I LOVE purple roses. From the beginning of this passion of mine, this color has fascinated me. Perhaps it's because it is the closest to a true blue rose there is. Haven't we all bought one because it was touted as being "blue"?
The first one that lured me in was the old hybrid china CARDINAL DE RICHELIEU. Its smooth wood, small, fat buds, and true violet petals with their white bases and reverses were quite a thrill. Even though I no longer grow it, they still are when I enjoy it in someone else's garden or at the Huntington. THAT'S the color I really want to breed into a modern bloom. The CARDINAL suckered his way madly through my original garden in Granada Hills and gave the most reliable spring bloom of any of the gallicas and hybrid Chinas I had attempted. If you have the room and the patience for a plant which refuses to be controlled, and if you have a yearning for a REAL violet rose, look no further. Give him his head and he will reward you with a few weeks of these wonderful flowers.
Next, I jumped more than a hundred years in rose development, and had to have the floribunda INTRIGUE. What a stupendous color and fragrance! The petals were the color of Grape Nehi, with their exquisite velvety sheen and heavy, lemony smell. Unfortunately, these qualities were very conditional, and the heat and brilliant sun light in that garden weren't the conditions they demanded. When it was good, none could beat it. Most of the time, anyone could.
It was only natural that REINE DES VIOLETTES should come home to live with me. It sort of followed me home like a kitten and has been here ever since. I can see where this would be a great rose in a cooler climate where the real violet and blue tints would regularly develop and persist. My conditions are too hot and alkaline, so I frequently get to enjoy pale lilac flowers. A liberal working of peat moss around the base of the plant one year did cure the chlorosis and produced many wonderful blue-violet blooms. Graham Stuart Thomas wrote of this rose that often excitement spreads concerning the latest "blue rose". He always wears a flower of REINE DES VIOLETTES in his lapel when going to see for himself to prove that nothing any bluer has been created since this one arrived in the 1860's. The prickle free canes and pepper scented foliage probably haven't hurt it either.
Modern Roses 8 teased me with MR. BLUEBIRD's description of "lavender-blue". I knew enough to realize that its stated parentage of OLD BLUSH X OLD BLUSH meant it was not the miniature it was called, and had to be a china. I sought it out, but was made a present of it before I could find it. It has never disappointed me. While the lavender tones are sometimes present, the blue isn't really true. But it is often really violet. The plant grows to about fifteen inches and is usually covered with one inch semi-double blooms in that dark, rich color. Some years after obtaining the rose, it was interesting to be able to ask its raiser, Ralph Moore, why he registered it as a miniature rather than the china it really is. He grinned and said, "in 1960, who bought china roses?" I'm glad he took the liberty, otherwise a really neat little rose may never have been given the chance it deserves. A few years ago, while selling roses at the Friends of the Huntington Plant Sale, a gentleman approached me asking for a dozen plants of a rose that would look good in a raised brick planter in front of his bright yellow house. I asked him how he felt about dark, clear violet for the purpose. He said he loved the idea. We only had eleven plants available, but I assured him he could easily root a twelfth. The idea excited him, and he gladly bought the plants. The following year he looked for me at the sale, and proudly told me of how beautiful the twelve MR. BLUEBIRDS were against the bright yellow wall. He had taken my suggestion and rooted the additional plant he wanted and was very pleased. His pleasure and gratitude increased my joy that day.
By this time, I was aggressively researching and collecting unusual roses with the idea of building a gene pool for the breeding I knew would eventually occur. The name Edward LeGrice had popped up so many times in connection with these treasures, but none of his really wild roses were readily available here in the US. One floribunda created by him was available from Muriel Humenick at Rose Acres. It was supposed to be a cross of a floribunda descended from STERLING SILVER with a dose of R. Californica, crossed with the gallica TUSCANY SUPERB. What imagination! This alone made NEWS a "must have", let alone the color, "beet-root purple". This is a little stiffer growing than its mother, LILAC CHARM, but every bit as floriferous. The foliage is an unusual olive green with greenish wood when mature. The buds are pointed and fat, and, when freshly open, are the most unbelievable color. It really is the color of beets, only it smells sweetly, unlike the vegetable, which has always impressed me as having the odor and taste of wet dirt. The flowers only have six to eight petals, and retain a faint cupped shape, filled with bright golden-yellow pollen. It amazes me how brilliant plant pigments can be each time I see it. It isn't violet, but it is as dark, rich and bright, with all of the blue impressions found in the other color.
EUGENE DE BEAUHARNAIS really caught my eye. Here is a short-growing, to about three feet, little bush that continually offers very full, quite old-fashioned, velvety, dark purple flowers all the time. The buds aren't graceful, nor elegant, but the intense, deep color is delicious. It's really a rose for a hedonist, as it is a bloom factory like a china should be, but wears flowers every bit as sumptuous as any old garden rose. Here's one for the smaller garden, or even a large pot. I think it would be wonderful on a patio tree.
PROSPERO came to live in my garden when it first became available from Canada. What a flower! Here is real violet velvet, and with fragrance. This is the rose that taught me what rust looked like, and in my first garden proved incurable. It has been wonderful in the Huntington Gardens and other private ones. Perhaps I'll give it another chance.
BABY FAURAX is a gem. Harry Wheatcroft wrote that his research had proved it to be the dwarf, repeat blooming sport of VEILCHENBLAU. Look at the two in bloom and see it for yourself. From the light green foliage to the flower form, violet to lilac-gray coloring and the white stripe in the petal, it looks for all the world as a VEILCHENBLAU that everyone should be able to make room for. BABY FAURAX makes a gorgeous tree rose. I inserted four buds of it into a four foot cane of CARDINAL HUME I had rooted. All four took and it is always a joy. Now the flowers are at eye level and can really be appreciated and worked for their pollen. I had wanted the four violet ramblers, VEILCHENBLAU, BLEU MAGENTA, VIOLETTE and ROSE MARIE VIAUD since reading of them and drooling over the pictures in Trevor Griffiths' wonderful first book, My World of Old Roses. Who has sixty plus feet of ANYTHING upon which to grow them? Each one is described as being capable of growing five meters (sixteen and a half feet each!).
HEINRICH KARSCH is a polyantha that is being reintroduced to us from Europe. When I first saw it in the growing fields in Watsonville year before last, I thought it to be either a tremendous clone of BABY FAURAX, or at least bred from it. I was quite surprised to find it is neither, but a 1927 Leenders polyantha resulting from a cross of ORLEANS ROSE and JOAN, a Pemberton hybrid musk. This is not as stumpy and thick-wooded a plant as BABY FAURAX, nor is the color as dark, but the flowers are larger with fewer but broader petals and of better shape. This one would also be great as a tree.
BLUE PETER aroused my curiosity one year while browsing through the Hortico catalog. The plant grew and bloomed acceptably, but the color was a little too red and temporary, and there just wasn't any shape to the flowers. It has gone to a better place.
SWEET CHARIOT one of the most delightful roses to come along in many years. Ralph Moore introduced it in 1984. It's a seedling of his miniature LITTLE CHIEF and the climber mentioned above, VIOLETTE. That such a perpetually blooming rose of such a deep, rich violet should come from this cross is wild. It is suitable for hanging baskets, where its intensely fragrant flowers are more easily enjoyed. In a smaller pot, it has weeping type growth. In the open ground, it produces stronger growth and can even be grown as a shrub. The foliage is a bright, rich green and sets off the deep, pompom flowers perfectly. It also looks terrific as a mini tree. Limberlost Roses sells it for landscape use. Try this one and you'll be sold.
The advertising photos of PURPLE TIGER had the same effect on me as those for INTRIGUE had more than a decade before. I couldn't wait to grow this one as it is unique in its velvety violet, lavender and white striped petals. There is a beautiful, though very fleeting stage where the form is a rosette and just drop-dead gorgeous. It even has a nice fragrance. But this booger just flat out refused to grow and live. Each plant I started did well in its five gallon can, but totally resented the open ground, dying back until it hit the bud union. The fourth plant I tried graduated from its five gallon can to a fifteen gallon, full of all the good stuff I could cram into it. This plant actually grew and bloomed without the progressive dieback of its predecessors. Last Thanksgiving, I was able to cut a half dozen opening blooms at that "just right" stage to be mixed with stems of SOUR GRAPES penstemon and several blooms of Ralph Moore's SECRET RECIPE. The latter is a newer, reddish-purple velvet and white striped moss miniature. These were all put into a cobalt vase and taken to Thanksgiving dinner. The elderly relative who received them has years of training and experience in Japanese arranging. She couldn't believe the colors and textures as she had never seen anything like them before. If you must have PURPLE TIGER, try it in a large pot so its roots will remain warm and put it on life support - the best feeding and watering schedule - to force it to grow and produce. SECRET RECIPE on the other hand, will grow and bloom beautifully no matter how you treat it. There hasn't been any problem with the high heat, wind, nor too infrequent waterings. It will give you many single blooms to the stem, on long, straight, very prickly, nicely cuttable ones as well as large clusters. This is a genetic moss, and it exhibits the mossing quite well.
In 1985, I was able to import three roses from the Harkness and LeGrice Nurseries which quickly became favorites. The first, GREAT NEWS, is one of the special roses created by Edward LeGrice, and is variously called a hybrid tea and a floribunda. The blooms are closer to what I would expect from a hybrid tea, while the stature and shape of the plant is closer to a 1970's floribunda. Modern Roses 8 really hooked me with the description, "pansy purple with silver reverse". In our heat and soil, the petals are often close to the pansy purple, but the silver has yet to be seen. It has sported to a pale lilac with darker pink veining. The original stem displaying the change was quite striking. The cluster was one half purple while the other half was lilac. The center bloom was split right down the middle as if it had been masked and painted. The foliage also showed the albinism, as it is a much lighter green. Luckily, it has stabilized, so there are plants of it around. GREAT NEWS is very dark and shows a great deal less of the muddy reddish tints so evident in INTRIGUE. It doesn't have much fragrance, but I've kept it instead of INTRIGUE as it has performed much better.
The next two were created by Jack Harkness, who frequently showed tremendous imagination in his breeding. CARDINAL HUME is a shrub with an extremely involved parentage including FRANK NAYLOR, one of his own shrubs descended from a long string of floribundas, FRUHLINGSMORGEN, and Kordes' EGLANTINE hybrid, CLARE GRAMMSERSTORF; more floribundas and R. Californica. The Harkness catalog stated that the color reminded them of CARDINAL DE RICHELIEU. It's a bit of a stretch in a literal sense, but with imagination I can see it. The bush is a lusty grower, never resting, always pushing out new basals and canes. Its growth habit reminds me of a very elegantly mannered ROBIN HOOD. The foliage is dense, dark and totally disease free for me. Plus, it never stops blooming. New laterals are freely thrown from the canes resulting in variously sized "lollipops" of very velvety, dark, dusky, many-petaled, deep red-violet flowers. Usually, they are cupped, showing many bright stamen with brilliant golden pollen. It's easy to cut a lateral and put it in a vase for an instant bouquet. They mix beautifully with other flowers and give very nice contrast of size, texture and fragrance. This CARDINAL is blessed with an intense fragrance that has been described in books and articles as "fresh mown hay", "frying fish, not smelly, the real good kind", and even musky. I still like what I smell in it. I call it hot cinnamon. This smells just like the little red candies, Red Hots, taste. The plant roots very easily and has even made an interesting and very easy rootstock for me. I really can't imagine why anyone wouldn't give CARDINAL HUME any room it wanted. This has been a very fertile parent as seemingly each flower sets a hip with viable seed. They germinate quite well and have produced many different plant and flower types and colors. I am very interested to see what the breeders do with this one.
Two of my own seedlings from CARDINAL HUME impress me. One is very fragrant, blush pink with darker edges, much like LEDA, in cooler weather. Hot weather causes the pigments to form in the petals creating a strong coral pink. The flower is more double, foliage is bluer and the habit shorter and rounder. The fragrance is the same hot cinnamon. It blooms as profusely, and makes an attractive garden addition. The other is PURPLE BUTTONS. The color, velvety texture and fragrance are identical to its parent. CARDINAL HUME regularly grows to five feet high by eight to ten feet through in my garden, PURPLE BUTTONS seldom exceeds two feet in either direction. The growth pattern also differs. The parent produces long, thick canes studded with laterals, and a terminal bloom cluster. PURPLE BUTTONS grows more like a china or polyantha, and gives single flowers to the stem as well as up to three in a cluster. Its bloom size is nearly the same as the larger rose, but it is a rosette shape rather than cupped like its parent. I have had the pleasure of growing it as a bush and as a patio tree. I have also had the pleasure and honor to have had Ralph Moore introduce it through his Sequoia Nursery. They have been the exclusive source for it for the last three years. It's really quite a thrill to see flats of it blooming in his propagating houses. Friends have grown it in mixed beds with WHITE PET and with Mr. Moore's IVORY PALACE. I find the IVORY PALACE a better color companion as both are sophisticated and play off each other beautifully. They were quite elegant together when used in flowers for a wedding.
The other favorite from Mr. Harkness is from similar breeding lines, including R. californica, but resulting in a totally different plant and habit. INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE has been named for a newspaper, and I wonder if this great rose has been held back by it. Imagine a larger polyantha, almost a patio rose, with great freedom of growth and genuinely perpetual bloom. The flowers are quite a bit larger than those of CARDINAL HUME, while the plant is very much smaller. There isn't any fragrance to speak of, and the individual blooms aren't very long-lasting, but there are many ready to take the place of each one that shatters. This rose is REALLY violet. I mean blue-violet, not the muddy red violet like INTRIGUE often shows. Laurie Chaffin at Pixie Treasures in Yorba Linda, California, had the foresight to have 24" patio trees budded of it, and they are spectacular!
While not really violet, actually more of a strange, creamy, dark reddish lavender, PURPLE BEAUTY is one to try for something rather unusual. It is a traditional, 1970's English-type hybrid tea, with a bit of fleeting form and nice fragrance. What amazes me about it is that flowers cut and opened in the house, actually develop real blue tones. Bluing is a natural "fault" in many of the red roses. A few orange toned ones such as FRAGRANT CLOUD also exhibit the tendency. When you can have a some-what bluish-red bloom turn quite blue with age, the results can be rather startling. Once you've seen these flowers fully opened in the house, away from the effects of the sun, you will know what a real blue rose will look like.
While visiting Miriam Wilkins in her serendipitous garden two years ago, we stumbled across one of the most dramatically different roses I had ever seen. She identified it as BASYE'S PURPLE, a hybrid rugosa created by the esteemed Dr. Robert Basye formerly of Texas A&M. It was introduced by The Antique Rose Emporium and is credited in their catalog to a cross between R. Rugosa and R. Foliolosa. It appears fairly typically rugosa to me, except that ALL flower parts are ultra-violet purple, including the pollen. The violet pigment shows up in cross sections of the canes and in much of the new growth. One friend remarked that it seemed as though the plant had been steeped in beet juice. I think grape juice a lot more appropriate. This one repeats its display of these extremely dark violet satin, single blooms all summer.
Like CARDINAL HUME, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, MR. BLUEBIRD, PURPLE BUTTONS and a few others, this one will be with me to the end. If you don't have the room or patience for it helping itself to the rest of your garden, you might try keeping it in a large pot or tub on your patio. Or bud it yourself, then share it with someone who will appreciate the quality.
VIOLET HOOD is a Louis Lens shrub from the interesting cross of ROBIN HOOD X BABY FAURAX. I imported it from the Lens nursery and have been blessed to have a dear friend hold it in quarantine for me. It is officially described as having dark violet, 1", very fragrant pompom blooms. She says that is fairly accurate. I haven't been able to see it flower yet. I hope she doesn't get so attached to it there ends up being a custody battle, as she says it is pretty spectacular. It should resemble CARDINAL HUME from the description and the parentage. I'm very curious to see how accurate my image of it is.
I was very surprised to see just how purple the "black rose of Sangerhausen" is. NIGRETTE is an interesting, if odd, little rose released in 1934. It resulted from a mating of two very dark red hybrid teas, and is officially described as "blackish maroon or plum", and was registered as a hybrid tea. Dr. Mc Farland warned in his Roses of the World in Color in the 1930's to expect more of a very dark polyantha rather than the usual hybrid tea growth and habits, otherwise you may be disappointed. With this in mind, I imported it from Germany, and have been surprised by each of its blooms. The buds are black. The opening flowers are extremely dark and have the heaviest velvety sheen of any petal I have ever examined. The only way to see color is to roll the petal back and forth between your fingers in the full sun. There you will see the velvety overlay pretty well hides the darkest of plum shades. Definitely a rose for the collector and maybe breeder, as it makes a spindly, sparsely foliated, weak plant. But, there isn't another color with such velvet around.
As you can see, real violet tones aren't exclusive to the old garden roses. Many more modern roses have been produced allowing the inclusion of these grape-violet-plum depths in nearly any garden scheme, regardless of scale or plan. These are only the ones I have personal experience with, there are quite a few others. Le Grice's PURPLE SPLENDOUR (one I would LOVE to obtain), STEPHEN'S BIG PURPLE (the jury is still out on how this one performs in the high heat, so I'm watching), the rugosa groundcover PURPLE PAVEMENT, a few if the newer Austin roses and one or two new ones each year are introduced. I took another chance from Hortico's catalog on an Interplant floribunda called CHESS (INTertra) simply described as red-purple. We'll see.
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