Striped roses by Brigid Quest-Ritson

Striped roses? Well, we all know ‘Rosa Mundi’ ( more properly called Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’), and ‘Honorine de Brabant’, and ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ of course, and perhaps ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ too (was he as flamboyant as his rose?). But there were many more in their heyday, and some are still grown in those great rose collections at Sangerhausen, L’Haÿ-les-Roses and Cavriglia.

Striped roses reflect the fashions of their day and so many striped gallicas were introduced when gallicas were the rose to grow. Striped Hybrid Perpetuals appeared in the late 19th century, when they were the most popular of roses, and striped Bourbons popped up occasionally.

In the 1950s Ralph Moore developed striped miniatures. Now there are striped cluster roses, patio bushes and climbers too, and stripes have become as popular as ever.

Most of the old striped cultivars are gallicas. Damask roses have tended to produce mottled or parti-coloured roses, such as R. damascena ‘Versicolor’ (York and Lancaster), rather than clear stripes – and even these are few.

Striped moss roses are known to have occurred as sports. ‘Oeillet Panachée’ is the only one still around today, though it was never a robust grower. Centifolias are represented by R. centifolia ‘Variegata’, known since at least 1845: the flowers have a delicate prettiness with pale pink stripes on a white background.

A big bush of ‘Rosa Mundi’ is a handsome sight in high summer, and its semi-double flowers are among the largest in the heritage rose garden. It is the oldest of the striped varieties grown today, though not as venerable as tradition would have us believe.

First described in 1581, it is supposed to have been called after Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of Henry II (1154 to 1189). This romantic attribution is unlikely to have arisen in her lifetime.

R. gallica ‘Officinalis’ is assumed to been brought from the Middle East by crusaders around 1250 and ‘Rosa Mundi’ is a sport of this. Suckers revert to ‘Officinalis’ when ‘Rosa Mundi’ is grown on its own roots.

French nurserymen introduced a large number of gallica roses in the first half of the 19th century. Many cultivars have since been lost: others may exist under incorrect names. But most of the striped cultivars of the period are still around today.

A number of these were introduced by Jean-Pierre Vibert, especially during his years at Angers. They include ‘Eulalie Lebrun’ (1844), ‘Mécène’ (1845), ‘Oeillet Flamand’ (1845) and ‘Perle des Panachées’ (1845).

‘Camaieux’ too is usually attributed to Vibert and dated as 1830, but Joyaux credits this to an amateur breeder called Cendron with the earlier date of 1826. It has the reputation of being a weak grower. I find it slow to establish, but a good doer thereafter.

‘Georges Vibert’ (1853) and ‘Pompon’ (1856) are a continuation of the Vibert tradition and were introduced rather tardily by his successor and former head-gardener, Robert.

Other striped roses of this period, but still in cultivation, are ‘Belle Doria’ (Parmentier, pre-1847), ‘Château de Namur’ (Belgium?, c.1842), ‘Madame d’Hérbray’ (c.1857), ‘Oeillet Parfait’ (c.1841), ‘Panachée Superbe’ (c,1841), ‘Tricolore’ (Lahaye, 1827), and ‘Tricolore de Flandre’ (van Houtte, 1846).

Of the ten striped gallica roses recommended by William Paul in 1848, only ‘Aramis’, ‘Eulalie Lebrun’ and ‘Tricolore d’Orldans’ nolonger appear to be for sale, though ‘Eulalie Lebrun’ certainly survives in cultivation.

Gallica stripes have a physiological origin which is often due to a viral infection. None produces even a small proportion of striped seedlings. If the cultivars are made free of virus for micropropagation, the flowers emerge pure and without stripes – pretty roses without the painterly charm of the striped versions.

There are three well-known striped Bourbon roses in commerce. ‘Honorine de Brabant’ is my personal favourite, the first old rose I fell for in my early twenties when I was graduating from a negligible interest in my parents’ garden to a developing passion for roses in my own. The bright pink stripes, fading to sweet pea shades of mauve, and the typical Bourbon scent, attracted my attention equally. I find it a good repeater.

‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ (syn. ‘Panachée d’Angers’, Moreau-Robert 1874) is darker and more showy: its pink-and-crimson flowers produce a splendid high summer display against the bright green leaves. Only occasionally does it produce a few flowers in autumn.

‘Variegata di Bologna’ (Bonfiglioli, 1909) is a later introduction, white with crimson-purple stripes, the colour of cream streaked with blackcurrant purée. This is a sport of an unidentified rose – possibly the hybrid perpetual ‘Victor Emmanuel’ (Guillot, 1859) – to which it occasionally reverts. (Reversions often ensure the reappearance of extinct varieties: Graham Thomas has recounted how ‘Vick’s Caprice’ reverted to reveal its unstriped progenitor ‘Archiduchesse Elisabeth d’Autriche’.) Students of Hybrid Perpetuals would do well to compare the reverted form with cultivars still in cultivation (and indeed with descriptions of others now lost) to clarify this attribution.

Incidentally, Gaetano Bonfiglioli e figlio bred and grew tea roses for the cut-flower market in northern Italy. They also raised the wichuraiana hybrid ‘Garisenda’, introduced in 1911 and one of the few Italian-raised roses to become popular in North America, where it is still quite widely available.

Hybrid Perpetuals have not enjoyed a revival since their first period of popularity. A number of striped cultivars were bred, but most have now disappeared even from the great collections. Brent Dickerson listed 21, of which just seven are still available.

Hybrid perpetuals are not the easiest of roses to grow and display to advantage in the mixed plantings favoured today. They require careful tailoring, a rich diet and a hotter summer than we enjoy in Britain. I find this particularly true of ‘Baron Girod de l’Ain’ (Reverchon, 1897), a sport of ‘Eugen Fürst’ (Soupert & Notting, 1875) whose crimson petals are edged with white piping and of ‘Roger Lambelin’ (Vve. Schwartz, 1890), a sport of the deep crimson ‘Prince Camille de Rohan (Verdier, 1861) whose petals are splashed and puckered with broad slashes of white.

‘Ferdinand Pichard’ (Tanne 1921) should also be considered a Hybrid Perpetual because of its high-pointed bud and late date of introduction, even though Graham Thomas placed it with the Bourbons. He rates it highly as a rose and has been seen to wear it as a buttonhole at summer parties. It is good as a cut flower and showy in the garden, where the clear pink flowers, heavily and irregularly splashed with crimson, always attract attention, though the gawky habit of growth makes it less amenable to mixed plantings than ‘Rosa Mundi’ or ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’.

Two more Hybrid Perpetuals, much less frequently seen now, are ‘Souvenir de Mme Jeanne Balandreau’ (Vilin-Robichon, 1899), a sport from ‘Ulrich Brunner Fils’ (Levet, 1881), whose handsome stripes have a hint of coral overlaying the dark pink shades, and ‘Vick’s Caprice’ (Vick, 1891). In good weather, or in a better climate than in Britain, the individual blooms can be glorious with their gentle stripes in shades of soft pink but, in a wet summer, it balls and fails to open.

Even rarer now, though still available from nurseries in the USA or continental Europe, are ‘Mme Désirée Giraud’ and ‘Panachée d’ Orleans’; both have had a bad press from English rosarians over the years for their poor growth and tendency to revert, which must account for their rarity.

The striped tea rose ‘Rainbow’ (Sievers, 1899), a sport of the famous ‘Papa Gontier’, also survives in the USA, but the hybrid tea climber ‘Mme Driout’ (Bolut & Thiriat, 1902), a sport of ‘Reine Marie Henriette’ is still available in Europe. I have often admired the large pendulous buds of the splendidly floriferous specimen at Sangerhausen.

Older striped roses such as gallicas owe their stripes to physiological mutations. It was not until about 100 years ago that genetically transmissable stripes first appeared. Roses with genetic stripes all have some R. chinensis in them though no striped china rose is currently available from nurseries.

In 1891 Veyset introduced a striped seedling of the china rose ‘Hermosa’ and named it ‘Bijou de Royat-les-Bains’. It is doubtful if this jewel has survived since the rose grown under this name at Sangerhausen shows no sign of stripes.

Modern striped roses all descend from ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ apart from a few which may derive from ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’, the only other old cultivar with the ability to pass the striped effect on, i.e. the stripes are genetic, not physiological. Recent colour advances include ‘Oranges and Lemons’ (McGredy, 1992) as well as cluster-flowered and low-growing roses.

Striped roses have a long history, with recurrent phases of popularity, The great number of recently introduced striped roses indicates that they are definitely in fashion at present. A visit to the trial grounds at St. Albans will show that ‘Christopher Colombus’ (Meilland, 1991) and ‘Purple Tiger’ (Christiansen, 1991) are being followed by striped cluster-flowered, shrub and climbing cultivars in many colour combinations.

In most rose collections, including our own at the Royal National Rose Society at St. Albans, striped roses are grown according to their botanical classification. This means that comparisons require much looking and much walking. At Cavriglia, however, Gianfranco Fineschi has grouped his striped roses together, mixing the old and new cultivars most successfully. This provides an easier way of comparing differences and similarities, as well as a magnificent spectacle.

Brigid Quest-Ritson has grown roses in increasing numbers all her adult life. She is currently Chairman of the Historic Roses Group and is on the board of the RNRS. She ran a nursery for 10 years which specialised in growing roses on their own roots.

This article appeared in the Autumn 1998 issue.