To wind up on the topic of offbeat old-fashioned roses, a word should be said about a few ramblers or climbers not often seen.
There are several small-flowered ramblers with purple flowers, among them 'Veilchenblau' and 'Violette,' the first one slightly scented and the other one not.
'Veilchenblau' has great clusters of blue-violet, somewhat faded blooms on a plant with rather coarse foliage. The flowers are the size of pennies, fairly double, with white lines here and there in the petals, and sometimes the plant gets mildew. It is frequently insulted by gardeners who cannot stand roses less clear and brilliant than a stoplight, and this is one of those few roses actively despised by many.
For all that, its color is singular, and the plant can be whacked into shape as a good-sized bush. With pale yellow or strident pink flowers this rose can make an impressive contribution.
Somewhat better is 'Violette,' which is much the same, except the foliage is handsomer, it has virtually no thorns, and its color begins as a strong rich crimson-purple that fades to violet. It is more decided and less washy in its color at all stages than 'Veilchenblau.'
It should be handsome indeed with a soft yellow rambler, and this may be the place to say 'Aglaia' is available, a small-flowered pale yellow rambler with a fine scent. It is said to be less generous with flowers than it should be, and I know it only by reputation, but it might be worth trying by gardeners who have had a bellyful of 'Blaze' and other roses that everybody grows. Most yellow roses fade, so forget it if 'Aglaia's' progress to the light side is going to bother you.
The roses mentioned last week and today are available from specialists in these not very popular varieties, including Pickering Nurseries, 670 Kingston Rd., Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1V 1A6; and Roses of Yesterday and Today, 802 Brown's Valley Rd., Watsonville, Calif. 95076.
I do not know a source at the moment for a wonderful pink climbing rose of the 1920s, 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' which used to be extremely popular in Washington. Its large semidouble ruffled pink flowers with deeper carmine on the reverse of the petals, nicely scented, are handsomer than most pink roses. Surely somebody will start propagating it again. Its defect, like these roses mentioned above, is that it blooms two or three weeks in late April or May and stops until the next spring. It sends out gawky 15-foot canes and is not very graceful. It is my favorite pink climber, however.
Maybe some gardeners who like roses have been discouraged by the low ratings given them by the American Rose Society. The ratings are quite useful in one sense, that if you see a rose like 'Pink Parfait' listed in a catalogue with a rating of 8.4, you can be fairly sure it grows well and most people will like it. I very much like it myself. But the high rating does not mean you will necessarily like it. It is simply a general guide to the taste (and success with that particular variety) of those members of the society who reported on the rose.
When the rose-red pillar rose 'Gladiator' came out a few years ago, the Potomac Rose Society contributors to the national rating system gave it a rating above 9. Its national rating is now 6.6, and you might think something awful happened to this rose to account for the drop, for a rating of 9 means a sensational rose and a rating of 6.6 means a substandard rose.
All this means is that the Potomac vote showed its growers here thought it was one of the finest of all roses, and its present national rating simply means that nationally it has not found favor.
It is the same rose it always was, however, and its chief fault is its stinginess in producing flowers, and I mention all this merely to show there is nothing magical or especially authoritative about ratings.
A quite gorgeous pink climber, 'Pink Perpetue' has a rating of 6.3, which might discourage anybody. It probably has not grown well with those who gave it such a low standing, but it is a glorious rose for all that.
The white rugosa shrub rose 'Blanc Double de Coubert' has an extraordinary rating of 8.5, which is far too high in my view, while the pink rugosa 'Sarah Van Fleet,' which I much prefer, is saddled with a 6.5, far too low.
I think it might help if there were two ratings, one for the plant's health, vigor, freedom from disease and general performance, and another for the plant's flowers. You could dislike the flowers, say, while conceding the plant is first-rate. As it is, you do not know whether a rose with a low rating does not grow well for those who report on it or whether they do not like the blooms. No harm is done if a rose is overrated, probably, but some harm is done if it has a rating of 6. The hybrid tea 'Peace' has a rating of 8.5 (down from 9.0) partly because it grows so well and is so vigorous, and partly because most people like the flowers. I actively dislike them, despite their lovely color (pale yellow to white, often touched with pink) because there is no scent at all, and the blooms do not seem to me beautiful, though well shaped and all that. A rose mentioned last week as a great favorite, the pink damask 'Gloire de Guilan,' has a rating of 6.5, while the white damask 'Mme. Hardy,' has a thomping 8.8.
So you might think the white one is unparalleled and the pink one fairly awful. When I lost the white, I did not replace it; when I lost the pink, I did. This means that rating or no rating I like 'Gloire' better than 'Hardy,' and I mention this not to boast of my perversity but to assure you that if ratings do not always coincide with my taste, they may not with yours, either.
Many roses that are not popular are not popular because they are not commercially pushed and promoted. Clearly a great rose firm cannot grow everything and naturally firms promote their own wares; and they have learned the way to keep people interested in roses is to acquire new varieties year after year, which is fine. Nothing wrong with new roses. All roses were once new, after all, even the oldest.
It is, however, a simple factual error for a gardener to suppose a rose no longer in general commerce has been vastly improved by a variety that is; or to suppose that the current crop of new roses is more beautiful than older sorts.
There has never been a better red hybrid tea than 'Etoile de Hollande,' for example -- more beautiful than 'Chrysler Imperial' or, for that matter, 'Crimson Glory' or 'Mr. Lincoln.' Yet it is now hard to find.
As far as I am concerned, a rose needs to be beautiful, first of all, and beautiful to my eye, and fragrant and a good grower. 'Violette' is scentless, and I keep it because of its incredible color; 'Marechal Niel' is a martyr to canker and does not stand cold and is in general a terrible grower up here, but it seems to me beautiful and it has an almost unrivaled smell.
Any gardener makes exceptions to his firm rules, about roses or anything else. I think many gardeners would be happy to try a few roses, including those that bloom only in spring, that may have faults (as the Lord knows all roses do) but that also have exceptional merits of scent, color or shape; which is why I mention some of the offbeat kinds.
You have been warned before that pups like to gnaw on clematis stems when teething. I am sorry indeed to report that my wife's Welsh terrier, Max, has gnawed a prized clematis off at the ground. There were two stems, both the size of broom handles or a bit larger. The plant was glorious and after three years' guidance had been led to fill a 4-by-8 foot panel on a shed wall to perfection. Chewed right through at ground level, and now swinging in the breeze. The wretched beast grew his 265 teeth two years ago. He pressed through a guard of four wooden fence pickets to accomplish his disaster. Barbed wire, mildly electrified, is probably the solution, or divorce.