One of the finest roses of England or anywhere else is the shrub called 'Marguerite Hilling.' It is a strident pink, sometimes called "rich flsh color," and it blooms massively in sping and fall, with the irises and again with the late dahlias. And a few flowers in between.
It is a sport of the white rose 'Nevada,' which is one of the most fashionable roses of our century. All the best people grow it. I never liked it worth a hoot, so I was astonished that its pink sport is so lovely.
The flower is three inches wide, semidouble, moderately but agreeably scented. It gets blackspot but seems to live with it all right. It makes a bush about six feet high and wide, and looks fine leaning against a fence or free-standing.
'Nevada' is supposed to be a seedling of the wild red Rosa moyesii. The wild plant is gawky, 12 feet high, with foliage somewhat like a locust's, and the blood-red blooms are as beautiful as any wild rose in the world. In America the deep blood color often does not come true, and you get strange pinks. A better rose for the garden is 'Geranium,' which only grows to seven feet and is generally more manageable, with flowers identical to the best form of R. moyesii, and with the same glossy red fruit in late summer.
I have never seen in 'Nevada' any resemblance to R. moyesii, but when you see it in bloom in full perfection, as I did at the Oxford Botanic Gardens, you admit it is lovely.
Since the sport is to my mind much handsomer than the white parent, it is 'Marguerite Hilling' alone that I grow. It is not widely grown by American nurseries, but I bought my plant from Pickering Nurseries, 670 Kingston Rd., Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1V 1A6.
On the wall of St. John's College, Oxford, are two magnificent examples of the climbing pink rose 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' which is regarded in England as perhaps the best pink climber though it blooms only once, with the garden irises, and not a peep out of it the rest of the year. I have spoken often of this rose, which for all practical purposes is out of commerce in America. Once it was regarded as the best pink climber for Washington. It is a phenomenon of the rose business that superb roses are dropped from the lists and newer roses substituted. Many of which are not worth a fried damn. Both 'Nevada' and 'Mme. Gregoire Staechelin,' by coincidence, were raised in Spain by Pedro Dot, and the Madame I consider one of the great roses of the world. It does not speak well for American nurserymen that she is not to be had nowadays, but then rose nurseries do not expect you to speak well of them, as long as they can keep selling stuff.
I also saw at Oxford two famous old climbing roses, neither of which is in commerce generally and neither of which I would grow myself, 'Amadis' and 'Blush Boursault,' both of them roses of the last century and very showy, but not in the first rank for beauty. I am glad they are preserved in occasional old gardens, but do not consider them any great loss.
Another rose you see everywhere in England -- and used to see everywhere here -- is 'Mermaid,' one of the greatest of all garden roses. It has single yellow flowers, well perfumed, accompanied by excellent glossy foliage that does not suffer from disease (though it gets a bit of blackspot, nothing serious). It blooms steadily spring till Thanksgiving and is vigorous. One of the finest plants I ever saw was in Memphis where it went completely around a good-sized house. It also makes a superb free-standing shrub 10 feet high and 8 feet thick. It is a scandal that this rose is virtually impossible to find now in American nurseries. It is said to be hard to propagate in the nursery, a statement that makes no sense since it was once widely available, and it grows well enough from cuttings.
One trouble is that the American gardening press often does not know beans about roses to begin with, so people do not rear up on their hind legs and demand such superb things as the three I have mentioned.
Yet another climber, 'Climbing Cecile Brunner,' is also almost impossible to find in America, with its cluster of small shell-pink scented sweetheart flowers. It makes a great climber to 35 feet if allowed to romp; otherwise it reposes nicely on a fence. It does not rebloom much. The owner of a famous English rose nursery told me if he could have only one rose it would be this.
At Pusey House, one of the famous gardens of England, I admired for the hundredth time Mme. G.S. and another pink climber, now largely out of commerce, 'Mary Wallace,' an American rose from the early 20th century, and a good one, though it does not rebloom worth speaking of.
At this garden I noticed the 200-year-old holm oaks (Quercus ilex) had been killed by winter cold. They were probably weak through age and a bitter winter did them in. I was told it would take them about three years to die, but they were past saving. It is hard to lose treasured old trees, and this is a lesson that even after 200 years you can lose plants that are on the tender side. These oaks are better adapted to the climate of Rome than of England, but you might think two centuries enough to demonstrate their hardiness there.
At Yew Tree Cottage in the Cotswolds I admired a fine plant of Cistus battanderi in full bloom. This has candlestick flowers that smell like pineapples only better, and it looks tender, as if it ought to be hanging over a garden wall in Madeira. It was a favorite plant of the celebrated Maryland nurseryman Henry Hohman, who was forever calling our attention to its virtue and its surprising hardiness. I saw it in England in some fairly cold gardens, not against a wall but out in the open. It is a plant we should grow more often.
Gardeners often wonder what to do about crocuses that have died down. Some of the best ones that bloom in late winter (that is, February and March) will seed themselves about and make fine dense patches. Among these one of the best is the wild Crocus tomasinianus with lavender flowers, varying in tint and tone from light to dark. After they bloom you wonder about that bare earth. At Yew Tree Cottage Mrs. Shuker and Mrs. Strange, superb gardeners, grow sweeps of the yellow and white annual Limnanthes douglasii right over the dormant corms, thus achieving a long season of summer color, and not garish either, but soft yellow and white. We could do the same if we just thought of planting the seeds in spring.
Another plant I admired here was Hieracium villosum. Since it is a hawkweed, I thought anybody such as myself should be able to grow it. I have always done extremely well with weeds, and once had the handsomest plantains of the Eastern seaboard. This hawkweed has beautiful gray leaves and yellow hawkweed flowers. Seed is sold by the great firm of Thompson and Morgan, Box 100, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727. They will pardon me, I hope, for citing only this agreeable weed among their hundreds of treasures.