Of all the great garden plants of the world surely the rose is the most iconic? The history of roses is intertwined with the history of humanity, and to imagine a world without them is impossible. From ‘rose hip jelly’ and ‘rose water’, to ‘itching powder’ used by naughty schoolboys, roses have had their practical uses. However the rose is primarily a source of food for the soul; when we take in the beauty of a rose we bridge the gap between the plant world and our own humanity.

Rose ‘Wedding Day’, a fine rambler

More than just a pretty flower

Maybe the rose should be the way we engage people with the plant world? Fruits and vegetables give us lovely flavours and fill our stomachs, but soon after the meal the ‘connection’ between plant and soul is broken. The perfume of a rose causes a deeply emotional response, bringing back old memories or transporting us to another place, while the feel of delicate petals against our skin gives us the experience of great softness which we find comforting. It’s so easy to become entranced by the form and beauty of the flower.

Rose ‘Gentle Hermione’ is a must-have plant

Rose culture

It’s easy to see how the rose has become so ingrained in culture. The rose has become a symbol of romance and also comfort, with rose gardens regarded as a feminine ‘safe space’ from a hard masculine world for many centuries. In the heyday of such things, no community could hold its head up high if it didn’t have roses in its public spaces, and of course the rich built huge rose gardens all for themselves. The Roseraie de L’Haÿ in France once boasted 8,000 roses at its peak!

Rose ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ isn’t a great rose by modern standards, but is popular with fans of old varieties

Roses: Love them and hate them

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with roses. The rose pruning season in my part of the world is very short so I find myself pruning and training a lot of roses over a very short period of time. During the dreary grey days of winter I find myself almost hating roses; you must have enormous faith in roses to keep the focus needed to tend roses during dormancy, especially as the only real colour you get to see for days on end is the crimson of your own blood as you’ve been scratched by a thorn yet again.

Rose ‘Frances E. Lester’ is a fairly compact rambler (but ‘compact’ doesn’t mean ‘small’)

They redeem themselves during summer, and while I will never be a true rosarian I do appreciate the joy they bring. Taking a moment to enjoy the elegance and beauty of a rose is a treat during the gardening year. For a brief moment it feels like the world slows down and I’m able to just enjoy the bloom in front of me. This joy is not always guaranteed; some of my clients constantly pick their roses for the house so all I ever get to see are stems.

Where roses aren’t picked or deadheaded they may produce fruits called ‘hips’ or ‘heps’

For the plant nerds

As something of a plant obsessive I find the roses have an added appeal for me. I enjoy researching plants in general, but thanks to so many rose-obsessives there are quite a lot of interesting books about roses and rose breeders available. My bookshelves have surprisingly few rose books (at this moment in time) but there are many to be found online, in book shops and even in thrift stores. Being well-regarded so widely means that gardeners and rosarians are keen to retain information, about the histories and origins of the plants they love. One day I’ll find a rose that I can’t find out anything about, but so far I’ve been able to find any information I need.

A small selection of rose books, from the very technical to the almost romantic

I guess so much of the appeal of roses is because rose culture is so multifaceted. Whatever your garden interests there are probably roses for you, subject of course to appropriate climate. You can immerse yourself in the history of roses, rose gardens or rose breeders. Maybe you prefer to grow the species roses and take an interest in how they grow in nature. You can grow roses for perfume or even just for their colours and beauty.

Rose ‘Viridiflora’, the ‘green rose’, is a strange plant loved by some but loathed by others

If it’s possible to grow roses somewhere then you will probably find roses being grown there!