top of page

A Cinema of Roses

by Paul Evans 





















With a pout far from coy, Madame Caroline backs against the wall as if it were a cinema screen onto which her beauty has been projected. The old brick terrace walls of Powis castle garden in Mid-Wales are highly cinematic. Here, in June, amid the hum and murmur of bees and tourists, a horticultural drama of infinite complexity plays out in the flowers. Mme Caroline Testout is a star. A rose by any other name, her charms open from tight rosebuds to unfurl into voluptuous globes of unsullied pink, ‘silver pink’, with scrolled petals. Mme Caroline’s perfume is light but carries within it phenols originating from wild Chinese roses responsible for the famous tea scents of the Hybrid Tea roses. Her namesake originates from Grenoble. Mme Caroline Testout was a late 19th century French couturiere, a dressmaker with salons in Paris and London. In Lyon, where she bought silk, she met the ‘Wizard of Lyon,’ the famous rose breeder Joseph Pernet-Ducher, and asked for a rose of her choice to be named after her. Pernet-Ducher disapproved of the big blousy pink flower she selected and thought it would disgrace his nursery. Mme Caroline won the argument and in 1890 presented her rose at the spring fashion show.

   The rose at Powis Castle is an old specimen and goes back to a time when Mme Caroline Testout was famous. She is robust, grows 20 feet up a wall, flowers prolifically and has a second late summer flush in September. When Portland Oregon wanted to be known as the City of Roses, it planted 10,000 Mme Carolines along its sidewalks. When the rose breeder David Austin wanted the glamour of the unfurling bud and repeat summer flowering in his now famous English Roses, he turned to the genetic charms of the Mother of Hybrid Tea roses, Mme Caroline Testout. Her rose, if not her frocks, achieved a kind of immortality.

   This romance of ageless beauty is now showing at Powis Castle garden’s cinema of flowers. Along the wall from the steps down to the Orangery is a rose which looks nothing like a rose at first glance. Rosa banksia ‘Lutea’ is a semi-evergreen, thornless vine with glossy foliage and old mahogany-brown trunks with papery strips of bark. Thanks to a late spring it’s covered in little yellow pompoms. These fresh, primrosey, flowers in rosette clusters are those of a rambling rose from the mountains of Gansu, Yunnan, Sichuan and Jiangsu in western and central China.
















   The Banskia roses are named after Sir Joseph Banks who found fame as Captain Cook’s botanist on HMS Endeavour, travelling the world in search of botanical treasures and even made a fictional appearance in the novel, Mutiny on the Bounty. William Kerr, on Banks’ expedition to China ‘found’ these evergreen roses and they were introduced to Britain by JD Park in 1824. It became known as the Yellow Lady Banks’ Rose, in honour of Dorothea: her-indoors-not-wandering-mountains-in-China. The other Banksia roses are white or pink.

   Specimens of each of these used to grow on the Orangery walls when I worked here years ago; the yellow or ‘Lutea’ is the only one left. I read that the fragrance of Banksia roses is that of violets and although I get a wistful sweetness of faraway mountains kind of whiff from them I can never detect the violet.

   Others may have different noses.It would be hard not to be struck by the fragrance of the rose flowering on the stone columns by the Orangery door. Imagine drinking a gin and tonic on a summer evening in a garden in Burgundy; there is a luscious hint of scandal in the air...the cinema veritae of rose perfume takes over. Gloire de Dijon, sometimes called the Old Glory Rose has magnificent blooms: globular, opening cups which flatten out and divide into quarters of dense petals coloured buff yellow and apricot, blushing pink and tinted gold. These blooms are sexy perfume grenades.

   Such sensuality was captured in DH Lawrence’s poem Gloire de Dijon, ‘She drips herself with water, and her shoulders/ Glisten as silver, they crumple up/ Like wet and falling roses...’ 

   Gloire de Dijon is a Noisette rose. It is a hybrid between a tea rose from China bringing the phenols of tea fragrance and the colour yellow which was unknown in European roses, and a Bourbon rose: hybrids of China, Damask and Gallica roses from Ile de Bourbon, a French colony in the Indian Ocean. It is said the Bourbon rose responsible is Souvenir de Malmaison. And that seriously raises the ooh-la-la stakes on Lady Banks and Mme Caroline; here is a rose touched by the Empress Josephine herself.   The movie plays, senses fizz, in the gardens at Powis Castle the femme fatale perform.  




















First published

in the Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today,

on the 3 June 2015.  Photograph by Maria Nunzia@Varvera


Web Page:

Twitter: @DrPaulEvans1

©Paul Evans 3 June 2015

Photographs © Maria Nunzia @Varvera

A Cinema of Roses

by Paul Evans 


© Maria Nunzia @Varvera

© Maria Nunzia @Varvera 

© Maria Nunzia @Varvera 

bottom of page