A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


My Father's English Elegance
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I looked in the garden and noticed today how many of my plants were collapsing with the heat and the rapid evaporation of water from the soil. My over 35 varieties of hydrangeas were the most affected. I rapidly watered around the roots. Most of my roses are in that lull after late June and part of July. Some will re-bloom in a few weeks. The only rose that is continuously in flower is Blanc double de Coubert. Her pure white flowers dazzle in the afternoon light.

But there was another rose that seemed to be impervious to the heat or to follow the dictum that roses rest for a bit about now. The rose in question is ‘English Elegance’. David Austin introduced it in 1986 and this plant, which has fully double blooms which are blush pink at the edges with tints of bright pink, salmon and orange in centres, was deemed a sickly and poor performer. Austin “de-listed” her and she is no longer sold anywhere. In my garden she has always been a good plant. While not listed as a climber she is vigorous and a de-facto climber for me. She was one of my favourites for many years until one year squirrels conspired to eat her up. A mother squirrel had her young under my gazebo roof and in the spring her young emerged and ate whatever was closest to their nest. The tender shoots of English Elegance where right there. They systematically took the bush to the brink of death. The next year a new brood of squirrels (Rosemary kept feeding them even though I told her they were bushy tailed rats) with the memory of how good the rose was to eat in their memory genes finally did her in. All I had in the summer was one brown cane.

Peter Beales, the rose expert from England suggested, “Cut that cane to the ground in the fall and pray. If things go well she will come back.” And she did! This is the second year and I am sure that in a few years English Elegance will be the vigorous climber of old. Rosemary stopped feeding the squirrels. They moved on.

When I look at my beautiful English Elegance I notice that the blooms are not perfect like in some of my Gallicas. They are messy. But they have an elegant touch like an Englishman in a Harris Tweed jacket that may be a bit worn in the elbows. The Englishman might be wearing not quite crisply ironed gray flannels. The Englishman would be smoking Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes and would be wearing an aftershave with a hint of lavender. And, of course, the elegant Englishman would be my Buenos Aires born father, whose father had emigrated from Manchester in the beginning I the 20th century. My father resemembled and talked in the manner and with the same voice of David Niven.

I am sure that my father would have never worn anything that had any of the multi colours of English Elegance. Nonetheless he might have agreed that the plant has class but would have never admitted to any resemblance to his person. It is enough that I see it. And that is satisfying.


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