One of the delights of the gardening act is that occasional moment when, despite all the careful planning of the gardener, despite the research about and the search for special plants, despite the careful site selection, and the arduous care afforded many plants, the gardener finds a miraculous unplanned beauty, a serendipitous excitement, that was still unplanned for. Sometimes, I wonder if the very plants are conspiring against our plans, growing bountiful and beautiful not "despite" the gardener, but to spite the gardener who believes the beauty is all due to him.
Rosa 'Betty Boop' is one of those plants that I never expected to really love, nor that she would return my love. I bought her on a whim as a bagged $3.00 specimen several years ago, merely because a gardening friend loves the rose. I was never really attracted to the rose by the published pictures I've seen but somehow I still felt that I should give her a chance in my garden. And I never expected much from her. Many floribundas struggle in my Zone 5b garden, surviving, freezing back to the ground every year, but, once on their own roots, at least providing me with an occasional bloom that keeps me from spade-pruning them. That's all I really expected for 'Betty Boop'.
But, for reasons I can't explain, I dumped this cheap, grafted rose in the front of my house, a place of pride next to the edge of the walk, stacking the odds against her by placing her at the edge of the bed where it would be coldest in the winter and driest in the summer. And she has defied me by growing stronger and more beautiful every year.
What gardener cannot love the delicate mix of yellow, pink and white displayed by the newly opened flowers of 'Betty Boop'? The open, welcoming cheerful faces presented to the sun? The yellow pistil and stamens, private parts of the flower on full display for dashing bee drones with their minds on food and sex? Yes, the yellow fades as the blossoms age, and the pink becomes slightly less vivacious, but she still welcomes all who would admire her. I've been stunned by my growing appreciation for this rose and I'm grateful that she chose to surprise my expectations right there, at the beginning of my front walk. Even in Fall she shines, placed accidentally next to Sedum 'Purple Emperor', welcoming my visitors with a contrast of deep purple and bright pink and white.
'Betty Boop' was a 1998 introduction by Carruth, so she is a relatively new floribunda to the trade compared to some of the old classics. Her semi-double form matches the delicate nature of her shading to perfection. I'm told she has a strong scent and I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't even tried to inhale her blossoms although I've grown her now 5 years. She grows about two and a half feet tall in Kansas by the end of the season, and despite my lack of winter protection in Zone 5B, she usually doesn't freeze entirely to the ground but retains about a foot of thick canes to start her off strong every year.
For the record, I'm not old enough to have viewed this roses' namesake Betty Boop cartoons, but for the younger gardeners in the audience, Betty Boop is arguably the most famous sex symbol of animation, a symbol of the Depression, and a caricature of the carefree Jazz Age flappers. I actually don't think I've ever seen one of the original cartoons, created in the 1930's, but I've always known Betty Boop was a sex symbol instinctively, right down to my XY chromosomes. If nowhere else, you've seen her painted on the nose of many a pictured WWII fighter plane or bomber, a reminder of home and love to the young pilots of that era. And the rose 'Betty Boop' captures that image perfectly, reminding a young-at-heart gardener that beauty and perkiness is a good thing for the garden as well.