I SHALL NOW try to explain why, after several years' effort, I have a young plant of a climbing rose that most gardeners (most new gardeners, at least) would not have if you paid them to grow it.
The rose is called 'Polyantha grandiflora,' a bad name for it since it is not a wild rose, not a species. It should have a garden-variety name like 'Peace' and I suppose this is not the place to say it has always galled me that 'Peace' is the name given to that fat bloated complacent scentless amalgamation of tissue raised by Meilland and widely called the most important rose of our century, I am not fond of 'Peace,' actually, since it has most of the faults I find unforgivable in a rose.
Of course no rose is perfect, and you learn soon enough to forgive, in an otherwise wonderful rose, a lack of scent or some other severe defect. But there is no reason to forgive utter gracelessness merely because the rose happens to grow like a rank weed.
Now what I wanted was a climbing rose that would reach 20 or 25 feet, well perfumed, graceful, reblooming, showy, handsom in fruit, blessed with good foliage, reasonably healthy and tough.
The climbing form of 'Peace' would have met many of the requirements for health and vigor, at least.
But the rose I got is said to be strongly scented of oranges, said to have clusters of five-petaled white flowers with yellow-orange stamens, followed by masses of small red-orange fruits that hold on through the winter.
It is not very different from the wild Rosa multiflora, the big brier that is sometimes used for highway planting or for rough hedgerows around farms.
The wild R. multiflora, you will notice, varies a good bit, some plants handsomer than others. Once in an old Virginia churchyard I was amazed at a bush of R. multiflora in full bloom, perfuming the air, the flowers very white of firm substance. It was merely the understock of a garden rose that had since died, permitting the understock to grow and bloom.
Now I had seen R. multiflora often enough without especially admiring it, but come to think of it I had not seen that wild rose treated as a garden plant worthy of care -- and sometimes a rose changes past recognition when it is given a mulch of manure and has the old wood pruned out every few years.
Anyway, I was better off from having seen R. multiflora in the churchyard, because after that I did not make the mistake of many gardeners, to suppose the wild R. multiflora is worthless as an ornamental.
It is one of a handful -- rather a large handful -- of quite large (and sometimes tremendous) plants belonging to the Musk Rose section of the genus Rosa. They are almost all given to white flowers of only five petals, borne in clusters and blooming for two weeks or so, then shutting up shop for the year. Mostly they bear large clusters of small red or red-orange or orange fruits, and mostly the flowers of these wild roses are highly perfumed, a scent that is carried free in the air, unlike most scented flowers that must be sniffed.
In my new garden my first act was to cut down and butcher as many Norway maples and wild cherries as I could afford or manage, but there was a large maple toward the back that I left, sawing off most of its branches with the idea of using it to support a climber.
My first scheme for that tree (which like so many other bright ideas of gardeners did not work at all) was to smother it with the violet-red purple rambler rose, 'Violette,' tangled with the white wild musk rose, R. Soulieana. It was not a bad idea, I still think, except that the R. soulieana that I acquired, after much shopping about, had plain green leaves, not the gray-green leaves it is supposed to have.
For R. soulieana is variable, too, and of course I got exactly the form I didn't want. Also, 'Violette' strongly resisted being tangled up in any Soulieanan embrace, and try as I might I could not persuade it to grow south into the musk tangle.
So that was that.
I then decided it would do very well to grow the great and glorious climbing hybrid tea, 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' 12 feet southeast of the trunk, coaxing it over to the maple, and growing a white form of the Japanese wisteria 12 feet to the southwest of the tree.
'Violette' would stay as she was, 15 feet northeast of the tree, making a purple mound back of the pink climber.
Then the wild R. soulieana would be allowing to stay foundering about on the tree trunk up to 12 feet (as it has been doing) but a more vigorous wild musk would be planted to go 25 feet up the tree.
I thought the beautiful wild R. helenae would be just the thing, and I will spare you an account of my two years trying to get it. As I say, all these musk roses are much of a muchness, so when the great R. helenae project fell through (the nursery discontinued it and could not provide plants any more), I thought of many substitutes.
For some reason I did not want the exquisite garden variety 'Silver Moon,' partly because it has not fruit but partly because it does not have a wild look. Just here let me say I grew up seeing 'Silver Moon' growing 30 feet into oak trees. It is one of the most glorious of all roses, and if one could have only one rose in a garden, I can imagine 'Silver Moon' as the choice. Still, it was not what I wanted in the maple. I was tempted by 'Wedding Day,' a hybrid of R. sino-wilsonii useful for smothering a garage with flowers for a few days, but decided against it because it has no gorgeous crop of berries and it flowers spot in the rain, I read somewhere.
I thought maybe R. filipes would be the thing, or R. longicuspis, and acquired seeds of them, raising them carefully in pots kept outdoors in the winter, etc., but nothing germinated in three years so that was that.
Then I thought of 'Polyantha grandiflora,' which looks very like R. multiflora only with somewhat larger flowers. The size of the flower, I should point out, is not very important. Just think of the lilac, with tiny blooms, yet the cluster is large and showy; so it is with certain wild roses -- it is the general lavishes of bloom, not the size of the individual flower, that counts.
For years (as you may read in G. S. Thomas' wonderful rose books) 'Polyantha grandiflora' was sold as Rosa gentiliana, one of the Chinese wild musk roses. These wild musks vary in relatively minor details, so the confusion was understandable. I suppose many gardeners proud of their wild R. gentiliana in fact have the garden hybrid 'Polyantha grandiflora.'
Having at last decided on the Pig ('Polyantha grandiflora') I then discovered I could not find it at an American nursery. So I ordered it from England. It arrived in mid-December and was put into quarantine (as imported roses are), and it sat on a farm in Virginia, presumably under the eye of watchful quarantine authorities, for two full years.
I ordered this and some other plants with a friend, and it was on his farm the rose was quarantined. And then, horrible to relate, he sold the farm while the rose was still in quarantine.
I resolved never to mention it to him -- he must have been having enough trauma moving, without being pestered about a rose that looked like a blackberry (as he described it once). But I was sore at heart.
And then -- for this is such a miraclous season -- he phoned. He had not forgotten old Pig and had arranged with the new owner of the farm to have it dug up, once the quarantine was over. My friend (on whom be showers of immortal blessings) dug it up and brought it by last week, and it was planted within an hour near the terrible maple.
I mention this to illustrate a whole bevy of gardening morals all at once:
You have to visualize what you want, and you have to find out what plants will produce the effect you want. You have to weigh many things -- faults and merits weighted in your own particular balance. You may compromise, forgetting Helen for Pig, so to speak, and you may have to try more than once. As I did when I tried R. soulieana and found it not quite right for the purpose.
You have to expect trouble finding Pig, because nurseries grow nothing but 'Peace.' You have to get your hackles up: After all, you gave up R. helenae and you don't propose to give up endlessly or you'll wind up with 'Peace' yourself.
So you push. You finally find the Pig in England. Then there is the endless quarantine. Then your friend sells his farm. All is lost, all is lost.
And then it is not all lost. Your friend comes through. You have the Pig. Safe at last. Now all I do is wait five more years for it to grow up the tree.
I was not born yesterday, and I know that after this I may not like 'Polyantha grandiflora' after all. It would be a help, of course, if rose societies did more than they do to encourage the love and cultivation of beautiful roses, and did not so consistently sit on their complacencies admiring a gross bush of 'Peace.' You might think, is this rich capital, there would be a rose garden that gave some notion what roses really are, what the bounds of their glory is, but there is no such garden.
One last word about 'Peace.' As a climber it is showy, healthy, and the relatively poor scent makes no difference in a huge climber up in the air. It can be very beautiful -- the climbing form -- in its way. As a climber it does not look so gross as the bush form.
But of course it is not all what you want -- or what I wanted -- to smother the Norway maple. How nice if we could go to a public garden and see for ourselves what different kinds of roses are capable of. Since there is nothing remotely approaching such a garden here, we founder along as best we can, wasting years and years.
I cannot think why -- especially on bad days -- but every atom of bone cries out that it is important not to give up on this sort of garden project.
Here, years later, I have a cut-back plant of old Pig. By now I could have had an enormous rose plant up the tree, and been seven years to the good.
Let it be as it is. I don't have 'Blaze' and I won't have 'Peace' and I won't have any other rose that is scentless, graceless, gawky, strident of fat. So that's that.
Here we are back at the ugly maple seven years from the first planning with nothing to show for it. There will come a time, God willing, my lovely Pig will grow along, with the great perfumed Madame in front and the dusky purple mound for background, the long clusters of white wisteria a canopy; the touch of scarlet from 'Will Scarlet' and the billows of the clematis 'Perle d'Azur' to the west. And if it ever comes to fulfillment, perhaps somebody will say, "How pretty in a tangled sort of way. Of course you have rich soil."
Then after that, or even before, maybe, somebody else will have this land and in a weekend of exuberant tidying up will cut everything down, and that will be all right, too.
Now, in the time of this mortal life, is the time to put on the armor of light, as you might say, and fight for the Pig and for your own notion of a beauty that can come to be.
The late E. A. Bowles, eminent gardener, used to quote a beastly child who said that faith if belief in what can't happen; hope is belief in what won't happen, and charity if belief in what people say has happened.
True. But faith is also the belief that even if it never happens, the gardener's life is well spent roaring and carrying on until it does. Alleluia.