvious yellow climber is 'Golden Showers,' which behaves quite well and is possibly the "best" yellow for normal sane gardeners to try.
It is not, of course, 'Marechal Niel,' and for years I have tried to think why the marechal is the greatest of yellow roses. It must be the perfume, which is basically a tea fragrance but far more intense, perhaps with the musk rose mixed in.
The gawky leggy plant has rather light green leaves, a bit of drooping.
The flowers are very double, and the stems on which they are borne are quite weak, so the flowers usually hang down in a somewhat hang-dog way.
I will say one thing for the Marechal, he does not get black spot or mildew to speak of. The flowers get sticky and messy in wet weather.
One of its numerous descendants, the great climber 'Golden Dawn' has the same perfume, better foliage and stalks, and is far hardier to cold - a really glorious plant, though it rarely blooms after the great spring flowering is over.
The appeal of the Marechal may be, simply, that it is very difficult, and it is also possible that its generally said appearance excited a determination in the gardener that by God it is going to live in spite of everything. Maybe if this rose grew easily and looked healthy, we could take it or leave it.
On the other hand, I never knew a gardener that grew 'Marechal Niel' who did not think it the grandest of his roses. It is like Vietnam, probably - when you have invested that much agony in something, it's hard to say the whole thing was one great unspeakable mistake.
The flowers are a bit deeper in color than butter, very yellow but not a very strong yellow. Two or three of them in a shallow basin (you can forget long cutting stems and think yourself lucky if it blooms at all) will perfume a room.
If any wishes to grow a rose so recalcitrant, so perverse, so certain to be lost, I recommend first of all a wall facing south. Not just any wall facing south, either. It must not be overhung with branches or thick with other shrubs.
It should be a foot or so higher than the surrounding land if possible, since the Marechal likes a dry bottom. The opposite of a forest floor. The soil should be rich, the kind you wind up with if you mulch with rotted cow manure for 20 years or so.
Special attention must be given to supplying the rose buckets of water through the summer, but it does not stand a damp place any better than a peach tree.
In the winter it would be well to wrap the main stems with paper for a couple of feet above the ground, and to mound up a considerable pile of cut honeysuckle branches on the ground over its roots.
I am not sure it is worth the bother unless, of course, you are somewhat out of your mind to begin with.
Sometimes people say flattering things about plant breeders, and I am much in their debt for things they have raised over the years from wild plants. At the same time, I would like them better if they could turn out a 'Marechal Niel' a little bit hardier, a little bit better garden plant, but the same magical flowers. They have not.
'Golden Dawn,' as I mentioned, can be as spectacular as any rose in the world, but it is not as exciting as the Marechal.
So once again I will try it. Finding plants, even from rose specialists a thousand miles distant, is almost impossible. They are usually sold out. Sometimes I darkly suspect they don't raise any plants but just list them for the fun of it.
And if I plant it March 15, I expect grave problems getting it going. Sometimes it sits there doing nothing. Sometimes it sends up a 6-foot stem with a rose or two at the top, then sulks and dies the next winter. But if, some year, it were to get going and eventually make a sturdy plant 10 or 12 feet high (in warmer climates it makes a huge plant) with 60 blooms open at once, the end of May, well I would never ask the heavens for anything else again as long as I lived. Until the next difficulty.