Choosing a red rose for a garden is a little like trying to choose a blue iris – there is a tyranny of variety. I always prefer certain characteristics. When presented with two same or similar coloured roses/irises, one of which is scented and the other not, I will, without fail, select the scented one, unless it is prone to some disfiguring disease like blackspot, in which case I might falter. But, why would one not choose the scented one? I have worked in a garden created by designers, more than one in truth, and they always fail and fail in the same ways. I’m yet to meet a designer who understands soil, or climate, or aspect, or plants, but they can sell cloth of the finest weave which only the most intelligent can see, I give them that. This garden failed in additional ways, being composed with no regard for scent whatsoever. It was filled with scentless honeysuckle and weakly scented roses. Being in it was like watching a film with the sound turned off: a whole dimension of sensory engagement was absent. It was a strangely dull and soulless experience.
Scent is not the only reason to choose Dr Jamain’s souvenir rose. Its scent is delicious though, sweet and clove-spiced, no soapiness at all, a characteristic which afflicts some more recent rose cultivars. It is quite jealous of its scent, holding it close within the flower. The blossoms are luxurious, flat, many-petalled doubles with a velvety texture. It invites you in, asks you to engage with it intimately. To stick your nose within the cool, moist folds. The breeders’ catalogues list it variably from claret to maroon. It isn’t maroon, but it is darker than claret. Barely visible within the many petals, the golden stamens nestle. It earns a place in my garden for its love of growing in shade and semi-shade, which makes it suitable for an east or north-facing wall. The one pictured is facing east. Like other deep red blossoms, such as Hemerocallis ‘Night Wings’, the red pigment bleaches in strong sunlight. This doesn’t trouble me when planting Hemerocallis, the day lily, as each bloom lasts only one day and the damage from the sun never really manifests. But, the flowers of ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’ can last for ten days, which is, without question, another reason to find a place for it in the garden. It is also quite restrained in its growing habit, reaching 1.8m/6′ tall and 1.5m/5′ wide. It lends itself to that small, awkward place between the door and the window, a place which needs something.
It can be grown as a shrub, although its lax habit requires some supporting, which always seems a bit of an avoidable error when breeding a woody plant. It thrives as a climber. Train its stems along horizontal wires and they will bloom along their length. This thwarts the apical dominance, whereby all the resources are consumed by the top of the plant. I’m not a socialist, I’m an Epicurean, but apical dominance does seem to be an affliction of capitalist societies as well as of plants, and needs correction. There is a first flush of blossom and the whole plant is laden with red jewels – a flush which started here ten days ago – then lesser recurrent flowering throughout the growing season. Smell the flowers while you can.