Flower Arrangements With Roses

The Rose has been one of the best loved of all flowers for many hundreds of years. Pliny, in his Natural History published in A.D. 77, writes of its medicinal properties : ‘ . . . the rose is astringent and the petals, flowers and heads are used in medicine’, and another note by the translators of Pliny describes its further uses: ‘One ancient author states that even in the middle of winter the more luxurious Romans were not satisfied without roses swimming in the Falernian wine; — and we find Horace repeatedly alluding to the chaplets of roses worn by the guests at banquets’.

In England some of the first references to roses are found in Chaucer and two hundred years later in Shakespeare. In the seventeenth century Andrew Marvell writing in A Garden said :

Shall we never more

That sweet militia restore,

When gardens only had their towers,

And all the garrisons were flowers;

When roses only arms might bear,

And men did rosy garlands wear?

For many years the gardens of Ely Place and the Inns of Court (Lincoln’s Inn Fields) had been renowned for their roses, especially for the Rosa gallica and the Rosa alba. But it was not until the early nineteenth century that rose growing became a national art and was established once and for all as an institution by the holding of the first National Rose Show in July, 1858, inaugurated by Dean Hole.Flower Arrangements With Roses

There is now a Rose Society and at any Rose Show in any part of the country one can see besides the well known favourites, the new roses which are being currently introduced. There is always a great deal to learn, either about modern roses, which increase in variety year by year, or the old roses which have already been written about, grown and loved. Certain roses seem to grow and thrive almost anywhere under a variety of conditions. They will flourish against a north wall, in a London basement garden, in an exposed situation open to the east winds in the fields of Kent or on the northern slopes of the Pennines.

Some roses though need extra care and sheltered positions, and one of these is the Banksian rose. There are the roses which flower profusely for a short period whilst others go on steadily throughout the summer months. Particularly relevant to flower arrangement, are the roses that are suitable for cutting, those which are long lasting and those with exceptional foliage. These two points make the selection less formidable.

Perhaps before embarking on a selection it would be as well now to consider a few general items which may be helpful when arranging the roses later on.

Firstly, there is the well known and commonsense point of cutting them when they are not yet fully out, at a cool time of day, and after that giving them a deep drink of water before arranging. Rose stems are usually woody compared to the soft and pliable stalks of many flowers, and so they must be split, crushed or peeled to ensure a greater intake of water.

There seem to be various schools of thought on this matter of splitting, crushing or peeling the stems. Certainly with some of the smaller roses such as Carol and Garnet I have found the peeling method to be most effective, but with the stouter stemmed roses such as Ophelia, Albertine, Madame Butterfly, Chaplin’s Pink and Paul’s Lemon Pillar crushing or splitting the ends of the stem appears to be sufficient.

It is important, too, to cut off the thorns and any surplus foliage, though I want to make a strong plea for the use of the leaves in rose arrangements. Cutting off the thorns makes them much easier to arrange, as anyone who has ever tried to remove a rose from a group or to arrange it differently knows only too well. Removing some of the foliage if there is an over abundance may prolong the life of the flower, as in the case of Zephirine Drouhin.

When arranging roses I find crumpled wire netting easier to use than anything else, although there are occasions when pin holders are suitable and roses will survive on them (certain flowers will not). But it seems to me that, on the whole, roses prefer to have as much of their stems as possible in the water and last better this way.

Like other flowers, roses will not last long if they have to stand in a draught or to suffer extremes of temperature and, as usual, the water in the vase should be filled up every day and faded flowers trimmed off to allow the buds to come out.

Roses seem to me to fall into two categories. One is the climbing rose and some of the bush roses. The other, the type of rose which looks best arranged in very small quantities.

Climbing roses can provide valuable material for large arrangements if they have been given the chance of spreading in the garden. It is then possible to cut long, curving branches which are suitable for pedestal groups to be used for a party, church decoration or a large conference meeting in a big hall. Contrary to the usual belief, these branches can last well, but they must be cut when the flowers are still in bud, and treated as I have suggested in an earlier paragraph. (I have known a large arrangement of Chaplin’s Pink climber last about a week without any difficulty.)

Among the roses which look their best when cut quite short, so that one can see right into the flower and enjoy the charm of its scent and colouring is the Fantin-Latour rose, palest pink with a flushed centre and crinkled petals. Louise Odier with deep rose flowers on rather slender stems is another one, (unfortunately the stems seldom seem to stand erect, and it is only when the rather drooping flower head is cut short and supported that this rose can be seen to advantage.) The deeper pink of the buds is especially attractive when arranged in contrast with the lighter rose of the full blown flower.

My own preference is for the old roses. I find it hard to believe that there can be anything more beautiful than the shell like charm of Madame Pierre Oger or the softly flushed cream pink of Blairii No. 2.

Despite this, I believe that the more commonly grown roses do have their place and ought to be more appreciated. Some gardeners and flower arrangers look horrified at the mention of an American Pillar or a Paul’s Scarlet, but both these roses can be of immense value when certain colours are needed. So often it is not the fault of the rose that it looks vulgar or too profuse, it is the way in which the rose has been grown, (I have seen a Chaplin’s Pink climber looking radiant against a dark evergreen, and the creamy white of Alberic Barbier, lightening up a dark London garden). Before one condemns a rose on any count consider all its assets carefully, for many of these mentioned are strong growers and last well when cut for the house. They provide an abundance of bloom and, in the case of the last two, also an abundance of valuable, glossy foliage.

To illustrate how tastes in roses change let me quote Miss Ellen Willmott in her Genus Rosa (one of the great rose books of the world) who praised the charming Dorothy Perkins, whose beautiful, pure pink flowers resemble a clustered Rose de Meaux (this was twenty years after its introduction to this country in 1890). Today it is unpopular amongst many rose lovers.

Miss Rosemary James writing in the Gardeners Chronicle on ‘The Rose as a Cut Flower’ specially mentions Peace, a rose unsurpassed for large flower arrangements, having good lasting qualities’. Virgo she regards as a producer of ‘the most perfect blooms among the hybrid teas’, but, she goes on, White Christmas is almost as good, and certainly better as a garden plant, for it flowers more freely and is stronger in growth’. Miss James then recommends that these two roses ‘should be arranged sparingly in simple containers of plain white, or sparkling crystal, for the perfection of form to be appreciated’.

Other recommended roses are Lilac Charm, a beautiful lilac floribunda; Lavender Princess, with soft pinkish shadings; Magenta, a warm rosy tinted lilac, which pales to delicate shades of grey mauve and Sterling Silver, still one of the best ‘blue’ roses.

This is obviously only a small selection of the new roses, many of which can be seen at the Royal Horticultural Society Shows, at local fruit and flower shows or growing in some of the National Trust Gardens open to the public. One of the most famous rose gardens convenient for Londoners is the Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in Regent’s Park. Here, there are beds and beds of modern roses in all shades and varieties. One of the finest is devoted to the beautiful white rose Iceberg.

Having already mentioned that I am strongly in favour of using foliage in arrangements, I should like to emphasise the beauty of the leaves of certain roses. The glistening green of Alberic Barbier ; the large, elegant foliage of Ophelia and Penelope; the red tinged leaves of Albertine; the soft grey green of the Wolley Dod’s Rose; the charm of the delicate, feathery foliage of Rosa hugonis, interlaced with its clear yellow flowers. One can almost find as much variety in the leaves of individual roses, as in the flowers themselves, and roses do so often show to greater advantage when arranged with their leaves. On occasions it is useful to have rose foliage included with flowers other than roses.

Containers for roses can be made of glass or porcelain, copper or brass, silver or basket ware. They may be coloured or plain, white or black. Opaque or transparent. It is difficult to find a vase which does not suit roses, but since there are different types of roses with quite different characteristics, some containers are more suitable than others. For example, some roses are robust and can stand up to a heavy solid type of vase, whilst others are delicate and look best either in plain glass or fine porcelain. A wine glass can be just right for one or two old roses cut short, or a Worcester plate for a flat, dining table arrangement of two or three Fantin-Latour roses. Again, a bunch of Queen Elizabeth, strong and sturdy, look attractive in a large, white Staffordshire teapot, and a bunch of mixed roses from the garden can look well in a trug basket.

In conclusion I can only say ‘study the rose, its style, habit, character, and appreciate it’. Perhaps the most important thing about roses whether arranging or growing them, is to feel affection for them. As Dean Hole writes in A Book About Roses: ‘He who would have beautiful roses in his garden . . . must love them well and always’.

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