If anyone followed me around in the car this week they would think I had gone quite mad. I have been stopping, hopping out and taking photos even more than usual, and I don’t just raise my camera and shoot away – I cross the road to my chosen subject and smell. I breathe in the most heavenly perfumes, wonderful old fashioned scents, and if I draw a blank and there is no fragrance I am extremely disappointed.
You see, I have become a little obsessed with roses this month.
It’s hard not to be, they grow like weeds here, the climate suits them perfectly and they scramble over walls and up the sides of houses.
Red roses are the flowers of love, a symbol that started way back with the ancient Greeks where it was tied to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love. Throughout the centuries, the red rose has remained the ultimate symbol of passionate affection.
A true compliment in England is to describe a girl as an ‘English rose’. It’s a description associated with English culture and given to a girl of traditionally fair complexion, with a natural radiant beauty.
In fiction the term ‘English rose’ is found in a comic opera, ‘Merrie England’ written by Basil Hood in 1902. He describes a garden where ‘women are the flowers’ and in which ‘the sweetest blossom’ or ‘fairest queen’ is ‘the perfect English rose’.
Perhaps as I wander around the garden this evening I shall find a flower that best describes each of our children so long as I don’t come across a particularly thorny rose – ‘a thorn in one’s side’ – an expression for someone or something that continually causes problems!
Roses have a very illustrious history, peppered with facts and stories:-
- As ornamental flowers they have been grown for millennia, with the earliest known cultivation known to date from at least 500 BC. They are known from ancient Babylon and paintings of roses have been discovered in the tombs of the Egyptian pyramids that date from the 14th century BC.
- In the early 19th century the Empress Josephine of France championed the development of rose breeding at her gardens at Malmaison.
- You may well have heard the term ‘heritage roses’ – these are old garden roses, primarily pink, white or red and defined as any rose belonging to a class which existed before the introduction in 1867 of the first modern rose, ‘La France’, by the rosarian Jean-Baptiste André Guillot (1827–1893). This was considered to be the first modern rose.
- The rose is the national flower of England, a usage dating back to the English civil wars of the fifteenth century (later called Wars of the Roses), in which a red rose represented the House of Lancaster, and a white rose represented the House of York. It was the Tudors who united both the white and the red roses, thus creating the Tudor Rose.
- The England national rugby team adopted the red rose as their symbol in 1871, and the rose has appeared on their shirts ever since.
- In 1986, the rose was adopted as the national floral emblem of the United States and in varying species is the State flower of Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia and New York.
But above all else, roses can be found everywhere, in virtually any garden. Even in an overgrown garden alongside a neglected house, each spring the roses will come to life and bloom. In many places, they grow almost half ‘wild’, beside gates and along the road.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the term on the postbox below, ‘No Pub‘ means no publicity, no advertising material, and in French Pas de publicité s.v.p can also be seen on many mailboxes, ‘No Pub‘ is just a shortened form.
All over the Charente Maritime at this time of year, and in most other parts of France too, roses peek through wrought iron railings, refusing to be ignored, pushing their way forward out into the limelight.
As I took the photo below, I stopped and chatted over the fence with the charming, very elderly, owner who was in the garden, I was sure they were peonies, but he insisted they were roses, I changed the subject and we had a long delightful conversation about gardens and he was happy for me to snap away…
and meanwhile his dog looked on, half dozing in the sun and half keeping an eye on me, the stranger, in case I entered!
It would have been rather rude to have taken a leaf and a petal to take home and examine, but I was still sure they were peonies, the bud above all else convinced me but I couldn’t argue, he was such a lovely old man and I so enjoyed chatting with him, so instead I took a close up! The verdict? I still think they are peonies, but I am not an expert whereas I am quite sure some of you are, so you tell me!
Salmon pink is a common colour where we are
and so is is the habit of planting roses under vines, which I think makes a charming combination.
Roses and old stone walls really are a match made in heaven.
Add some shutters and you have perfection for those amongst us who like both roses and all things French!
Training them over archways dates back centuries.
I particularly love roses in a very casual setting such as a traditional cottage garden where they can found in a mixed planting, here with the delicate nigella which self-seeds prolifically and pops up every year.
But roses are not just for looking at. They are used as a base for many perfumes. Rose-hip tea is another well known product and rose essence is a delight when used in cooking; the petals are edible too, so long as you know that they are spray-free. They are a wonderfully colourful addition to salads, and make beautiful decorations on other plates, they can turn a simple cake for afternoon goûter for the children into a really special treat.
Today at home the kitchen doors are flung open and the scent of our roses are perfuming the air. I have a vase overflowing with them, cut from the garden, on the table. Today is Ascension Day, a public holiday in France; the weather is incredible, the children are swimming and I get to write about roses – what a great start to any day! Oh and following on from my post of 11th May, this photo of a single rose was taken by Gigi, aged 10, as we strolled around the village after supper yesterday evening.